If you have been interested in making sourdough but have held back because maintaining starters and baking with wild yeast seems complicated, or have just begun to bake with sourdough and would like a straightforward recipe for a basic loaf, this post is for you! I am excited to share Cultures for Health Sourdough Starter Kits as an easy way to begin your own sourdough starter. They carry four different kinds: San Francisco Sourdough, Whole Wheat Sourdough, Gluten-Free Sourdough and Rye Sourdough. I tried out all but the Rye one, and was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I had a starter going, and how precise and helpful their included instructions were. Within a week, I was baking with their starters and turning out scrumptious sourdough loaves.
Sourdough has seen quite the resurgence lately, and there is a wealth of (sometimes conflicting) information about how to make sourdough. I received my first starter about a year ago and took 3 different sourdough classes that each had very different methods of making sourdough bread. One measured by cups/teaspoons, added commercial yeast and baked off the same day and scoffed at long proofs and stretches and folds. One measured by weight, recommended a 12-24 cold fermentation, with lots of stretches and folds. And one didn’t measure at all, just went by feel and texture, all kneading, stretching and folding done by hand, and insisted the dough must go through a 3-5 day cold fermentation before baking.
I felt rather frustrated after all that and decided I would just figure out a recipe for myself that suited my needs. I wanted:
- Only wild yeast, no added commercial yeast.
- A softer loaf with a crisp crust that could be used for everyday bread needs.
- Interior to have some holey/lacy texture but not a ton since when used for toast, jam and honey would just drip through all the holes and make a mess.
- Easy, minimal instruction and flexible proof time to work with my busy schedule.
- Batch baking: could make a larger batch of dough and then bake off as needed during the week.
I played around with flour/water/starter ratios, autolyze vs. no autolyze, length of kneading time, same day bake vs. taking dough all the way to a 5 day cold fermentation before baking off, no stretching and folding vs. lots of stretching and folding. Different oven temperatures and different baking pans. Finally I arrived at a recipe that I was happy with. And while I am definitely not an expert when it comes to sourdough baking, I feel like the recipe is straightforward, easy to work with and fairly forgiving. And after baking off who knows how many loaves of bread using that final recipe, I have yet to have a loaf not turn out.
But before we begin baking, let’s delve into the starters. Cultures for Health starter kits come with a little packet of dehydrated starter and easy to follow detailed instructions.
All you do is feed with water and flour a couple times a day:
You can see from the picture below the liquid sitting on top of the regular and whole wheat. This is perfectly normal. It just means that it is hungry. Stir in or dump off before feeding again. The directions stated that it was normal for the gluten-free one to almost always have a layer of liquid on the bottom, so don’t worry if that is what it looks like.
By day 6 my starters were happily bubbling away. You will know when they are ready to bake with when they not only have bubbles throughout and a foamy top, but the volume almost doubles 4-6 hours after feeding at room temperature. I like to set my starter on a plate or in a container when I am feeding frequently, and make sure there is enough room in my starter jar for it to expand. That way if it foams up and over, the mess is contained.
- Store in glass or ceramic container. Do not use metal, even a mason jar with metal lid, starter can react with and corrode lid.
- Do not use metal utensils to stir starter – will react.
- Use filtered water – chlorine from tap water can kill the wild yeast.
- Starter can be stored at room temperature but will need daily feeding to maintain a healthy starter.
- Starter can be covered and stored in the refrigerator and fed only once a week. When ready to use, bring to room temperature and feed several times before baking with.
- Starter is ready to use when after feeding at room temperature, the mixture is foamy and bubbly and has almost doubled in volume after 4-6 hours.
- Do not pour starter discard down the sink, it can harden and clog the pipes. There are lots of recipes available now for utilizing starter discard. I compost mine if I am not going to use it. You can also just pour it off into the yard, but beware if you have pets. My dog apparently loves starter and ate an entire section of sod trying to eat all the discarded starter.
- If only an occasional baker, store starter in a smaller container. When ready to bake a big batch, just pour some into a larger container and feed to grow amount.
- Cultures for Health has tons of helpful troubleshooting tips and FAQ section. They even send you an e-book of sourdough information and recipes when you purchase a starter from them.
