Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Isolation Skills: How to Make Sourdough Bread – Ask the Expert

 
Homemade, Sourdough-Risen, Caraway and Onion Rye.

Today, President Trump extended the federally recommended period for isolation against the Wuhan virus until the end of April. In light of that extension, I’d like to share some personal and practical knowledge with as wide an audience as possible.

Ten years ago, I actively sought out a low-tech, hands-on hobby – something that I could do to fully unwind from a stressful day working in I.T. I eventually settled on baking bread. Two years into that hobby, I grew and used my first sourdough culture. I have never looked back.

Today, my bread is sought by family, friends, and a few loyal customers. I am occasionally asked by local colleges to give demonstrations on baking with sourdough. My bread even almost appeared in a movie once – another story for another time.

I’m pretty sure that most of the people who have bought bulk flour in the past few weeks aren’t bakers: they probably don’t have and were not able to find packaged yeast, they certainly don’t have a sourdough culture, and they most likely wouldn’t know what to do with either if they had them.

So, I’d like to help in what small way I can.

At the end of an initial Q & A section, I have included the text from the material I use when I talk on sourdough.

After that in the comments, I will answer whatever questions on the subject that you might have.


Q & A

My Sourdough Culture with Bread in Pans.

Q) What is “sourdough”?
A) Sourdough is a method of leavening bread. It is what was used for millennia before factory-processed yeast became available in the 19th century. Sourdough is a mixture of flour and water in which naturally occurring yeast is enticed to grow. Along with the naturally occurring yeast, a second microbe, usually something in the acidophilus family, naturally occurs as well in a symbiotic relationship with the yeast: the yeast consumes the carbohydrates in the flour and then it excretes alcohol; the acidophilus consumes the alcohol and excretes a substance that skews the pH of the mixture to acidic. This skewing ensures that nothing but the yeast and the acidophilus can survive in the mixture – as a result, a “well-fed” sourdough culture is sterile and stable at room temperature. This skewing also gives sourdough its distinctive flavor.

Q) How long will it take to grow a sourdough culture from scratch?
A) If you are successful, about seven days.

Q) How will I know if I’m not successful?
A) The smell. After four or so days, the sourdough culture should smell pleasant: like beer, maybe even a hint of fruit. If the culture smells like acetone (nail polish remover), it needs another “feeding” immediately. If the culture smells bad or rotten, toss it and start over.

Q) What things can I do to have a better chance of success at growing a culture?
A) Use filtered water. Use wheat flour.

Q) What things do I need to grow a culture?
A) Flour, water, a half-gallon container – preferably glass and wide-mouthed, coffee filters or something else with which to cover the container that will allow some air transfer.

Q) What is meant by “feeding” the culture?
A) Flour is food for the culture. Once the carbs are extracted, they must be replaced or the culture will die. The carbs are replaced by feeding more flour and water to the culture.

Q) If you keep feeding the culture, won’t it get too big for the half-gallon jar?
A) Yes. By following the process of starting a culture, given below, the resulting culture will be just the right size for the jar. After that, the culture is ready for use: use half of the culture for a batch of bread, and replace the amount used with equal parts flour and water.

Q) Once the culture is established, how should it be kept?
A) Unless I am going to make one or more batches of bread every day, I feed the culture and then refrigerate it. Out of refrigeration, unfed, the culture will start to turn in about a day. In refrigeration, unfed, the culture will start to turn in about two weeks.

Q) How do I use a refrigerated culture?
A) Remove it from refrigeration. Wait for it to come to room temperature – you can tell by the rising action of the culture. Take half of the culture and use it in a batch of bread dough. Feed the culture: replace the amount used with equal parts flour and water. Refrigerate again.

Q) Do I need any special equipment to make bread?
A) Bread pans and dough mixers are helpful but are not necessary.

Q) Are there any health benefits to sourdough risen bread?
A) Some recent studies have shown that, since the acidophilus softens the dough gluten, people with gluten intolerance may have an easier time digesting sourdough bread. However, your mileage may vary.


Sourdough Starter Recipe

Ingredients

  • All-Purpose Flour (various amounts by day – total appx. 320g.)
  • Water (various amounts by day – total appx. 390g.)

Prep

  • Clean and dry a 1 half-gallon glass container.
  • After each mixing, cover the container with an air-permeable covering.

Day

  1. Mix 20g flour and 50g water. Stir two more times throughout the day to incorporate air.
  2. Stir three times throughout the day to incorporate air.
  3. Stir three times throughout the day to incorporate air.
  4. Mix in an additional 20g flour and 30g water. Additional stirring is no longer required.
  5. Mix in an additional 40g flour and 50g water.
  6. Mix in an additional 80g flour and 90g water.
  7. Mix in an additional 160g flour and 170g water.

