Sourdough from Scratch!

If you’ve been following Sustainable Pantry you know that I have been trying to create my own sourdough starter for months now.   Thanks to persistence, comments from readers, and a few great resources I finally did it! (see previous post to find out how).  Last night I put that starter to work, and the results are delicious, and oh so satisfying.

I admit, this is not exactly the simple, no fuss recipe you have come to expect from Sustainable Pantry, but this is a starting point, you can be sure there will be simpler sourdough recipes to come.

This recipe is from Local Breads by Daniel Leader, the founder of Bread Alone.

Sourdough Batards (fat baguettes) from Local Breads (modified slightly)

  • 350 grams (2 1/4 cups) of bread flour (I ALWAYS use King Arthur’s)
  • 120 grams ( 3/4 cup) whole wheat flour (I used organic stone-ground)
  • 30 grams (1/4 cup) of rye flour (I used organic)
  • 125 grams of sourdough starter (size of a tennis ball)
  • 1.5 tsp of kosher salt
  • 1.5 cups of water (I used room temperature spring water)

Mix the flour and the water and let it soak for 20 minutes (this gives the flour time to absorb the water). Then mix in the starter and salt.

It will be quite sticky, and difficult to handle, but keep at it.  Eventually it will turn smooth and not so sticky.  It took me about 20 minutes to get to the 5th picture below. (if you don’t want to knead, check out one of these other delicious bread recipes)

In Local Breads, he has a trick to tell if your dough has been kneaded enough: Pinch off a piece the size of a golf ball, and gently stretch it. If you can get it thin enough to see through without tearing it, it’s ready!  Our dough kept tearing, but it came really close, and in the end it still worked out.

Once the dough is ready, put it into an oiled container and let it rise at room temperature for an hour. Give the yeast some time to feed, you won’t see much rising yet (we didn’t).

After an Hour:

Turn the dough: this is a common step that is done part way into the dough rising. Pat the dough into a rectangle and fold it like a business letter. The top comes down to the bottom third, and the bottom comes up to cover it. Then put it back in the container seam side down, and let it rise again for 2-3 hours, this rose for another 2:45:

The dough is now ready to be shaped
. You can make any shape, but I followed the book‘s lead and made Batards, a shorter, fatter baguette.  To do this, cut the dough in half with either a knife or a bench scraper.  Next pat the dough into a flat rectangle about 5 inches wide, and 3 long. Then fold the top edge in towards the center, closing the seal gently with the heel of your hand. Then, fold the bottom half up to the center, so they overlap with about an inch and again seal the seam. And finally, fold it in half the long way so you have a skinny log.

Next, you again seal it with your palm, being careful not to flatten the dough in the process.  And then roll it out like a Play-Doh Snake, only its not Play-Doh, it Sour-Doh!  Put a little extra pressure as you move your hands out to the edge to create the pointier edges of the Batard.

We’re almost there!

Now the dough rises for another 1-2 hours, on a couche (a canvas cloth that cradles baguettes or other shapes as they rise, and allows them to keep their shape), I used parchment paper on a baguette pan, but you could also roll up kitchen towels and slide them under the parchment between the batards to cradle them.  Dust the tops with a little flour, and cover with plastic wrap while they rise.

Slash 3 inch slashes in the top with a very sharp knife or lame dipped in water.  And they’re ready for that 450 degree oven that’s been preheating with the baking stone in the middle rack, and a skillet in the bottom.

Into the oven it goes, along with a few ice cubes into the skillet to create steam, which is the makings for a heckuva crust.  Let it cook for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 400 and cook for another 20-25 or until the crust is gorgeously brown.  And that’s it!

This came out great!  I could have slashed deeper to get a nicer shape, but the crust was so good, and there were some real sour undertones!

If you are even considering attempting this recipe, I strongly recommend picking up Local Breads by Daniel Leader.  Along with this recipe and a ton of others, it has a wealth of baking tips, instructions on making your own starter, and some beautiful pictures.

While this seems somewhat involved, it’s actually not.  Like most breadmaking, it requires only a few minutes of work every couple of hours.  Most of the time is spent waiting for the next step.  So as long as you’re going to be around the house for the better part of the day, you can make a DELICIOUS bread with minimal effort. (blogging the experience, well that’s another story!)

A Sourdough Starter: Success?

After two failed attempts at creating a sourdough starter from scratch, and a lot of helpful advice and comments from readers, I have created what appears to be a very healthy 12 day old starter.

