The ultimate fermentation experiment for me was to make sourdough bread using only starter, and that starter had to be built from scratch using wild yeast captured in my Berlin kitchen. Honestly, I had no clue what I was getting into when it came to making and maintaining a starter!
My sourdough bread journey started by researching all the different ways to build a starter and I ended up reading tons, and I mean tons of articles about how to do this. In the end, I went with Cultures for Health because it seemed the easiest to handle, I’ve had bad luck with fermentation in the past, and my scale ran out of batteries, so I needed a recipe that was based on volume rather than weight. Building a starter was going to take up a full week of my life: measuring and feeding my sourdough starter on a strict schedule. What I learnt after this week was that if you are thinking about getting a pet or having a baby, make a starter first and see how you feel! Haha, all jokes aside it is a lot of work, but well worth it!
Once you have your starter, it’s pretty easy to maintain. If I’m not baking regularly, I store about 2 tbsp of the starter in a sterile glass jar in the fridge and feed it every seven days. Once the starter is fed, I keep it on the counter for about four hours, or until it’s bubbly. Then screw on the lid and pop back in the fridge. I have yet to leave it alone for more than a week. When the day comes where it will be longer than a week, I will try drying it out.
Easy Sourdough Recipe
It may seem intimidating at the start, but with a schedule and patience, baking a sourdough loaf from scratch is pretty straightforward.
After three months and a dozen loaves of bread later I am finally happy with my whole wheat flour to white flour to starter ratio. To make the perfect fluffy sandwich style sourdough loaf, I like to feed my starter at least four times before kneading. We have also experimented with scoring the top of the loaf as it proofs and leaving it unscored. We like a dense bread and like it better when the top isn’t scored.
You need quite a lot of starter to make the dough so my feeding schedule is designed to build up to roughly 2.5+ cups of starter. I have also tried to minimise the amount of starter that will be thrown away.
The feeding & baking schedule I follow looks like this:
• Day 1 morning: 1 tbsp starter, 1 tbsp filtered water, just under 2 tbsp whole wheat flour
• Day 1 evening: 2 tbsp starter, 2 tbsp filtered water, just under 4 tbsp white flour
• Day 2 morning: 1/4 cup starter, 1/4 cup filtered water, just under 1/2 cup flour
• Day 2 evening: 1/2 cup starter, 1/2 cup filtered water, just under 1 cup flour
• Day 3 morning: 1 cup starter, 1 cup filtered water, just under 2 cups flour
• Day 3 afternoon: 1 cup starter, 1 cup filtered water, just under 2 cups flour
• Day 3 evening: Make the dough (see recipe at the bottom) & transfer 2 tbsp of starter into a sterile jar and pop it in the fridge for another day.
• Day 4 morning: Bake bread (see recipe at the bottom)
This schedule is ideal if you work during the day allowing you to feed the starter around breakfast time and dinner time. The feeding should take around 10 minutes (more if you are messy – warning starter is sticky stuff and a bit of work to clean). In the last few feeds you will be throwing away quite a bit of the starter, but fear not! You can use the discarded starter for muffins or pizza dough or give it away to a friend in need of some starter.
Sourdough: the work is worth it
Before we started to eat sourdough bread I never really ate bread. I always found it heavy and not filling. There is something about this bread that is both satisfying, meaning I’m not hungry an hour later (like with pancakes), and it doesn’t sit heavy in my stomach. We eat sourdough bread almost every day whether as an open face sandwich or when it gets a little older and harder we turn it into Panzanella or croutons for soup.
In Germany, there is a tradition called Abendbrot where you have bread with cold cuts and cheese for dinner. I was never an Abendbrot fan because it always felt so empty as a meal, but since we started making sourdough things have changed, and I seem to be becoming more and more German!
Need help building your starter? Try Whole Wheat Sourdough Starter instead!