A few weeks ago I've seen different foodie documentaries and they all said how fermented food is the best thing ever you can eat because it's like the best food for the human body... like cheese, salami, chocolate and of course Sourdough.
I think we all have that feeling occasionally if we buy normal bread from the store or even from a bakery, that it's not really filling even if we enjoy the absolutely crunchy and extremely soft textures together and if you eat this bread too often at some point there is a constant discomfort feeling even if you have no food allergies or gluten intolerance. So the last time I felt that discomfort, I've decided to make my own sourdough bread from scratch.
The whole process starts about a week before you can bake your first bread because first of all, you need to make your own sourdough starter. So it takes a while until you can try what you created and cared about. By starting this process you will take a big responsibility by keeping your little helper organism alive in a jar. I think, if you jump into this project, you will definitely respect your bread and eat the whole thing including the last breadcrumbs, it never will end in the bin.
There are many different types of leavening agents, and I'm sure they will all sound very familiar:
- Chemical: baking powder, baking soda
- industrial: baker's yeast
- natural: sourdough
As you can see, sourdough is a biological and 100% naturally occurring leavening agent. It contains a Lactobacillus culture in symbiotic combination with yeasts. Wild yeast and bacteria that we need for our starter are living everywhere around us, they are on the wheat as well what the flour is made of. This is why we should use as simple flour as is possible for an active sourdough starter because conventional plain flour is chemically threatened and it doesn't contain that amount of wild yeast, bacteria, and elements as the organic whole wheat flour.
The only ingredient that we need next to organic wheat flour is water. Normal tap water contains chlorine, what is ok because this is how we won't get any infections if we drink it, but it would be the biggest enemy of all the living organisms in our sourdough starter... so this is why we should use tepid water instead!
In this section I will show how I set up my starter, even if this method could be different from the famous bakers' suggestion, it seems it works. Once you start your sourdough, you need to feed it from time to time. Everyone says you should feed it daily (in every 24 hours), but I fed mine in every 12 hours. I will use my 'feeding times' in the schedule below, but of course, you can do it on your way, what is important to keep at least 12 (my method), or 24 hours (the general advice) between feedings!
The things you need:
- organic whole wheat flour - I sifted before use
- tepid water - room temperature
- a clean! container with lid: a tall plastic container / a jar / a Mason jar without the rubber sealing - I use two tall plastic containers
- kitchen scale
The general rule is to keep your sourdough alive:
THE GENERAL RULE OF FEEDING YOUR STARTER:
1 part sourdough starter (in grams) = S
1 part organic whole wheat flour (in grams) = F
1 part tepid water (in grams) = W
- 12:00: Put 20 g F + 20 g W into your chosen, clean! container and mix it well with the spoon. Put the lid back into the container but don't seal it because the CO2 that the organisms produce should be able to go out, and some oxygen should be able to get in. Place the container into a not too sunny but warm place. I kept mine behind the microwave oven.
- Total weight = 40 g
- 24:00: You have 40 g S in the container, so remember the general rule, and add 40 g F + 40 g W then mix it well by the spoon.
- Total weight = 120 g
- Before the second feeding, you should notice a few bubbles on the top of the starter. This is the best sign of life and activity, so the more bubbles it contains the more active it is!
- The scent of the starter can be varied: it would remind you to flour, nuts and of course vinegar, but it's very important that this scent is never bad. So if you notice a bad scent and any mold or something weird just start again.
- 12:00: I've started to use the second container this time. So pour 100 g of your S into the second, empty container, then add 100 g F + 100 g W. Discard the leftover S or donate it to a friend who would like to bake sourdough bread too, and clean the container.
- Total weight = 300 g
- 24:00: Pour 100 g of your S into the clean container, then add 100 g F + 100 g W. Discard the leftover S and clean the container. Discard the leftover S or donate it to a friend who would like to bake sourdough bread too, and clean the container.
- Total weight = 300 g
- Just continue maintaining your sourdough starter as you did on the 2nd day, so use 100 g of your active S and add 100 g F + 100 g W. Discard the leftover S or donate it to a friend who would like to bake sourdough bread too, and clean the container. Repeat this step every 12 h (or 24 h).
- Total weight = 300 g
- From about Day 3 you will notice that there are plenty of bubbles in the culture and it starts 'moving'. The starter has a normal 12 h rhythm (or daily if you feed in every 24 hours): after you feed it, the living organisms will start to digest the fresh flour and water and produce more and more 'bubbles' while you can experience that the starter is rising up to about double size, then after all the 'food' had been used, it will fall back to a lower level.
- Around Day 6-7 you should have a nice, active starter with bubbles everywhere and at this stage, it's ready for baking.
- As you can see I keep the total weight at 300 g, but you can control this as you wish, so make sure you will have enough for your bread recipe and some leftover (minimum 3 tbsp) to keep your starter alive.
If you ever find some liquid on the top of your starter it's not the and of the world, you don't have to start it again. It's called hooch, which bakers know very well. It's the mixture of alcohol and vinegar that appears when the starter is 'hungry'.
Some people use a different feeding method than this one and instead of measuring the equal amount of ingredients (S, F, W) by volume, they mix 1 cup from each. The result is a thin starter with too much water in it. Thin starters, or starters which are fed less frequently, more likely to form hooch than thicker starters or starters which are fed more frequently. So this is why I recommend measuring by volume and keeping a frequent feeding schedule. If you find a little hooch on your starter let's stir it in, but if you have a lot, definitely pour it off and feed the starter immediately, but make sure you add less water than normal. If you find plenty of hooch on the starter please consider, it takes time till the deformed yeast will be perfectly healthy again, but it's totally fine to keep these cultures and use them for baking.
If you bake daily, you should feed your starter daily as you did on the first week. But sourdough could be a bit expensive pet because of the good quality flour you use for feeding, so if you don't bake daily, let's choose a different option.
If you bake weekly, you can slow down the digestion process of the culture by temperature. So let's feed your leftover starter (after you used the bigger part for baking for example) and place it into the fridge for a week with the lid on. The cold temperature won't kill the organisms but it will slow them down. This way you need to feed the starter only weekly, but take a note: you have to feed it even if you don't bake!
If you bake even rarer, you can freeze your sourdough, or you can dry it out too, but I think if someone would make an effort to create an own starter he or she has planned with it, so I don't think that these options should be detailed.
- Get the starter out of the fridge -on the evening before the day you would like to bake-. Now it's denser than it was on the first week when it spent the whole time at room temperature.
- Feed it according to the general rule and keep it on the kitchen counter overnight.
- In the following morning, it will be active, bubbly and ready for baking!
I share my experience with the actual sourdough bread baking very soon, in this post.
I'm pretty fresh in this sourdough topic so I will share my experiences in the future if I find a better method or have an interesting experience why I need to modify this guide at any point.