Here's what I do:
To make Starter:
When making or feeding starter, leave covered with something very breathable – like mesh or cheesecloth – just to keep bugs out but let air in. I use one of those mesh tents that you put over food at picnics - like you can get from the dollar store or walmart.
Make in large container, to allow bubbling/rising. I usually use an old plastic one-quart tub from yogurt.
When you stir it, stir well with a fork – incorporating air is a good thing. And you want to stir it enough to get out the lumps each time you stir.
This starter is liquid - like a melted milkshake, more or less, in texture.
I use regular All-Purpose Flour. You can probably use Bread Flour, instead.
If you use Whole Wheat, Rye, or Gluten-Free, I would expect very different results, and it may not work at all. I've never tried it with any of those.
Day 0, in a good sized container - Mix & Stir: ½ Cup water & ½ Cup Flour, stir
Day 1 - Stir
Day 2 – Stir
Day 3 – Feed with ½ Cup water & ½ Cup Flour, stir
Day 4 – Feed with ½ Cup water & ½ Cup Flour, stir
Day 5 – Feed with ½ Cup water & ½ Cup Flour, stir
Day 6 – Feed with ½ Cup water & ½ Cup Flour, stir
Day 7 – Feed with ½ Cup water & ½ Cup Flour, stir
Now you’re ready to make dough to bake.
Do NOT make your first batch before day 7 - it may seem ready, but it's not truly ready till at least the 7th day.
|Sourdough Starter - Ready to Use
Sourdough is an art – expect to need to troubleshoot and improve subsequent batches. This is my method, and it turns out reliably well for me for years now. But if you measure slightly differently, or live at a different altitude or whatever -you might have to fine tune a little.
Never use ALL the starter - always be sure you start with enough to leave about 1/2 cup behind to continue feeding for subsequent batches. A good starter can last for years this way.
After the first batch, you'll probably find that have enough starter to feed for a day or two more and make a second batch very soon - which you'll probably enjoy doing, as it gives you more chance to experiment with your process. If you cannot eat it all and don't want to take up the freezer space with a few extra initial loaves, gift it to friends and neighbors.
To make Sourdough Bread Dough:
Ideally, dough should be made about one hour after the starter is fed.
In a Clean Plastic shoe box or other very large, sturdy container with a lid (at least 6 quarts) , combine:
3 Cups Starter, what you prepared above
1 Cup Warm Water
1 Tablespoon Salt
5 Cups Flour
Stir well 'til no white patches of flour can be seen. It shouldn’t look like a kneaded dough –it’s not –it should look a bit wet for bread dough, and choppy in texture – more like a good, very thick brownie batter, or biscuit dough - bordering on play dough for thick texture. It should be hard to stir.
|Sourdough that has been stirred, but has not started rising
Cover with lid – allow to stand in a warm place for 5 or so hours, til risen significantly you (perhaps double – perhaps just close to that). Dough will get significantly softer and fluffier during this time. Temperatures and altitude, etc – affect rising time. Don’t freak out if my times are different from yours.
|Dough after rising about 5 hours - if you touch it, it feels soft, and the volume is about double.
At this point, if it’s still early in the day, you can shape it on a pan for baking.
If not, put it in the fridge overnight, to continue the next day, if that’s easier for you. Sometimes that works with my schedule better.
If you do refrigerate it, before let it warm up to about room temperature before shaping loaves - about 1/2 hour to 1 hour.
To Shape Loaves and Bake:
Flour top of dough, to reduce stickyness, and shape Four loaves – I make a Boule shape – and place them on a flat, parchment lined pan. To shape loaves, cut a Cross shape in the top of your dough with your hand, to divide it into four equal portions.
|Cut Dough in 1/4 in the Shape of a Cross with the Side of your Hand
|Lift Out 1/4 of Dough to Shape Loaf
Gently get your hand under each portion and lift it out, trying to preserve all the bubbles inside, and not crush them (you will unintentionally crush some- just don't crush any on purpose). Then, smooth the top of the loaf, turning as you go - for what is known as "Gluten Cloaking" See Short Video Demonstration here (this is for whole wheat, but the shaping process is the same)..
