To me, all yeast doughs are "magical," but there's no real magic to sourdough. Just wild yeast and lactobacilli doing their thing in their own sweet time, it's more art than science on the baker's part. As they say, it isn't rocket surgery!
I've received so many questions about sourdough that I thought it was time to write another post about it. Time to dispel the myths! Really, nearly everything I've ever read on the subject makes it seem way more complicated than it is.
If you are an experienced sourdough bread baker, you might be having wonderful success with entirely different methods than mine. If so, just keep on doing what you're doing. But if you're new to sourdough bread (true sourdough bread made with a wild yeast starter and no added commercial yeast), this post might be just what you need.
First of all, here's How to Make Your Own Sourdough Starter. And it doesn't require you to invest in a fancy crock or imported flour. You don't have to wait until grapes are in season or until you remember to pick up some distilled water.
Just do it!
You don't have to wait until you buy a digital kitchen scale (though it is a wonderful thing to have for many things). People sending me questions have quoted experts who give extremely precise directions for making a starter.
And you don't have to discard huge amounts of your starter. People sending me questions have pointed me to experts who would have them regularly discarding starter--both while they're starting the starter and when they're using the starter.
Now then, after a week or two, you have a nice bubbly starter. How do you keep it going? Do you have to get a babysitter for it when you go on vacation?
Since I like to bake sourdough bread twice a week, I could probably just leave my starter on the counter; but I keep it in the refrigerator. If I'm not baking bread for a while, I have had the habit of taking it out and feeding it once a week as mentioned in my How to Make Your Own Sourdough Starter post. But guess what?
Once every three weeks would be good, but we had an incredibly long spell of heat and humidity that killed my interest in anything to do with the oven. And I totally ignored my little half-pint jar of starter for months as it gradually migrated to a back corner of the refrigerator. When I finally revived myself and remembered the starter, I was sure it would be past reviving.
Sure, it had separated into a couple layers and looked a little down on its luck, but I thought I should at least give it a try before I tossed it and started over. Hey, if I could be revived, anything could! I just took out a couple teaspoons of it and put it into a 2-cup glass measure and started feeding it. When I'm baking regularly, it just takes two feedings; but I fed this next-to-dead starter twice a day for a few days (small amounts, with NO discarding) until it was bubbly.
It was just fine!
You'll find your own rhythm!
So I guess the moral of the story is: Just do it! Sourdough seems to have a mystique about it that some might enjoy but that holds people back from giving it a try.
Don't be discouraged if your first bakes aren't completely successful. It takes a while to know your starter and your dough.
Just do it! And let me know if you have any questions.
PS Here's my recipe for Sourdough English Muffins.