04 February 2021

Sourdough Simplified - A Tutorial

Sourdough Simplified - A Tutorial (this photo, first rise in 2-quart Pyrex measure) / www.delightfulrepast.com

Sourdough bread is something I made once or twice a week for years, then got out of the habit of for about a year (yes, the same year, the pandemic year, masses of other people were taking it up for the first time!). 

Then I decided to make another starter and get back into it. This time I was going to simplify it even more than I already had and experiment with not feeding the starter other than when the starter was nearly gone and needed replenishing.

So I started my starter, as always with a view to wasting as little flour as possible in the discards that are part of the process of building a starter. Since I only plan to bake one loaf at a time, I only need to keep enough starter to make a loaf with a little left to replenish. 

So I decided to keep about 3/4 cup (6.75 ounces/192 grams) of the stirred-down starter in a pint canning jar and placed it in the refrigerator for the next baking day.

I use grams and a digital scale myself, but I've given the directions in ounces as well for those with analog scales and in cups and tablespoons for those who measure. 

The measures are not exact equivalents to the weights, so don't mix methods. For those interested in such things, this is a 100% hydration starter, meaning it has equal weights of flour (I use organic) and water.

And the idea (which I won't be able to report on for several months) is to be able to leave the starter, once it has matured for three months, in the refrigerator for two months or more without any attention and then take it out, stir it up, and use it as is (unfed) to make a loaf. Simplified! 

Update 04/19/21: I just left the starter in the refrigerator untouched for 3 weeks, and used it unfed like always, and it worked beautifully, just like when I was using it every week. In fact, the final rise, which was taking 3 hours, took just 2 hours.

Starting the Sourdough Starter

When starting a sourdough starter, the starter can pass one or both of the typical "tests" (doubling and floating) to determine whether the starter is ready to use but still not be ready to use, leading to a failed loaf, so I decided to give it 23 days to develop. It will continue to "mature" for 3 months. 

By making up your mind at the outset to let your starter develop over that time instead of getting in a hurry to bake a loaf, you won't risk wasting an entire batch of dough on a loaf that fails because the starter was not really ready despite indications to the contrary.

Using just minimal quantities of flour for the 23 days means the discarding will only amount to about two cups of flour. And not feeding the starter after that, simply adding more flour and water when replenishing the starter, means no discarding ever. Here's the simple plan, given in measures as well as ounces and grams:

Sourdough Simplified - A Tutorial (this photo, starter in pint canning jar) / www.delightfulrepast.com

Days 1 to 21 - In glass or ceramic 1-pint container, stir 2 level tablespoons unbleached flour and 1 1/2 tablespoons water (or 0.5 ounce/14 grams of each) until smooth. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a slightly ajar lid. Each day, stir vigorously and then discard all but 1 tablespoon (or 0.5 ounce/14 grams) of the starter and add 2 tablespoons unbleached flour and 1 1/2 tablespoons water (or 0.5 ounce/14 grams of each); stir vigorously until smooth. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or slightly ajar lid and let stand at room temperature.

Day 22 - Stir vigorously and then discard all but 2 tablespoons (or 1 ounce/28 grams) of the starter and add 1/4 cup unbleached flour and 3 tablespoons water (or 1 ounce/28 grams of each); stir vigorously until smooth. Cover loosely. 

Day 23 - Stir vigorously and then discard all but 1/4 cup (or 2.25 ounces/64 grams) of the starter add 1/2 cup unbleached flour and 1/3 cup water (or 2.25 ounces/64 grams of each); stir vigorously until smooth. Cover loosely. 

Day 24 - Use 1/2 cup (4.5 ounces/128 grams) for a loaf. Replenish the remaining 1/4 cup (or 2.25 ounces/64 grams) of the starter with 1/2 cup unbleached flour and 1/3 cup water (or 2.25 ounces/64 grams of each); stir vigorously until smooth. Cover loosely and let stand at room temperature for 1 to 4 hours (as soon as some bubbles are forming, then put it in the refrigerator until next week.

If you've had difficulty in the past with a young starter not performing well and don't want to chance it, you can use a small amount of instant yeast (1/2 teaspoon)—in your dough only, never in your starter—until your starter has matured.

Now let's bake a loaf! You can use the same recipe to make a round boule, but I most often make a sandwich loaf. For a round boule, follow the shaping directions for Sourdough Artisan Bread.

Sourdough Simplified - A Tutorial (this photo, sandwich loaf rising) / www.delightfulrepast.com

If you like it, please Pin it and share it!