I try to make my loaves a little on the tall and narrow side, since sourdough boules spread sideways a little while rising.
I bake four loaves at a time on a large, parchment covered, perforated pizza pan - or two loaves on each of two parchment covered cookie pans (dark pans help crisp the bottom, if you prefer that).
Preheat oven before baking.
Allow to rise about ½ hour more (if they start going flat and wide – they are passing the point of readiness – BAKE THEM NOW!) But, normally, let them rise ½ hour to an hour – then slash them diagonally with a serrated knife.
|Dough Shaped and Rising on Parchment Covered Pizza Pan
Splash them with a little water for a crispy crust (you can spray, brush, or splash the water on - your choice).
|Loaves Slashed with a Serrated Knife, and Splashed with Water
Bake for 30 to 35 Minutes, at 450 degrees Fahrenheit, 'til golden or deep brown.
Remove from oven, cool as long as you can bear, slice, eat.
|The Obligatory "Crumb Picture" - Sourdough Bread Sliced & Ready to Eat
We don't usually eat four loaves at a sitting, so once it is completely cool, I slice the extra, and put it in Zippered Freezer bags. I put a paper towel in each bag to prevent condensation inside and sogginess or freezer burn.
It freezes VERY well, and I can thaw just a few slices in the microwave when desired.
To Maintain and Continue Using Starter:
You have two choices:
Constant Use - Counter method:
Leave it out on the counter, covered with mesh, and continue feeding twice every day, and bake again in a few days when you have enough. Each time you use 3 cups, and leave 1/2 cup, start feeding that 1/2 cup until you have enough to bake again. After the original 7 day process to create a starter, I feed mine twice a day, morning and evening to keep it strong and healthy.
To Feed - add 1/2 cup Flour, 1/2 cup Water, Stir well, re-cover.
Occasional Use - Refrigerator Method:
Put a lid on the container, and put it in the fridge 'til a few days before your next desired baking – then start feeding it again til you have enough plus a little. When you pull it out of the fridge, remove the lid and cover with a mesh of some sort (keep out bugs, let in air) and continue feeding twice every day, and bake again in a few days when you have enough. Each time you use 3 cups, and leave 1/2 cup, start feeding that 1/2 cup until you have enough to bake again. After the original 7 day process to create a starter, I feed mine twice a day, morning and evening to keep it strong and healthy.
To Feed - add 1/2 cup Flour, 1/2 cup Water, Stir well, re-cover.
Note: For a long time, I was a slave to feeding the starter every day. Then a friend told me she just covers & refrigerates her when she’s not using it for a while, then takes it out & feeds it for a few days when she wants to make a batch. Works great. I just left my starter in the fridge all summer (our summers here are quite long and hot, and I try to avoid baking in the oven in the summer. Then I took it out and fed it in the fall, and it worked GREAT!
There is a TINY possibility of pressure building up and bursting a
container of starter - so I don't use glass. This is highly unlikely
with a liquid starter like this one - but I err on the side of caution.
*If refrigerating, Do NOT continue feeding it until you get enough plus a little and put
it in the fridge then – only put it in the fridge in its pre-fed
condition/quantity. It needs a few days to wake up : )
Moving to a fresh container for your starter now and then can be helpful. I do this each time I put starter in the fridge, at least.
Using boiled water at room temp or bottled water can be helpful (chlorine in some tap waters can harm starter)
If a dark liquid rises to the top of starter – stir it in – it’s okay as long as it smells yeasty. Actually, that’s even good.
If it turns a funky color (pink/orange/green) discard and re-start – it’s been contaminated.
Be aware that salt affects more than just the flavor of bread - it also interacts with the other ingredients chemically. This means that changing the salt measurement may have results you don't intend, and should be done with care.
Starter improves and develops with age – at least allegedly. You might find out that the longer you make it, the more delightfully complex the flavor becomes. Mine is a few years old now : )
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