Notes

  • More water than flour is added at each step to allow for 10g of evaporation per day.
  • When mixing, do not stir too vigorously (encourage gluten development).
  • During the first 3 days, disregard odd coloring of the mixture.
  • If at any time the mixture smells strongly of acetone, pitch half of the mixture and add the equivalent amount – half flour, half water.
  • By day 7 the mixture should start rising. If not, it should at least have a healthy smell: fruity or beery.
  • Adjust the size of the culture to what suits you best, but be sure whatever container you use can accommodate the size of a risen culture. I keep my culture at about 800 grams, which when risen fits well in a half-gallon container.

Sourdough Pancake Recipe

Ingredients

  • 400 g. (appx.) Sourdough Culture

Wet Additions

  • 1 T. Maple Syrup
  • 1 T. Vegetable Oil
  • 1 Egg (Large to Jumbo)
  • (Optional) up to 100 g. Water

Dry Additions

  • .5 t. Baking Powder
  • .25 t. Baking Soda
  • .25 t. Non-Iodized Salt

Other

  • 1 stick Butter or Margarine

Prep

  • Preheat a skillet or griddle to between Medium and Medium-High heat

Mix

  • Thoroughly beat eggs with the other wet additions in a large bowl. Water is optional. Less water (or none) will produce thicker, more cake-like pancakes. More will produce thinner, more crepe-like pancakes.
  • Add Sourdough Culture and Dry Additions to Wet Addition mixture.
  • Mix thoroughly but not vigorously (do not encourage gluten development) – mixture will immediately start to rise.

Cook

  • Melt a pat of butter onto the hot griddle or skillet.
  • Ladle enough batter for one pancake onto the hot griddle or skillet.
  • Flip when almost all of the surface leavening bubbles have burst.
  • Remove from heat and serve when other side has finished cooking (appx. 1 minute).
  • Adjust heat to prevent burning either the pancake or the butter.
  • Repeat from Cooking step 1 until all batter is used.

Sourdough Basic Bread Recipe

Ingredients

  • 400 g. Sourdough Culture (risen and at room temperature)
  • 250 g. White Bread Flour
  • 115 g. Water (at room temperature)
  • 9 g. Non-Iodized Salt (Do not use Iodized Salt, it will ruin the taste of the bread)
  • Olive Oil

Mix

  • Mix culture, flour, and water in a large bowl until dough is “shaggy.”
  • Cover the bowl and rest the dough for .5 hour to allow dough to autolyse.
  • Add salt evenly throughout the dough.
  • Mix/knead the dough for 1 – 2 minutes.
  • Rest the dough for 5 – 10 minutes.
  • Repeat steps 3 & 4 until dough is smooth and pliable.

Rise 1

  • Place dough in an oiled glass bowl.
  • (Optional) Cover with a floured linen.
  • Allow dough to rise at room temperature (or in a proofing box) until doubled in size (appx 1 – 2 hours).
  • Removed dough from the bowl onto a work surface.
  • Punch the dough down (press down on the center and work outward to force most of the air out of the dough).

Rise 2 – Ferment (Retard) (This step is optional but will produce better tasting bread)

  • Place the dough in an oiled glass bowl.
  • Cover the bowl.
  • Place the bowl in refrigeration for 24 – 48 hours.
  • Remove the bowl from refrigeration.
  • Allow dough to come to room temperature (or sit in a proofing box) and then to rise until doubled in size (Proofing box: 2 – 3 hours, Room temperature: 6 – 8 hours).
  • Punch the dough down.

Rise 3

  • Pan the dough (use oil or parchment paper according to form of dough).
  • (Optional) Cover with a floured linen.
  • Allow dough to rise at room temperature (or in a proofing box) until doubled in size (appx 1 – 2 hours – possibly more in colder temps).
  • Score the dough to allow space for the dough to bloom.

Bake

  • Place a pan of water on the bottom shelf of the oven.
  • Preheat the oven to 500° F.
  • Place bread in the oven.
  • Reduce heat to 460° F.
  • Bake for 20 – 35 minutes (depending on oven, form of dough, and type of pan) (finished when the top of loaf is brown).

Test

  • Remove bread from the pan.
  • Lightly tap the bottom of the loaf.
  • If the tap does not sound hollow, return the bread to the pan and the pan to the oven for 5 more minutes.
  • If necessary, repeat steps 1 – 3 until bread is done.

