There is no better bread than sourdough bread, specially your own baked for breakfast or lunch, with natures best ingredients. If you ever tried a sourdough bread, you would not eat any other one as it has an aroma, flavour and taste as no other bread.
I would like to describe how to make a sourdough bread from the start – that means how to make the sourdough starter and then use it to mix with the flour and bake your own bread at home.
You can use any flour to make the starter and bake the bread, choose the best ingredients as flour should be organic, wholegrain, unbleached and unprocessed.
Use preferably wholegrain flours which include the husks as well, as they improve the fermentation process. A rye wholegrain flour is the best choice, however, if you prefer white bread, use wholegrain wheat white bread making flour which gives beter results than all purpose or ordinary baking white flour.
A rye flour starter can be always used to make a white bread as you only use a small portion of the starter and will not taste the rye flavour at all. If you want to use your starter to make different types of bread, keep it clean from other ingredients and add them later after you cut a chunk off the dough to use next time, otherwise you may end up with seeds in a white bread unintentionally.
What is a sourdough starter - It is a fermented flour treated by bacteria which makes the dough to rise, similar to yeast or baking soda, which are other two rising agents used in bread making. The sourdough is however the most healthy one as it is natural and easily digestible. The sourdough starter is a living thing which grows, eats, multiply and it can live for many years if fed regularly and looked after. It is a careful balance of enzymes, bacteria, fungi (which is also called wild yeast), fuel which in this case is carbohydrate, moisture and warm temperature to allow it to grow. It needs warm temperature to ferment and for the correct enzymes balance to occur, and when it is ready to use, it can be stored in the fridge to delay the growing process. The starter can live for hundreds or even thousands of years – I read about an Egyptian starter which was over 2000 years old, and the older they get the better and stronger they become.
After you make the starter and want to store it for later, you need to lower the surrounding temperature to slow its growth, so the best way is to put it in the fridge. If you want to store the starter for a longer time, about few months, you can add salt to slow down the fermentation process and keep it in the fridge.
A new starter is not as strong as an older one and you will need to allow more time for the dough to rise than when you using already well established starter to make the sourdough for bread.
Feeding the starter and keeping it alive – it needs to be fed regularly, usually everyday and preferably at the same time of the day. It can be fed on anything that will ferment and which has carbohydrates. If you vary the flour or liquid, the starter will change the qualities, textures and flavours it produces in its final bread product, as a varied diet breeds different microbiologies, its believed that it becomes stronger and more resilient, and it will thrive for a long time even in changing conditions of temperature and storage. These various ingredients and conditions throughout is life, make it stronger because of the changes instead of being always in the same perfect environment.
At the beginning the starter requires time and patience to keep it going. After a week when it is established and the wild yeasts develop into a bubbly soft mass, it will be ready to use. The first bread baked from a new starter may not rise as much as from an older starter, this will improve however when starter develops longer.
The commercially sold sourdough bread often is not the REAL SOURDOUGH, as bakers use yeast, often refined to speed up the rising process. This is not a sourdough at all as the yeast will overpower any sourdough culture also called wild yeast. If you use yeasted bread dough for a starter, or later add yeast to your sourdough, it will always contain the yeast and never be a true sourdough.
You can choose flour for starter from any different grains – wheat, barley, rye, rice, spelt, oats, triticale, corn, millet, and any others, preferably organic and wholegrain, white or wholemeal.
Different grains will make different starters – wheat, rye and spelt flours are the simplest to establish and keep. The preferred flour is the rye flour which has been used traditionally for centuries to make sourdough breads. Spelt flour and wholegrain wheat flour are the next practical flours to use for starter as well.
The method to make sourdough starter involves mixing equal quantity of flour and warm water. These two ingredients combined with warm temerature and time will produce a desired result.
You may also experiment and vary the liquid – see Starter Recipe Variation for more ideas, but here are just few:
Honey and salt – use equal quantity of flour and water, at later stages of feeding add honey and salt.
Substitute water with water from soaking sultanas.
Substitute beer, whey or juice, specially good one is unsweetened pineapple juice, instead of water.
Old Dough method (also called Cowboy starter or Goldrush starter) – is the simplest method to keep a sourdough starter if for some reason there is no ingredients to feed it regularly. It is just a portion of dough kept from the last sourdough bread making, it is ripe, can be transported in a container or bag, and it is added to the next bread making dough as a starter. Every time you make a dough to bake the bread, you cut off a portion of the dough (before you add the salt, seeds or other ingredients) and use it as a starter for the next time. Stored it in a container it is ready to be used next time and it does not need to be fed regularly. Thing to remember however, is that the final bread product will have the characteristics of the starter if you use the “old method” – so if the starter was of the wholemeal flour or you added seeds to it, it will always have seeds in the next loaf as well. The way around it is to cut off the part for the future starter before you add seeds to the dough. Also remember to add about 20% more to your ingredients everytime you make the dough to allow for the 20% to be left as a starter. Therefore, this method works best when he baker makes the same type of bread each time in similar amount, but it does not work as well when you want to make lots of different types of bread and different quantities. You need 300g portion of old dough to make 2 loaves of one kilogram each next time. To store the old dough use a container, preferably glass or ceramic, as I never use plastics due to possibility of chemicals leaking into the food, and do not close the lid fully allowing it to breathe. When it is stored in the fridge it is dormant. To increase the portion, add 200 grams of flour and water to your recipe, or use ingredients as per recipie and simply cut off a chunk of your dough and make smaller loaves. The chunk of old dough will take about a week to ripen in the fridge or 1-2 days in the room temperature, so depending how quickly you want to use it next time, you need to allow it to ripen. You can store it for weeks, but it will require to be refreshed once a week, just add 100 grams of flour and water and leave it outside the fridge in warm temperature. If you reserve the starter dough after the salt was added, this will slow down the fermentation process if you want more time between baking sessions.
The salt component of a bread making sourdough should be about 1% of total volume, so for a 1kg of dough you need to add 10 grams of salt. The dough with salt need to be kneaded until it is smooth and you can’t feel salt any more.
To make the sourdough for bread with a starter, you will need to allow 12-18 hours to let it rise in a warm temperature before baking.
If you use a starter from the fridge to make a fresh sourdough, it will not be very active, you need to feed it first by adding a small amount of flour and water and leave it standing in a warm temperature for a day or two to restart the fermentation process, then it is ready to be used to add to a dough to make the bread.
The types of sourdough bread depending on the flour you use – you can make a wholemeal or white sourdough with a wheat flour.
With a rye flour the bread types are usually categorised as light, medium or dark rye sourdough.
See other recipes for more ideas what else you can use sourdough for - you can make other types of bread as well as sourdough baguettes, sourdough waffles, sourdough pancakes, sourdough cinnamon rolls and many more.