Cultures for Health sourdough starter kits comes with very detailed and concise instructions on how to begin and maintain your starter. I would recommend following their instructions for best results. Below I have paraphrased and simplified the instructions so you can have an idea of what it entails.
Cultures for Health Sourdough Starter
Prep Time: 5-10 minutes every 12-24 hours
Inactive Time: 3-7 days
In a 1 quart glass or ceramic container, add the dehydrated starter along with 15 g. (1 Tbsp.) water and 7.5 g (1 Tbsp.) flour. Mix thoroughly and cover with a coffee filter secured with a rubber band. Let sit at room temperature for 12-24 hours.
Feed the starter with 30 g. (2 Tbsp.) water and 15 g. (2 Tbsp.) flour. Stir vigorously, cover and let sit another 12-24 hours at room temperature.
Feed the starter with 60 g. (1/4 cup) water and 30 g. (1/4 cup) flour. Stir vigorously, cover and let sit 12-24 hours at room temperature.
Feed starter with 120 g. (1/2 cup) water and 60 g. (1/2 cup) flour. Stir vigorously, cover and let sit 12-24 hours.
Every 12-24 hours, discard starter down to 1/2 cup and then feed with 120 g. (1/2 cup) water and 60 g. (1/2 cup) flour. After 3-7 days your starter should be bubbling and growing within 4-6 hours of feeding and is ready.
To maintain starter at room temperature for frequent baking, feed every 12-24 hours with 1 part starter, 1 part water, and 2 parts flour. This will give you 100% hydration starter, which is what is used in the recipe below.
If not using starter regularly, cover and store in the refrigerator. Feed once a week. Before using, let come to room temperature and feed 2-3 times until it is ready to use again.
*For whole wheat or gluten-free starters, use whole wheat flour or brown rice flour according to package instructions.
And now that you know about starters, let’s move on to baking with it. It is important to remember that you need to factor in feeding your starter before beginning to make the dough. If starter has been stored in fridge, I bring it to room temperature and then feed every twelve hours until it is bubbly, foamy and expanding in volume 4-6 hours after feeding. If I have been feeding my starter every day and storing at room temperature, I can usually wake up in the morning, dump and feed starter first thing and then within 4 hours begin making dough.
Next up, autolyze. What is autolyzing? Just a fancy way of saying mix your liquids with some of your flour and then let it sit for awhile. Autolyzing helps improve: color, flavor, texture, volume, open crumb texture and shelf life, and reduces kneading time.
Once it has autolyzed, the rest of the flour and salt is added in, and kneading begins. I like to use sea salt in my sourdough. Nothing fancy. Just a basic sea salt, same coarseness as kosher salt. I like it better than kosher salt in my sourdough.
Now that it is mixed, it is going to rise for 3 hours, with 4 stretches and folds, every 45 minutes. You may have heard of this method of kneading sourdough or very hydrated doughs. It is a gentle way of kneading that can transform a very sticky wet dough into a manageable dough. If your hands stick to the dough at first, just dunk them in a bowl of cold water before stretching and folding.
After all the stretches and folds and rise time is over, I divide the dough into 3 equal pieces and shape into balls by tucking the edges underneath until a compact and uniform shape is achieved. Don’t squish it into a ball, that will deflate all those nice bubbles inside. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 5 days. I check the dough once a day and if necessary, reshape the dough portion back into tighter balls. OR, you can shape into a round loaf, cover and let rise about 2 hours and bake off that day.
The longer you let it sit in the fridge, the more pronounced the sour flavor will be. And the chewier/spongier the texture will be. I like the flavor/texture somewhere between 2-3 days best.
What type of baking pan you use can definitely make a difference. I tested out 3 of the most common: pizza/baking stone, enameled cast iron Dutch oven and a bread cloche. I don’t have a baking peel or a bread lame so I just place my dough on a piece of parchment paper and then transfer that to my bread cloche. And I use a sharp knife to score the top right before placing into the oven.
Now I have the crummiest of ovens. I’m pretty sure it is the cheapest thing the landlord could find. It has terrible hot spots and zero fancy features. Using just a pizza stone, I found that my bread had to be covered with aluminum foil to prevent the top from burning, and even then the sides would burn sometimes. And while it had great oven spring, it wasn’t as soft as the other loaves, and less open crumb texture. Not being in a covered pan, like the Dutch oven or bread cloche, allowed more moisture to escape from the dough as it baked.