Finish

  • (Optional) Coat the top of the loaf with melted butter or margarine, or other oil to soften the top crust.
  • (Optional) Cool before serving. (Fresh bread is great, but doesn’t cut very well.)

Please ask any questions you have. And please share with whomever might find this useful.

And most of all, stay safe and stay well.

Published in Education
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  1. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    awesome! Now I feel like a super-prepper. I admire anyone that puts a full stick of butter into pancake batter (full Betty Botter).

    I hope somebody posts a recipe for hydroxychloroquine soon;)

    • #1
    • March 29, 2020, at 9:57 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  2. Rick Poach Inactive
    Rick Poach

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):
    I admire anyone that puts a full stick of butter into pancake batter

    Thanks for pointing that out, Don.
    The formatting from the original document didn’t transfer correctly.
    I’ve gone back and corrected it.

    • #2
    • March 29, 2020, at 10:04 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. MarciN Member

    I have been making sourdough bread once a week for about ten years now. I use the King Arthur Flour sourdough starter.

    There is nothing I enjoy more than taking a loaf of sourdough bread out of the oven.

    It’s really nice of you to write out these instructions for people. It is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon during the Duration. :-)

    • #3
    • March 29, 2020, at 10:07 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  4. GeezerBob Coolidge

    Take a look at this. Then compare notes. https://mostly-greek.com/?s=sourdough

    We are no stranger to sourdough!

    • #4
    • March 29, 2020, at 10:24 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. Al French of Damascus Moderator

    Sourdough molasses bread

    https://ricochet.com/members/alfrench/activity/1552880/

     

    • #5
    • March 29, 2020, at 10:38 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. Patrick McClure, Coffee Achiev… Coolidge

    For those of us who do not have metric measuring spoons or cups is this available in imperial measurements?

    • #6
    • March 29, 2020, at 11:11 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  7. Patrick McClure, Coffee Achiev… Coolidge

    Also, I have been processing oats into oat flour using a blender. Can a sourdough starter be made with oat flour, or mix of oat and wheat flour?

    • #7
    • March 29, 2020, at 11:15 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Having sampled some Poach bread (and homemade cheeses) at the Montana Meetup, I’d say he knows what he’s talking about.

    • #8
    • March 30, 2020, at 5:22 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. Rick Poach Inactive
    Rick Poach

    Patrick McClure, Coffee Achiev… (View Comment):

    For those of us who do not have metric measuring spoons or cups is this available in imperial measurements?

    I haven’t used imperial in a while, but here are some general proportions.

    For maintaining and feeding the sourdough culture, keep the mixture 1 part water and 1 part flour.

    For starting the sourdough culture, start with a tablespoon of flour and a little more than a tablespoon of water. Double the amount of flour on days 4, 5, 6, and 7, and on those days match that amount in water with just a bit more to allow for evaporation.

    For making bread, use half of the culture, then keep the proportions of flour and water of the resulting dough at 10 parts flour and 7 parts water. This proportion is known as the Baker’s Percentage. The salt is only there for flavor, so start at 1 teaspoon per loaf and then adjust to your taste in the next batch.

    • #9
    • March 30, 2020, at 5:36 AM PDT
    • Like
  10. Rick Poach Inactive
    Rick Poach

    Patrick McClure, Coffee Achiev… (View Comment):
    Also, I have been processing oats into oat flour using a blender. Can a sourdough starter be made with oat flour, or mix of oat and wheat flour?

    Yes, a sourdough culture can be made with any type of flour.

    In fact, one of the easiest flours to start a culture with is Teff flour which is used in Ethiopian bread. But, because of demand, you’re most likely only going to find it in boutique stores.

    Just understand that whatever you use to make the culture will be used in each loaf, whether or not the recipe calls for that type of flour.

    When I start a new culture, I prefer to start it with wheat flour because it has a better success rate. But then once it’s started and stable, after use, I feed it with white flour. I do this because most bread recipes contain a majority of white flour.

    • #10
    • March 30, 2020, at 5:44 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. PHCheese Member

    MrsCheese started potato yeast several days ago. Could that be used for sourdough?

    • #11
    • March 30, 2020, at 6:00 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Rick Poach Inactive
    Rick Poach

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    MrsCheese started potato yeast several days ago. Could that be used for sourdough?

    Probably not. The yeast is only one half of the equation, the other is the acidophilus. I’m not sure that acidophilus occurs naturally in potato like it does in grain.

