Bread, Recipes

Sourdough… in detail

Well, I had no idea so many of you were curious about the whole sourdough thing. So, here I am, Sunday morning after enjoying some sourdough toast and tea, expanding on the whole sourdough process.

First, I made my starter with fresh ground rye flour and our well water. If you live in an area that treats the water you might want to use some distilled water to get your starter started. Treated water has all sorts of stuff in it that could (or will, in the case of chlorine) impede the development of the beneficial organisms (in this case naturally occurring yeast and lactobacilli

Aww. Aren't they cute?
Aww. Aren’t they cute?
). If you’re stuck with treated water and like me, there’s no way you’re going to spend money on distilled water you could let your water sit out for 24hrs to allow the additives to dissipate. I think you could also use water that’s been boiled (potato water has been traditionally used) but I can’t promise results. I don’t know if that would do enough to the chlorine to let the nutrients develop.

Another thought though… the process of making starter means you’re leaving it sit out for days. If the yeast is truly in the air and not on the flour (as some assert), it shouldn’t matter that you started with chlorinated water. I’m going to bring some home from work and give it a try, I think. I mean think about it, if I’m saying to leave your water on the counter for 24hrs and the chlorine will be gone, why would it matter if there is flour in it during that time? Hmmmm… An experiment! I love experiments!

So back to my sourdough. Once you’ve mixed your fresh ground, whole grain flour and non-treated (or maybe treated) water leave it uncovered on your counter overnight. How much of each should you use? Well, I don’t do the whole precise weights and measures thing (which may be part of why I have spectacular failures, from time to time) but I start off with about two tablespoons and add enough water to make a thick slurry. In truth, it’s guess work anyway. It depends on the fibre content of your flour, how fresh the flour is and so on. If you have to use store bought please do – better to make it with less fresh flour than not at all I say. As for white flour? I haven’t used it so I can’t say but I can’t see why it wouldn’t work. Maybe that could be another experiment (and yes, I do have white flour here).

So you’ve mixed it and left it overnight. In the morning you rush over to it and… nothing. That’s ok – you’re going to feed it again. Use the same general guideline. A Tbsp or so of the fresh ground flour and then enough water to thin it out (but not so that it’s fully liquid). You’re going to do that twice a day until you see bubbles on there.


As time goes on, if your starter isn’t too cold, you will see that it will expand after feeding it (bear this in mind when you’re selecting a container to start your starter, by the way). I keep mine fairly cool. It lives on the window sill over the sink. I do this because I have been known to forget to feed it, because I can easily warm it up, if I want more growth and I don’t forget it when it’s staring me in the face every time I’m at the sink.

After about a week 9mine usually takes about 11 days because I keep it slow), your starter should be ready for use. You’ll know because it will smell like sourdough and be bubbly and seem active.

How do you use it? Well, here’s another one of those places that I’m not a good one for a standard recipe. I poured about 3/4 of my starter into my bread bowl, add enough flour to make a very wet dough (almost a muffin or loaf batter kind of thickness). For this batch I used a rye starter (with oat flour one day when I was out of rye and kamut and had to rush off to work). For the dough I used more rye flour and a bit of white. I think 2/3 rye to 1/3 white? Something like that. I add about a tsp of salt to it too, to try and keep the yeast a bit under control and for flavour. I would add a bit more salt next time, for flavour.

One really important note that I just learned (and would have helped me a have a slightly less sour bread) is to pour off the hooch when it forms. Hooch is the dark liquid that sits on top of your starter and does contain alcohol (some people do drink it). My starter formed hooch nearly daily and I was stirring it in. Unless you like your bread to taste like a good apple cider vinegar you might want to feed it a bit more often than I did (which is why so much hooch formed) and pour off the hooch. The taste isn’t bad but it is strong. I suspect you could use the hooch for other things but haven’t done that research yet.

After all of that, I leave it to rise for 12 hrs (or more, depending on how the day goes). When I’m ready to bake I take my cast iron cauldron (ok, it’s just a dutch oven but cauldron is way more fun), throw it in my oven (empty and with its lid on) and crank the temperature up to 500* (yep, that really is 500*). When it’s to temperature, I pull the cauldron out and pour the batter/dough in. I replace the lid and put it back in the oven. Oh, and try to remember before putting it in the oven, to take a super sharp knife and slash three cuts in the top. I never do and believe me, even with a real wet, battery dough, you want to.

At this point I turn the temperature down to 375* and bake it for an hour to an hour and 15 (depending on how wet it is, how much dough there is, etc.). At this point I check it. If the top is too brown but it needs more baking, I leave it in covered for another 15-20 mins. If the top is pale and it needs more baking, I take the lid off and bake it for 15-20 mins.

If, like I did yesterday, I take it out, let it cool and cut it only to find out I misjudged and it’s not quite baked enough, I put it back in at 375* for, well, as long as I think needed. Yesterday it was about 25 mins.

And for breakfast this morning:

I know it’s not the prettiest but it is my first 100% naturally leavened bread and it was delicious.