The method came from Mike at, by way of Jonathan and it was very simple (thanks guys!):

Mix 1/4 cup of water with 3/8 cup of organic rye flour in a container, cover it loosely with plastic wrap, and feed it 1/4 cup of water and 3/8 cup of organic rye flour every 8-12 hours. That’s it!

The major indicator that the starter is healthy is that it doubles its size between feedings. After about 2 days, it started doing this consistently. It also developed a very tangy, green-apply smell, and the gas bubbles in the dough between feedings appeared to be growing bigger each day.

Day 2: Before Feeding

Day 2 stirring in the water (note there are no bubbles)

Day 2: Stirring in the water (note there are no bubbles)

Day 3: Stirring before feeding, notice all the air pockets!

Day 3: Stirring before feeding, notice the air pockets!

Day 3: Mixing in the water, lots of bubbles develop

Day 3: Mixing in the water, it gets milky and lots of bubbles develop

Day 3: Marking the Height

Day 3: Marking the height

Day 4: More than doubled in size!

Day 4: More than doubled in size!

To prevent the dough from taking over your kitchen, Sourdough Mike recommends disposing of 1/2 of the starter following each feeding, (I’ve been throwing out 1/2 each day).

Although my starter appears healthy, Mike recommends not storing it in the fridge until it is 30 days old. So while I can start using it, I have to keep feeding it twice daily. As an insurance policy though, after today’s feeding instead of throwing 1/2 of it out, I put it in a jar and stored it in the fridge. Just in case anything happens to my pet I’ll have a clone.

It really has been like having a pet. I feed it at night before I go to sleep, and then in the morning before I leave for work and marvel at how much it has grown. Once a week I transfer the starter to a bowl while I clean out its cage, and I make sure I give it lots of love. In return, I’m hoping this baby is going to make me some tasty bread. Tomorrow it will finally be put to the test as I attempt to make a sourdough batard from Daniel Leader’s book Local Breads, stay tuned!

No Knead Zone: Organic Whole Grain Bread

I tried Mark Bittman’s remake of the best bread recipe ever.  This new version uses all whole grain flour.  It’s not as good as the white flour original, but it’s real easy to make, very hearty, great for people with high cholesterol, and has plenty of fiber.

No-Knead Whole Grain Bread

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup rye flour
  • 1/2 cup coarse cornmeal
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups water

mix up the dry ingredients, add the water and mix it until it’s a wet shag.  Then let it sit covered at room temp for 4-5 hours.

Shape it into a rectangle and put it in an oiled loaf pan.  Oil the top.  Let it sit for another hour, and then bake it at 350 for 45 minutes.

This bread is great cut into thick slices, toasted, with cream cheese or jam.  A fantastic way to start the day (I did it this morning).

Stiff Dough Levain: Day 3

My little ball of flour and water seems to have ripened nicely. I’m picking up very tangy notes of fruitiness that weren’t there on day 1. Both yesterday and today there was some rising, probably a 50% increase, and I have seen, smelled, and tasted many of the signs that the book says are indicative of a healthy culture.

Day 3, prior to feeding

So Yesterday I fed it 2 tablespoons of water, 50 grams (1/3 cup) of bread flour, and 2 teaspoons of organic whole-wheat flour. I mixed in the water, then added the flour and incorporated it all in.

After adding the water it froths up a bit

Today I fed it the same thing. Only I made one of the cardinal errors in baking, and I hope I didn’t blow it:

You are NEVER supposed to pour something over a bowl, and what did I do? I poured the water from a gallon pitcher into a tiny tablespoon right over the bowl and too much poured out and got into the dough. I think it was just a little bit extra, and I think I compensated by adding less than the required 2 measured tablespoons, but the book says the dough won’t be smooth. Check it:

That's Smooth

We’ll see…

Creating a Yeast Culture – Take 3

After a couple of failed attempts at creating my own sourdough starter from scratch, I’m at it again. I’ve dusted the flour off of my shoulder and I’m going for it, only this time I’m attempting the classic:

Stiff Dough Levain (Classic Sourdough Starter)

Again, this could take anywhere from 4-10 days, and aside from daily feeding and inspection, requires very little work (or so I’m told).

  • 50 grams organic rye flour
  • 50 grams unbleached bread flour
  • 1/3 cup tepid spring water

Day 1

Method: Add the water to a medium mixing bowl and stir in the flours with a wooden spoon until a stiff dough forms. Scrape down any dough from the sides of the bowl. The dough will not be smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for 24 hours.

If this goes according to plan, it will be the beginning of a journey through the bread-making techniques of the old world. If this fails, I may have to start making my grill cheeses on Wonderbread. Stay tuned.