    • #12
    • March 30, 2020, at 6:04 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Rick Poach (View Comment):

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):
    I admire anyone that puts a full stick of butter into pancake batter

    Thanks for pointing that out, Don.
    The formatting from the original document didn’t transfer correctly.
    I’ve gone back and corrected it.

    Hm. In addition to the pats of butter required for the skillet/griddle, I’ve always thought that the extra 1 stick of butter went on the pancakes once they got to one’s plate and were drowning in maple syrup. This is because I’ve always viewed pancakes simply as a delivery mechanism, aiding in getting the syrup and butter into one’s mouth.

    • #13
    • March 30, 2020, at 6:51 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  14. danok1 Member

    I also have been baking bread (and other goodies: scones, cakes, etc.) for a while. It’s very rewarding.

    Most people think making bread is difficult and time-consuming. It’s not. If one can follow a recipe and measure properly, making a basic sandwich loaf is easy. The actual hands-on time is 20 minutes or so, even less if one uses a stand-mixer to handle most of the kneading. The rest of the time is just letting the yeast do their work.

    Of course, there are some “advanced” techniques, but even those aren’t too complicated.

    One of my favorites is from the King Arthur Flour site, French-Style Country Bread. Just the four base ingredients: flour, water, yeast, salt. So good.

    Some sourdough I’ve made 

    Now, to get my sourdough starter out and fed….

    • #14
    • March 30, 2020, at 7:37 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  15. Tex929rr Coolidge

    Like the OP, Mrs Tex has a sourdough starter that is going on ten years now. Weekly products are typically bagels (my favorite), pretzels, hamburger type rolls and baguettes. Great stuff. I often made bread with a bread machine for a long time but only rarely now.

    The disappearing baking supplies seemed very strange to me – I suspect there is a lot of unsatisfying baking going on, but maybe more people will realize just how good homemade baked goods can be. Personally I’m looking forward to visiting my favorite greasy spoon restaurants again. 

    • #15
    • March 30, 2020, at 7:53 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. Quietpi Member

    I took an interest in sourdough while still in high school. Got some dried starter from “Sourdough Jack” Mabee. He’s a story all by himself. But I digress. Made pancakes and waffles, and occasional attempts at bread, through high school, college, and into married life, then something happened to the starter. A couple fitful tries and failures over the years. Then maybe a year ago my neighbor got into it, gave me some starter, and a great, simple recipe. Mmmmm. It still isn’t regular (enough), but I’m working on it.

    I discovered about a week ago that I didn’t have sufficient bread flour (I assume this is what you mean by wheat flour, since all-purpose flour is also 100% wheat). But digging in to the subject, I learned that the only difference was that bread flour has slightly higher protein content. You can use all-purpose. It just won’t rise quite as much, and the bread will be softer. So excuse me for a moment while I take the starter out of the fridge . . .

    All purpose works fine for regular feeding of your starter, but when you’re feeding it just prior to making bread, switch to bread flour.

    My neighbor also pointed me to a book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8185785-tartine-bread

    It’s not so much a recipe book as a textbook, albeit filled with a lot of unnecessary stuff that ranges from more to less interesting. Robertson uses an alternative to kneading that is a heck of a lot easier, if not as useful in building firm triceps. He also tells how to bake using a Dutch oven, that does a better job of creating the high humidity during the early phase of baking. It’s pricey, but I do recommend the book.

    Incidentally, preserving some starter by drying it is easy, and it will keep that way for at least months, even decades, so they say. It is a great way to send some to other nascent sourdough aficionados.

    • #16
    • March 30, 2020, at 8:35 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  17. Quietpi Member

    Patrick McClure, Coffee Achiev… (View Comment):

    For those of us who do not have metric measuring spoons or cups is this available in imperial measurements?

    Patrick, here’s what I’ve found: 100 G flour = about 1/2 C. 1 G H2O = 1 ml, so 100 G = about 1/2 C. I don’t remember how the salt worked out. I think it was about 1 Tsp for 20 G, but don’t hold me to that.

    They tell me that professional bakers use proportions by weight rather than imperial measures. That way, recipes are easily scaled.

    • #17
    • March 30, 2020, at 8:43 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  18. Rick Poach Inactive
    Rick Poach

    Quietpi (View Comment):
    I discovered about a week ago that I didn’t have sufficient bread flour (I assume this is what you mean by wheat flour, since all-purpose flour is also 100% wheat).

    The instructions state to use All Purpose Flour. That is a leftover from one of the classes that I did a lecture for. They had plenty of All-Purpose flour on hand.

