Sunday, February 23, 2020

Adventures with Sourdough

For years I have wanted to master (or at least have some success) with naturally leavened bread.  Of course we love the flavor of "sourdough", but my real reason for wanting to successfully leaven bread with wild yeast was so that I would be able to nourish my family with the "staff of life", even if I didn't have access to commercially produced yeast.  Although quick breads are easy and don't require yeast, there is nothing to compare with fresh-from-the-oven, honest-to-goodness bread!  Besides, once I set my mind to something, I HAVE to see it through....even if it takes me years!  And so began my adventure with sourdough.

I attempted sourdough many times while we lived in "Little Shouse on the Prairie".  I had read that wild yeast was present in the air and lent a flavor all its own, depending upon where the yeast was gathered, thus the distinctive "San Francisco Sourdough" we've all come to associate with traditional sourdough bread.  In that vein, I mixed flour and water in equal portions and left it for a number of days, stirring occasionally, in an attempt to gather yeast and make a starter work.  As many times as I tried, that's how many times I failed.  My starter would become a watery, gray mess that smelled bad and had no life.  I got busy and regular bread was good (and I could make it!) and I gave up on sourdough....for the moment.

Last Thanksgiving we invited some folks that were new to the area to join our Thanksgiving celebration.  As a gift they brought two gorgeous loves of still-warm sourdough bread.  Oh, my goodness!  It was wonderful!  It was light with an airy crumb and delightful crust.   I was inspired!  And so began a new adventure with sourdough.

I read article after article after article and finally came up with a game plan.  I made my starter, faithfully fed it (something I hadn't done before) and, after 8 days, proclaimed it ready.  I started with a simple loaf from King Arthur Flour.  It was good but not exactly what I was looking for.  I tried sourdough pizza crust (again, good, not great), and another, lighter loaf recipe.  Next, I stepped up to sourdough English muffins (amazing!) and then tried my hand at a sourdough sandwich loaf.  Each loaf has been better than the last, and in the months since I began my quest I've only become more and more convinced that sourdough is amazing - definitely worth the time and effort!

I must preface my recipes with the fact that I am a simple, country cook.  Most recipes I've found have been rendered in grams and ounces.  What I've known as "sourdough" is in fact called "levain" and there are a number of specialized articles of equipment that are apparently required to make a decent loaf.  Well, I threw all of that out the window and winged I usually do.  I've created recipes using simple cups and tablespoons and teaspoons.  These recipes have worked wonderfully for me....and I do hope you'll give "sourdough" a truly is amazing!!!


What you'll need:
Flour (whole grain or unbleached white)
Water (filtered, if using treated city water)
Bowl (glass or ceramic - not metal)
Spoon (wood or rubber - not metal)
Tea towel

How to:
Day 1:  Mix 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of (warm) water.  Mix vigorously, stirring down the sides and incorporate everything.  Place a clean tea towel over the bowl and allow to sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 2:  Discard half of the mixture (really...throw it away - this allows you to property feed your remaining starter).  Add 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of (warm) water to the remaining starter.  Mix vigorously to incorporate.  Cover with towel and allow to (again) sit at room temperature for 24  hours.

Day 3:  Repeat instructions from day 2 (including throwing away 1/2 of the mixture).

Day 4:  Repeat instructions from day 2 (including throwing away 1/2 of the mixture).

Day 5:  Repeat instructions from day 2 (including throwing away 1/2 of the mixture).

Day 6:  Repeat instructions from day 2 (including throwing away 1/2 of the mixture), but let sit for 12 hours....then repeat.  You'll feed once every 12 hours on day 6.....

Day 7:  Repeat Day 6 instructions (feed once every 12 hours).

Your starter should be full of bubbles and ready to bake with on Day 7!!

Keep it going:
You can leave your starter on the counter (if you plan on using it every day, or almost every day) and feed it once a day (1 C. flour/1 C water).  If you plan on only using your starter a couple of times a week, you'll want to keep it in the refrigerator.  To keep it alive in the refrigerator, you'll need to use and feed it.  At least once a week, pull your starter from the fridge.  Allow the starter to warm to room temperature.  Use however much of your hydrated starter your recipe calls for.  After removing the starter (for your recipe) add 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water to your starter and stir well.  Allow to sit on the counter, covered with a tea towel for 8 hours or overnight and then cover and return to the fridge.  If you don't want to use your starter for the week, discard a cup or two of the starter and add the 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water, stir well, allow to sit on the counter for 8 hours or overnight and then return to the refrigerator for another week.  One thing I keep in mind is that the starter should be almost as thick as pancake batter.  If it gets too thin, I add more flour.  The flour is what feeds the starter.

My starter
Sourdough English Muffins

Day 1:

1 C. Sourdough starter
5 1/2 C. flour
2 C. Milk
2 T. Sugar
1 1/2. tsp. Salt
2 tsp. Baking soda
Cornmeal for dusting

In large bowl, combine your frothy starter with 4 cups of flour and the milk.  Stir to incorporate.  Cover with plastic.