Sourdough Sandwich Loaf

(Makes one large loaf)

1/2 cup (4.5 ounces/128 grams) stirred-down 100% hydration starter
1 5/8 cups (13 fluid ounces/384 ml or grams) room temperature water
1 3/4 teaspoons (0.35 ounce/10 grams) salt
4 dip-and-sweep cups (20 ounces/567 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour (I use organic)

1 Stir down the starter and weigh or measure it into 2-quart glass measure. With a dough whisk or a large dinner knife, stir in water, then salt and flour. The dough will be fairly stiff, but still sticky. With one hand, knead the dough right in the bowl, just enough to incorporate all the flour, maybe about 10 to 20 times in all. Cover loosely with lid or lightly oiled plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature about 12 to 24 hours. At any point that the dough has doubled, it's good to go. It all depends on variables like your starter and the temperature of your kitchen. As the starter matures, the rise time shortens.

At some point, the first rise might take only 5 hours and the second, 2 hours. If longer rise times better suit your schedule, you can reduce the amount of starter used in the dough.  

Maintaining Starter: Unless you're baking bread every day or two, keep the starter in the refrigerator and feed only when you don't have enough starter left to make another loaf. I keep about 3/4 cup (6.75 ounces/192 grams) of starter in a pint canning jar. Though I won't be feeding the starter, after taking out 1/2 cup (4.5 ounces/128 grams) for the loaf, I need to replenish the starter in the jar and so feed it with 2.25 ounces (64 grams) each flour and water, stir it vigorously and let stand at room temperature for about 1 to 4 hours (you should see some bubbles, but not too many), then refrigerate until the next bake.

2 Grease bread pan. I use a 9x4x4-inch (1.5-pound) pullman pan. It's about the same capacity as a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan

3 Using no more than 1/8 cup altogether, sprinkle countertop with some flour. Gently scrape the dough onto the floured countertop. Sprinkle with flour. Press gently into a roughly 12-by-8-inch rectangle. Using a bench scraper, fold one third of the rectangle toward the center, then fold the other end to the center, like a letter. With the bench scraper, place folded dough in the pan, pressing it into the corners. Brush on a little water. Cover it loosely with an oiled or cooking-sprayed piece of plastic wrap. 

4 Let rise until doubled. If using 9x5x3-inch loaf pan, it should rise an inch or two above the rim of the pan. If using the 9x4x4-inch pullman pan, the dough should rise to below or just even with the top of pan. This can take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours. The dough needs to rise until the dough doesn't quickly spring back when poked with a floured finger or knuckle.

Tip: Check on the dough's progress regularly. After making it a few times, you'll have a better idea of how long it will take. And that will change as the weather changes. I keep my house rather cool in winter, so sourdough bread takes much longer to rise now than it does in summer.

5 Toward the end of the rising time, preheat oven to 450F/230C/Gas8. Just before baking, brush the loaf with a little water. If you add 1/8 teaspoon baking soda to 2 tablespoons water and brush the loaf with it, it will aid in browning.

6 Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 400F/205C/Gas6 and continue baking for about 30 minutes or until crust is beautifully golden and middle of loaf registers 210F/99C on instant-read thermometer.

7 Remove from pan and let cool on wire rack for 1 1/2 to 2 hours before slicing.

Disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon .com and affiliated sites. We are a ThermoWorks affiliate, earning a small commission at no cost to you on purchases made through our links. This helps cover some of the costs of running the blog. Thank you for your support. 



Angie's Recipes said...

Bread made with a starter, esp. the sourdough, tastes particularly aromatic and so much healthier too.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thanks, Angie. Nothing smells more like "home!"

TONY said...

Right, Ok. I think I could do this, Jean.
My daughter Alice bought me ,"Happy Baking," by LEON one Christmas. I have tried the cakes. I am successful at cakes. Sourdough always sounds so complicated. I have tried making sourdough but I failed.Ha! Ha!
I will try again. I just need to build up some courage. I must use this recipe of yours, Jean. I promise.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Tony, it doesn't have to be complicated. But there are an awful lot of people out there who LIKE to make it as complicated and technical as possible; it just adds to their fun. Me? I don't have time for that! Enjoy!

ellen b. said...

One of the fun signs of COVID is how many people have taken up making sourdough bread!

Lorrie said...

I have a sourdough starter in my fridge and it lounges about there quite happily for a month or more without feeding. I make two loaves at a time and freeze them, sliced, pulling out only what is needed at the moment. I also use the discard to make sourdough waffles and freeze them for easy breakfasts. Biscuits can be made from discard, too. I hate waste.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Oh, I knoooww, Ellen! It made me so happy!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Lorrie, thanks, I love hearing all the different ways of doing a food or recipe I blog about. I hate food waste, too. My long-standing sourdough method has me storing a tiny amount of starter and feeding it a couple times before baking. This method I'm experimenting with will have me making a loaf without doing the whole discard/feed thing—we'll see. When this new starter is about three months old, I'll set aside part of it in the refrigerator and see if I can't make a loaf with unfed starter that's been hanging out in the fridge for a couple months. Some of my experiments take a lot of patience! ๐Ÿ˜‚

Thomas "Sully" Sullivan said...

