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I have been working with sourdough for the better part of a decade. During this time I have made many different types of bread with my starter. Whenever I can I try to use my starter to make healthy, simple bread at home.
This can be a more difficult process if you let it. It’s meant to be simple and dependable. My hope is to encourage you to start out on the sourdough and help you along the way.
One of the ways we live simply is by cooking with whole food ingredients. I love knowing what is in our food and knowing all the ingredients. We strive to buy our foods to have simple ingredients such as flour, milk, cream, sugar, oil, salt, and so on. When I shop I spend time looking at ingredients and always remember less is more.
We try to eat a whole food diet.
Years ago I started making all of our own bread at home. I have fond memories of my grandmother baking bread several times a week. I find one of the hardest items to shop for with simple ingredients is bread. However if you do find some it can be pricey compared to what’s actually in the bread.
One of the things I dislike about baking bread is working with commercial yeast.
I don’t like anything that is more difficult than it should be and yeast breads feel exactly that. For instance I have to make sure my yeast is active, and that the temperature is correct, and that the rising time is just right. It becomes very process oriented and feels like a chore instead of an easily achievable activity. If one thing is not right the bread will not rise and it feels like wasted time. Consequently I became naturally drawn to baking with sourdough.
I have been working with sourdough for what feels like a long time now. The longer I bake with it the harder it is to go back. Yeast breads just taste more and more like cardboard. Sourdough is so versatile that you can bake almost anything with it, quick breads, tortillas, crackers, and sandwich bread. The list could go on.
It can be a little tricky to find good, easy instructions for how to use a sourdough starter.
I do remember in the beginning I slogged through so much information online trying to understand how to make sourdough bread. I could find a ton of information on how to catch a wild yeast and get a starter going but I had a very hard time finding information on how to actually use the starter to bake. For that reason I want to share my collected knowledge with you because I want to make your experience easier.
There are two ways you can get started with sourdough.
- Catch the natural yeasts from the air and culture them.
- Purchase an already established starter culture from a reputable retailer or get one from a friend.
There are some great tutorials out there about how to catch natural yeasts from the air and get your sourdough going from scratch. I have tried it a few times and I have seen people I know be successful with it. I have also seen people fail. My personal opinion is that this is the more difficult and unpredictable method, which I will explain more about later on.
I suggest you get started the easiest way possible.
I would recommend to any sourdough beginner to either get an established starter from someone local or purchase one.
Personally I like “>Cultures for Health. I have used them to start my sourdough up more than once as we had to take a break due to needing to eliminate gluten from our diet for a year. Many people will say that buying an established strain is expensive, but if you consider the time you put in to catching a wild starter, and the work you do to get it healthy enough to raise bread, 12-15 dollars is not that expensive. Not to mention all the flour you will go through if your starter fails when trying to catch the wild yeast. We use organic flour and so just throwing that flour away for 10 days without the promise of success is the more expensive option for our family.
The benefits of using or purchasing an established starter are that it will be predicable and stable. When you are attempting to catch wild yeasts you may not catch any. You may only catch a few causing your starter to be weak. You may also get mold in your starter due to the cultures not being robust enough to fight it off. Thus you may have more struggles than success.
If you really want to try your hand at catching a wild strain and making a starter from scratch go here to read how.
When you purchase a starter you will get good, clear instructions on how to make and keep it healthy.
Often you can get going for free as people who have a starter can be more than willing to share. I have given mine too many friends and family members. In addition to starting with something that is already active and working you will get instructions and ongoing help if you can find someone to get an active starter from.
In my opinion I don’t really know of any benefits of catching wild yeast and making a starter from scratch.
Catching a wild strain can be hard during different times of the year. You will have the most success during summer when you have a lot of yeast activity due to the warm temperatures and growing vegetation. If you are a person who likes to rise to a challenge then catching wild yeast might be for you.
I have always bought the San Francisco strain. Over time it is most likely that a purchased culture will convert over to a local wild yeast strain all on its own. Depending on how you care for your starter you can alter the taste; it can be more or less sour. The following are the basic instructions how to care for an established starter. Part two of this series will be the introduction on how to use the starter.
Keeping your starter healthy:
We keep our starter in a quart Mason or Weck canning jar.
I have tried other containers and nothing has been as easy to work with as canning jars.
You will need to feed the starter every 24 hours.
Use the best flour you can buy and filtered water. We like unbleached, non enriched organic white flour.
You will need to double the amount of starter with every feeding.
This is easiest if you pour off some to either store for later or bake with. If you start with a starter that was just ½ c flour and ¼ cup water at the last feeding, at the next feeding you will pour off half and then feed it the same ratio.
Sometimes I cheat and feed mine for more than one day.
I can only do this once or twice before it will outgrow my jar. So if my last feeding was ½ cup flour and ¼ cup filtered water and I didn’t pour any off I will feed it 1 cup flour and ½ cup filtered water. If I were to do this again a 3rd day I would do 2 cups flour and 1 cup filtered water.
Be careful of how much starter you have in your container.
However feeding this way for 3 days will overflow my jar so I don’t do it that often. I try to use my starter about every 3rd day. For instance, if you want to bake a lot of items on one day, say cinnamon rolls, then dinner rolls for Christmas day then feeding several times a day to build up a lot of starter is what you should do.
Always keep your container lightly covered.
When I use a Mason jar I use a white plastic lit and I don’t screw it on. However the Wreck jar works great with the lid and no seal or clips.
You can put your starter in storage.
Whenever you need to take a break or don’t want to use your starter multiple times a week you can feed it and then put it in the fridge. When you want to use it, take it out and let it warm up for a few hours.
Remember if you purchase a starter then instructions will come with it. Go and get started and I will see you in Part 2- Using Your Starter