    A sourdough culture can be made from just about any grain flour. The flour that I’ve found that gives the best success for growing a new culture is Teff, but Teff is hard to find. The second best is Wheat because wheat is unbleached – bleaching flour for White flour stresses the natural flora in the flour needed to start a culture.

    A sourdough culture is a temperamental thing. There are lots of reasons why it doesn’t respond well in any one particular location: ambient temp, air pressure, elevation, other strong strains of ambient yeast attacking the culture…

    • #18
    • March 30, 2020, at 8:49 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  19. Rick Poach Inactive
    Rick Poach

    Quietpi (View Comment):
    Incidentally, preserving some starter by drying it is easy, and it will keep that way for at least months, even decades

    I have a container of my dried starter that I keep on the freezer. Just in case.

    • #19
    • March 30, 2020, at 8:50 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. Boss Mongo Member

    Rick Poach: The smell. After four or so days, the sourdough culture should smell pleasant: like beer,

    I’m in!

    • #20
    • March 30, 2020, at 9:04 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  21. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    I’m on the keto diet and I hate you all. ;) 

    • #21
    • March 30, 2020, at 10:08 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  22. Stad Thatcher

    I cheat. I get my sourdough starter from King Arthur Flour . . .

    • #22
    • March 31, 2020, at 8:09 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Reagan
    GLDIII Temporarily Essential Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Already over a dozen loaves since we have been force to sequester two weeks ago. Brioche, French, Fougasse, and the favorite stand by, Ciabatta….. 

    Going to attempt the sourdough starter, if I can find some plain old enriched flour in my pantry.

    • #23
    • March 31, 2020, at 9:28 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  24. Rick Poach Inactive
    Rick Poach

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):
    Already over a dozen loaves since we have been force to sequester two weeks ago. Brioche, French, Fougasse, and the favorite stand by, Ciabatta….. 

    Outstanding!

    • #24
    • March 31, 2020, at 9:32 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  25. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Reagan
    GLDIII Temporarily Essential Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Rick Poach (View Comment):

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):
    Already over a dozen loaves since we have been force to sequester two weeks ago. Brioche, French, Fougasse, and the favorite stand by, Ciabatta…..

    Outstanding!

    That Brioche is wrapped around a largish wheel of Brie, covered in Apricot jam. It never seems to survive more than a day around here, and hits it half life (ie half of it disappears while still warm from the oven) very fast, what with the two boys and their spouses all stuck here in the house for the duration.

    I have been using the bread baking book published by one of the Judges (Paul Hollywood) as seen on the Great British Bake Off. All of the recipes are in metric, but since most of my professional life has been calculating stuff in metric it feels comfortable.

    • #25
    • March 31, 2020, at 9:44 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  26. Patrick McClure, Coffee Achiev… Coolidge

    I think I am going to cheat and make a second starter, but this time add just a pinch of yeast. I may as well not know what the hell I’m doing on two fronts instead of just one.

    • #26
    • March 31, 2020, at 11:23 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  27. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Stad (View Comment):

    I cheat. I get my sourdough starter from King Arthur Flour . . .

    Not gonna lie, I’m more worried about your monarchist sympathies than the cheating. 

    • #27
    • March 31, 2020, at 1:00 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  28. Jan Bear Member

    If you don’t have a glass jar the right size, would it be better to use ceramic or plastic?

    Asking for a friend.

     

    • #28
    • April 1, 2020, at 9:54 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Reagan
    GLDIII Temporarily Essential Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Happy Easter Rick, 

    I thought I would share the results from your starter instructions. These puppies were just out of the oven on the way to the Easter table for dinner.

    They are my third shot from the starter batch. The first two attempts were a bit stogy, but this batch I enhanced with a couple of teaspoons of normal active yeast to get a bit more of a rise, and by picky adult kids gave it a near perfect score*. 

    *It pains them to bestow any accolades on Dad’s cooking unless they think it really superlative, so thanks for the recipe and easy to not screw up by instructions.

    III

     

    • #29
    • April 12, 2020, at 12:47 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  30. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):

    Happy Easter Rick,

    I thought I would share the results from your starter instructions. These puppies were just out of the oven on the way to the Easter table for dinner.

    They are my third shot from the starter batch. The first two attempts were a bit stogy, but this batch I enhanced with a couple of teaspoons of normal active yeast to get a bit more of a rise, and by picky adult kids gave it a near perfect score*.

    *It pains them to bestow any accolades on Dad’s cooking unless they think it really superlative, so thanks for the recipe and easy to not screw up by instructions.

    III

    That’s some heroic bread right there. 

    • #30
    • April 12, 2020, at 4:03 PM PDT
    • Like