I do like a touch of sour to mingle with sweet – guess that’s a repast compatible with life. That said, I’m amazed at the catalytic intervals for your recipe. Am betting that if you had dedicated the last year to coming up with a vaccine to counter the nefarious Fu Manchu variety, it would only have taken 3 months and you’d be wearing a super hero cape. 5 cleavers!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thank you, Sully! Yes, I can get pretty scientific in the kitchen, so maybe I should have pursued a career in medical research! :-) Maybe not a good job for a germaphobe like me!

Kitchen Riffs said...

What a neat post! By far the best approach to making and using sourdough starter for most people. Well, at least for me! Really excellent -- thanks.

Karen @ Beatrice Euphemie said...

Always wanted to try baking sourdough and keeping a starter - thank you for the detailed recipe and instructions! I think I can do this! x K

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thanks so much, John! Baked a beautiful loaf this morning. Had to wait two hours to slice it. Good stuff!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

You *can*, Karen! Do get started on it right away because it takes time to get the starter going. But then, you have it forever! Let me know how it goes.

Dee | GrammysGrid.com said...

Oh gosh, I can just smell this baking! Thanks for the precise how to and thanks so much for linking up with me at the #UnlimitedMonthlyLinkParty 21, open until February 26. Shared on social media.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Dee, thanks so much! Social media shares are always appreciated.

Jan Fredrik Lockert said...

Great! I love sourdough bread - or SURDEIG as we say in Norway. Always loves it ang great tradition were I come from. Thank you for the recipe๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ‘

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thanks so much, Jan! I love learning about the food traditions of different countries.

Sandi@ Rose Chintz Cottage said...

Jean, I love sourdough bread although I have never made it. Alas, my hubby doesn't care for it so I get a loaf once a week from the bakery. I know, it's hardly the same thing as homemade, but since it is only me who eats it, I opted for the bakery. I really enjoy it toasted with my boiled egg and fruit in the morning. How I would enjoy a slice of yours! Thank you for sharing your starter recipe. Perhaps one day I will attempt to make it.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Sandi, it's easy to say, "Make some for yourself; you deserve it." But you may not, *I* certainly don't, have the time and energy to make a lot of things that only one of us is going to eat! That said, your husband might find that he actually likes the homemade sourdough! But anyway ... thank you so much, and keep enjoying your morning toast!

Phil in the Kitchen said...

I'll be really interested to see how your plan to store the mature starter goes. I haven't made sourdough for many years but I admit that homemade sourdough bread can be a wonderful thing. I was called away from home a lot back then and, when I came back, the starter wasn't too happy to see me and went on strike. I also found that I was making more bread than anyone I knew wanted to eat. If I had a starter that would store well and not sulk then I might be a very happy bunny.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Phil, I'm really going to have to be more patient than I'm inclined to be! I figure I'll be making bread once a week for three months, then the starter will be mature enough to test. You'll definitely be hearing about it!

April Harris said...

Jean, this is one of the most comprehensive and approachable tutorials for making a sourdough starter that I have come across! Thank you so much for sharing it. I have been thinking of trying sourdough baking but have consistently put it off - your post makes me feel like I could definitely do this. Sharing on the Hearth and Soul Facebook page and social media.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

April, thank you so much! So many of the people who were trying sourdough baking for the first time during the lockdown were having disappointing results and giving up, so I thought I should do everything I could to make it approachable, as you put it so well. Thank you for your feedback.

Lowcarb team member said...

Thank you for this post/tutorial.

All the best Jan

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Jan, thank you. I hope you are staying well and upbeat!

kitty@ Kitty's Kozy Kitchen said...

Hi Jean! Believe it or not, I have a starter that was given to me back in 2003, and I have kept it going. This starter, I may have told you, came from the mom of a girlfriend of one of my son's, and she got it from someone in Arkansas, which came form the Civil War. I have bread rising right now from it. It is a commitment, but it is so good!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Kitty, that's wonderful! Thanks for sharing your own very special sourdough story here!

Valerie Callen ArtfulCodger said...

Read thru this and your other post on Sourdough bread, I would love to try this. A good sourdough loaf in the UK is around £4.50 so it’s worth doing for that reason alone. I just need to find unbleached strong flour now. Thanks for all the info and advice Jean ๐Ÿฅฐ

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Valerie, thank you so much! I could be wrong, but I don't think any of the flour in the UK is bleached, at least not chemically (banned in the EU). And I never bother to use strong flour (called bread flour in US), I just use our equivalent of plain flour. You could certainly experiment with that. And do let me know the findings of your experiment!