The Dutch oven did pretty well. Better texture, nice even oven spring, but the crust, especially on the bottom, was thicker.
The bread cloche was my favorite. Evenly dispersed open crumb texture, crust was crispy without being too thick and interior was soft and chewy.
So if you have a Dutch oven, I would definitely use that over a pizza/baking stone. Or if you have a bread cloche, even better!
I have included instructions on how to make both regular and whole wheat sourdough. Gluten-free sourdough is so different that I decided it needed to be an entirely separate post. Also, you can divide the recipe into thirds and bake off just one loaf. Or two-thirds for 2 loaves. Whatever suits your needs.
I hope this rather lengthy post has inspired you to try out sourdough, or maybe helped you with some sourdough issues you’ve been having. As always, let us know if you have any questions or comments. Happy Baking!
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Inactive Time: 1-5 days
450 g. (approximately 2 1/2 cups) 100% hydration sourdough starter
900 g. (3 3/4 cups) filtered water, room temperature
1500 g. (12.5 cups) all-purpose flour, divided
18 g. (3 tsp.) sea salt, regular grind NOT COARSE OR FINISHING SALT
In the stainless steel bowl with the roller/scraper combine the starter, water and half the flour. Mix on medium speed (3 o’clock) for about 1 minute to thoroughly combine.
Cover with a tea towel and let sit 1 hour.
Turn mixer on lowest speed and beginning adding the rest of the flour and salt, pulling the arm towards the middle as needed. Increase speed to somewhere between 3 and 4 o’clock and once flour is fully incorporated set timer for 7 minutes to knead.
Remove roller and scraper and cover with bowl lid and let rise 3 hours, stretching and folding every 45 minutes. After 3 hours, stretch and fold the dough one last time (for a total of 4 times stretching and folding) and divide into 3 equal portions, approximately 939 grams per portion.
Shape each portion into a tight ball and place in an airtight container (with room to expand). Place in the refrigerator and let proof for 12 hours or up to 5 days.
If wanting to bake off same day, once dough has risen, shape into a round loaf, cover and let rise an additional 2 hours before following baking instructions below.
Take dough ball out of fridge and gently reshape into more compact ball. Place on a piece of parchment paper and cover with a large mixing bowl so it won’t dry out, but nothing is touching it. Let sit at room temperature 2 hours before baking off.
For Pizza/Baking Stone:
Place pizza stone in the middle rack of the oven and preheat to 500º degrees one hour before baking. Oven should be extremely hot to improve oven spring. Once dough has sat out 2 hours, score the top with a very sharp knife and place parchment paper on pizza stone. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 450º, cover bread with aluminum foil and bake an additional 35-40 minutes. Remove to a wire rack and let cool completely before slicing.
For Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven:
Preheat oven to 500º degrees one hour before baking. Oven should be extremely hot to improve oven spring. Twenty minutes before baking, place Dutch oven on the middle rack of the oven, minus lid, into the oven to preheat. Once dough has sat out 2 hours, score the top with a very sharp knife and carefully transfer the dough on the parchment paper into the Dutch oven. Place lid on and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 450º and bake an additional 35 minutes. Remove lid and bake 5 minutes longer to brown top. Remove to a wire rack and let cool completely before slicing.
For Bread Cloche:
Place bottom of bread cloche on the middle rack of the oven and preheat oven to 500º degrees one hour before baking. Oven should be extremely hot to improve oven spring. Once dough has sat out 2 hours, score the top with a very sharp knife and carefully transfer the dough on the parchment paper onto the bottom of the bread cloche. Place lid on and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 450º and bake an additional 35 minutes. Remove lid and bake 5 minutes longer to brown top. Remove to a wire rack and let cool completely before slicing.
Bread will keep, well wrapped, at room temperature for 3-4 days. After 4 days, turn stale bread into bread crumbs or croutons if desired.
Yield: 3 medium loaves
Whole Wheat Version:
-replace starter with equal portions of whole wheat starter.
-replace flour with 1350 g. (approximately 12 cups) whole wheat flour (if milling at home, use hard red or white wheat).
-follow instructions above.