Allow to sit on counter for 8 hours or up to 24 hours.

Day 2:

Add remaining ingredients.  Pour dough onto lightly floured surface and knead for 4 to 5 minutes.  Roll dough to 1/2 inch thick.

Cut with a biscuit cutter and transfer to a parchment lined cookie sheet that's been dusted with cornmeal.

Allow to rest for 45 minutes.

Heat skillet or griddle (on medium heat) and cook muffins for 6 - 8 minutes (or until golden).  Gently flip and cook on other side.  Cook for another 6 - 8 minutes.  Muffins, when done, will become lighter.

Cool slightly, split with fork.  These are wonderful warm with butter and jam....or toasted.

Makes 15 - 20 muffins.

The starter, flour and milk


Slip with a fork


Sourdough Sandwich Loaf

Makes 2 large loaves

1/2 C. Sourdough Starter
1/2 C. Milk
1 1/4 C. Flour

All of the Levain
5 1/2 - 7 C. Flour
2 Eggs
2 Egg yolks
2 1/2 C. Milk
2/3 C. Sugar
1 T. Salt
8 T. Butter (softened)

Day 1:
Mix levain ingredients in a bowl.  Cover and let sit at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight.

Day 2:
Place all ingredients in a mixer, except for salt and butter.  Mix on low speed until it comes together in a shaggy dough.

Let rest for 30 minutes.

Turn mixer on low and sprinkle with the salt and knead for 3 - 5 minutes or until dough comes together.

Add butter gradually, mixing well after each addition.  It will be very greasy, but the butter will eventually be absorbed into the dough.

Knead for another 10 minutes (add additional flour as needed to make a supple dough).

Place dough in a lightly greased bowl.

Cover tightly and allow to rise at room temperature for 2 hours.

Place in refrigerator overnight.

Day 3:Divide dough into 6 pieces and form into balls.  Allow to rest on a floured surface (cover with tea towel) for 1 hour.

Roll each section into an oval and roll out with rolling pin and then roll jellyroll fashion.

Rest for 10 minutes.

Roll into an oval again and roll like a jellyroll.

Transfer 3 rolls to a buttered bread pan.  (I used 1 large pan, 1 regular and 1 small).

Cover and let rise for 6 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees.  Bake for an additional 15 - 20 minutes.

Cool on wire rack.

The levain

Shaggy dough

Jellyroll style rolls

After rising for 6 hours

Oh my goodness!!!!

And here you have naturally leavened bread!


  1. So glad you are back on blogger world......missed you

  2. I missed you also! So glad Patrice mentioned her link to you as I haven't checked for quite a while. I have given my sour dough "discards" to my hens - sometimes baked and sometimes not. Seems to make them happy!

  3. My first starter is finally ready and your sandwich loaf recipe is the first I'm going to try with it--looks so much less fussy than basically all the other sourdough loaf recipes I've seen!

  4. I’m starting my sourdough starter today. My sourdough journey was like yours so hopefully I can bring my journey to the same ending as yours with delicious bread. I have three started, one with rye flour, one with high gluten bread flour, and one with all purpose flour. We shall see.
    I’ve always kept extra yeast on hand to bake with but now you can’t find yeast so I decided I had better get this mastered. Amazing how you can focus on something when you have to.

  5. I was excited to finally use my starter for bread, so appreciated this recipe! A couple thoughts after making it: First, it took a lot more flour for mine -- almost 9 cups I think -- so the key is to trust look and feel once you've followed all the directions. Second, I used a Kitchen Aid mixer, so the dough kept pushing up into the base, which was really annoying since I had to keep stopping it and using a spatula to get the dough back down into the bowl. (I think Patrice is using the awesome mixer I used to have, so maybe it didn't do that?) I pulled my dough out as soon as it stopped being too wet to handle, and kneaded it on a floured board for that last 10 minutes of kneading Day 2, which was good exercise, lol -- but the dough was gorgeous and "supple," by that time. Third, my dough never got greasy after adding the butter, but I was also adding more flour slowly at the same time because it was still really sticky -- (I also had already reached the 7 cup max listed on the recipe, so I wasn't sure how it would go. It was fine.)

    I am not criticizing the recipe, just letting others know that making bread is a lot of "art," so don't worry if it doesn't look and act exactly like Patrice wrote, at exactly the same time. Again, you will have to use your eyeballs and touch to determine where you are. Too wet? Add flour slowly. Not greasy after adding butter? Don't worry. (Patrice probably has a lot more insights, too!) I would also add, this was too sweet a dough for us, as we are used to sourdough without much or any sugar, but it would be perfect for sweet rolls. :-)

  6. Enola have you tried using the starter in the bread recipe you used with the commercial yeast? I’ve got my starter going well. I mentioned before I was trying three different flours for starter. All the starters did fine but the one made with the high protein, the bread flour, was definitely the winner. It has turned out quite vigorous. So I’m going to try your two recipes you have here and the start experimenting with my regular bread recipe. Thanks for posting the recipes, it was the push to get me to try making start again instead of stressing about finding yeast to buy.