All about sourdough!
I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, so here it is finally, Gidget’s Guide to Sourdough! ;)
I’ve been baking with sourdough for almost four years now, after taking a local class from the amazing Min Kim. My sourdough starter, affectionately known as my “other pet” and named Bianca, is a living organism that I feed (daily ideally) and use to make all kinds of delicious creations. This is not an exhaustive guide, but simply my basic methods, tools, and some links for those who might be interested in giving sourdough a try. It is definitely a commitment, but once you get in a groove, the maintenance isn’t that big of a deal, and the amazing payoffs make the time spent more than worth it.
glass crock (with lid, or a plastic plate works fine if you break your lid like I did)
flour and filtered water (see below)
dutch oven (if you don’t have something like a Le Creuset French oven, this Lodge combo cooker is a super-affordable option that is great because you can also use both parts separately on the stove for other uses)
scoring knife (there’s quite a range of these from simple to fancy, I’ve linked to the midrange one I currently use)
baskets or brotforms for proofing (1-2 to start)
bonus: dough whisk (not necessary but awesome)
really good oven mitts that go high on your forearms as you will be baking at high temperatures (look for ones resistant to 500 degrees)
Maintaining a Starter
I received my starter as a baby from Min’s class four years ago so I really don’t know how long it had been living before I got it. As anyone who has one will tell you, the starter grows so fast that a sourdough baker pretty much always has some to spare and share. Sourdough starters are very resilient and can often be brought back to life even when you’ve been very negligent. You can also make your own starter from scratch (the first two main resources below both detail how to do that), but I love the idea of sharing the love by passing on starters between bakers.
I feed my starter 1-2 times a day depending on the weather and my laziness. * insert shrug emoji * I have a “Feed Bianca” reminder on my phone at 9 a.m. and p.m., and I try to feed it around those times. In the winter I can get by with once a day or even once every day and half but in warmer weather I try to do it twice regularly.
There are lots of ways to maintain a starter it seems. I essentially use my own variation of Min’s method. Here’s how I do it:
I set my crock of starter on my scale and zero it out/press “tare.”
I add 50 grams of filtered/alkaline water, and 50 grams of organic all-purpose flour. It’s not always exactly 50g but I make sure to use the exact amount of flour to match whatever water I poured in. I almost-exclusively use Bob’s Red Mill Organic AP and Bread flour for all my sourdough baking and maintaining. I get it at Sprouts usually.
I stir it up with a wooden chopstick, making sure to mix all the dry clumps in and to scrap the sides as clean as I can. I rinse the chopstick in cold water and set it in my dish strainer where I always leave it. ;)
I recover the starter with a flour sack dishcloth, a rubber band around the edges, and a plate on top to cover.
Every so often I transfer the starter to another container temporarily and clean out the crock with hot soapy water.
I leave Bianca on the counter (it needs to be a good distance away from any other ferments like kombucha or sauerkraut, be sure to research that if you do more than one kind).
If I’m leaving town or going to be particularly busy, I put it in the fridge (after feeding it a larger amount and letting it sit for a bit on the counter). It’s good-to-go in the fridge for at least a week (it can be fed and put back) but I’ve let it go for 2-3 weeks and it’s been fine. I’ve heard of people leaving theirs in the fridge for surprisingly long times and it surviving! There are maintenance methods where it basically lives in the fridge most of the time and only comes out to feed and bake with, but I like to have mine always out and ready to go.
If you keep feeding and not using enough of your starter, it will get too big and will have to be “discarded.” Luckily there are loads of recipes of what to do with discarded starter so you don’t actually have to throw it out. These are everyday-type recipes that usually don’t require any proofing time (read: just mix and cook/bake). I’ve shared some below. Each week I usually bake bread and then make 1-2 other things with my starter. The more you use the starter, the happier it will be. It will smell sour but not rancid or too vinegary if it’s healthy and being fed and used regularly.
This is, again, just an overview of my standard methods. It seems like there are endless resources and recipes out there for sourdough (yay for the internet!), so I’m always finding new ideas and things to try. I’m not giving any actual instructions for baking because I feel these top two resources cover pretty much everything you need to learn. Watching a friend do the actual steps also helps if you have someone nearby who can help (like me, if you’re a local friend! ;) ).
For the most traditional, nourishing, gut-friendly method to bake bread, I highly recommend Min’s simple ebook. (it’s well worth the five bucks!) This will include more details on starter maintenance, her full bread-making recipe and method, and also a way to convert her bread recipe into pizza dough (the best). Unfortunately this method takes a good amount of time at home and planning ahead so I don’t make her bread as regularly as I used to (life!). But it’s the best-tasting and best-texture bread though, hands down.
Artisan Sourdough Made Simple by Emilie Raffa (The Clever Carrot): This book changed my life, literally! I got it for Christmas in 2017 and sat down and read it cover to cover. Since then I've made countless recipes from it, and make her Everyday Sourdough or High-Hydration recipe at least once a week on average. It really can be made in about 2-ten minute stretches of time (plus baking time), one late at night, and the second the next day before baking. Her bread is not as fermented as Min’s recipe but it is still made with simpler, better ingredients than store-bought bread, and tastes great. Her recipes are really easy to follow with lots of pictures for learning technique. This book is my number-one used resource.
Sourdough (and also Toast & Jam) by Sarah C. Owens: Most of her recipes are way “fancier” than what I regularly can handle but they’re beautiful books, and her buttermilk biscuits (in the book Sourdough) are a staple in our house.
Oh-So-Fluffy Pancakes: if you have a cast iron skillet or two, this recipe is the best, easiest way to use up extra starter and feed the whole family in a shorter amount of time than it takes to make regular pancakes. This recipe is from Traditional Cooking School, a blog which is a fantastic recipe for sourdough and other nourishing foods.
My favorite scones, I’ve been making my own variation (i.e. choc chips instead of raisins & lemon) of these fairly regularly and they are amazing.
Here’s my Sourdough Pinterest board where I collect recipes I find online.
I keep a journal (pictured above with my well-loved copy of Min’s recipe) where I record what I make and when, especially when I’m making a recipe with various proofing/resting/active steps to keep track of time and to reference when I’m deciding what time to start a various recipe.
And finally! Sourdoughstagram! (okay, I made that word up.) I follow a handful of sourdough bakers on Insta and their pictures are inspiring (who knew bread could be so pretty??) and educational (especially videos). Here are my favorites:
@pragerbrothers (my favorite local bakery)
@wayfarer_bread (2nd favorite local baker, haven’t made it down to her new bakery yet though)
@thesourdoughpodcast (haven’t listened yet to this)
When I post about my sourdough creations it’s on my @nicole_vbennett account and tagged #nicolesadventuresinsourdough
Oh! And if you want to read a fun novel that puts a techie spin on the art of sourdough baking, check out Robin’s Sloan’s Sourdough.
So there you have it! Feel free to leave questions in the comments if you have any, and happy baking and eating! Don’t be shy with the butter and salt. ;)
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