How to make sourdough bread from scratch. I’ll share how to make your own starter and the easy recipe for the bread.
This is a repost of an article from October of 2014. The Farmer’s Lamp fans have requested this post many times over the past few weeks. I decided it might be a good time to bring it out and reshare. I hope you enjoy it. Be sure to share your comments and questions with us.
In the old days, mothers would often give their daughters a sourdough starter when they left home to set up their own housekeeping. Sometimes, the same starter was kept alive for generations. Sounds weird, but when you understand what a sourdough starter really is, it makes perfect sense.
As you know, every fall I start my winter reading of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. In By the Shores of Silver Lake Ma says she hopes she never has to eat another sourdough biscuit. She also gives Mrs. Boast a starter of her own when she compliments Ma’s biscuits. Because of the strong flavor of sourdough, I guess if it was your only source of bread you could grow tired of it.
A sourdough starter is made by catching a wild yeast from the air. It used to be easier to capture these wild yeasts because there wasn’t so many disinfectants used in the home, they weren’t even available then. If you do use them in your home, you may have to get yours going with store bought yeast and let it acquire some “wild” taste over time.
Sourdough is a fermented food and many people here in the U.S. are really just now seriously considering the health benefits of fermented foods. It has a sharp flavor and the longer you keep it alive the stronger the flavor becomes. If you don’t like the sourness or just don’t like the way the wild yeast you catch tastes, simply start a new one.
Don’t be afraid of making your own starter and keeping it alive, it may sound complicated, but it really isn’t. There are some basics to keep in mind and then, enjoy the process. I will give you the simple and easy way to make a starter and the bread, so no worries! Now let’s lay the ground work.
I remember in 1990 when I first started experimenting with sourdough, I caught a really yucky wild yeast :(- we couldn’t eat the bread. I was afraid to try again until the sweet little lady teaching me told me to not use any chemical cleaners for a week or two before I started again. She was right. The next one was really good. That was the beginning of my search for a healthier way to clean my home. I just couldn’t shake the question of what the chemicals were doing to our lungs and health if it made the sourdough starter so bad.
When you are first getting your from scratch starter going, it will be 3-4 days before you can make bread so be sure you start it early enough to allow for these days. Keeping your starter alive is not as hard as it sounds, you just have to feed it. When you have made the bread, you can let your starter rest by placing it in the frig until 2 days before you are ready to make bread again. Use a glass jar and be sure to poke holes in the lid to let air into the jar. The old timers just left it in a cool place and fed it a little along to keep it alive. I am thankful for my refrigerator, but also know that off grid living is totally a possibility in our unstable world so knowing how to do things without electricity is important. The starter will separate, don’t worry, this is normal. When you revive it, all will be well.
Now for the recipes I promised you.
STARTER: This is how you create a starter from scratch.
Mix one cup of very warm water, one cup of flour (I use non-gmo, all purpose flour) in a glass quart jar and cover with a loose fiber rag. Some people add one teaspoon of organic raw sugar (or the sugar you like). There are two schools of thought on this. One school says if you add sugar to jump start the feeding, you no longer have a true sourdough. The other says sugar is a natural food for yeast and so it’s still a true sourdough. Personally, I add sugar is I want to use the starter before it would be ready otherwise. Decide what you want to do and go with that. I find there’s always a balance between two extremes where everyone can be happy. I use a hand crocheted dish rag. Let it sit on the counter for two days.
On the morning of the third day, feed it one cup of flour, one cup of very warm water, and mix well. I never use metal utensils when working with my bread because I feel it leaves a metal taste in the yeast. I always use wooden spoons. Check it in a couple of hours, if you see a foamy layer, you can make bread. I usually feed it again the third night (1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup very warm water) and make bread the fourth morning. I do this to ensure I have enough starter left after making bread to keep the culture going.
To revive a starter to make bread: Three days before you want to make it, pour your starter into a quart jar (you can just keep it in the quart jar in the frig, but I pour my starter into a smaller jar to keep it in the frig because my frig is old and has short door shelves), put it out on the counter in the morning and give it 1/4 cup very warm water, 1/4 cup flour, and stir it really well. Cover it with your rag. Feed it again before you go to bed. Repeat this for 2 full days, feeding morning and evening. If you want to only feed once a day, feed 1/2 cup warm water and 1/2 cup flour once a day for 2 full days and use the third day as usual. You should see foaming action after the first or second feeding. Once you see foaming action you know the yeast is alive and you can make bread with it. I like to feed mine for two days and make bread after I feed it the third morning. This is called making a sponge.
When you are ready to make bread, pour off the 1 2/3 cups of starter you need for the recipe and put the remaining starter in your jar with holes in the lid and refrigerate. If you have a large family or plan on making bread more than once a week, you can leave it out in a cool place like the old timers did, still put the lid with holes on it. With it being just the two of us now, I make bread about every 8-10 days, just depends on our menus.
5-7 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup milk (organic if you don’t have your own source)
2 Tablespoons butter (organic if you don’t have your own)
3 teaspoons sea salt
1 2/3 cups starter sponge
coconut oil for oiling bowl and pans
1. Scald the milk in a small pan. Turn burner off and add butter, salt, and warm water. Let cool until lukewarm before proceeding.
2. Put starter sponge in large mixing bowl. Add lukewarm milk mixture to this.
3. Stir in enough flour to make a medium stiff dough. This should be 4-5 cups depending on humidity and temperature. I prefer to use a wooden spoon, but if you prefer your mixer, use it.
4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and use the remaining flour to knead your dough for 10 minutes. Don’t cut the time, this is important to activate the gluten to give your bread a nice rise and texture. The dough will be soft, pliable, and a little tacky when done.
If you use a mixer to knead your dough it should take 2-3 minutes.
5. Oil a large bowl, I grease the large bowl that I mixed mine in, and turn dough to coat both sides. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled. It may take 1-3 hours for this to happen, it just depends on the humidity and temperature. More humidity makes shorter rising times because it allows for more expansion since the air is lighter than dry air (seems backwards I know) and cooler temps take longer.
6. When the dough has doubled in size, separate it into 2 equal portions and shape into loaves. Place them in two lightly oiled bread pans. Cover with a towel and set in a warm place to rise. I put mine on the stove and turn the oven on to preheat. This should take 45 mins to one hour.
7. Heat oven to 400 degrees. About 10 mins before you put the bread in the oven, put a pot of boiling water in the oven (you can skip this step if you want) and remove it when you put your pans in. I do this to increase the humidity in the oven to create a little more rise.
8. Bake for 40 mins – 1 hour depending on your pan size and how your oven cooks.
9. Take pans out and remove loaves to a cooling rack. When you do this tap the bottom of your loaf, a dull, hollow sound means the loaf is done. I brush the tops of mine with butter, but this is strictly a preference. Let them cool for at least one hour before you cut them. I can’t always resist the fresh warm smell and often cut the end off, “Just to test it!” 🙂
The bread will have a better sourdough taste once it is completely cooled and over the next few days as you eat it. I keep mine in the frig in air tight bags or containers.
There now, simple, easy, homemade sourdough bread! Told you it would be so easy. You may prefer making sourdough bread in your bread machine.
If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or ideas, leave a comment or email me. Be sure to connect with us on social media.
Remember I am here for you and will help in any way I can.
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack