I really like kitchen baking projects - in fact, most days I prefer a time-consuming recipe to something I can whip up in 20 minutes. I enjoy these projects so much that it causes me to do crazy things, like try recipes that I know really won't be a giant hit here, simply for the experience of having done it. Sourdough bread, for example :) We're just not big bread people. I love baking it, but I usually end up giving away what I make, or sticking it in my freezer to make croutons or breadcrumbs at a later date.
I knew it would be a fun challenge to make sourdough bread, though. Sourdough bread begins with a starter - it's what gives the sourdough that classic tangy flavor. It's a simple combination of water, sugar, yeast and flour that is made in advance and then stored in your fridge. Generally, you only use a portion of your starter to make a recipe, so once you have the starter prepared, you can bake many, many goodies with it. The part that always intimidated me before I tried this was knowing that I had to keep the starter alive in my fridge. My track record for keeping things alive is, well, not very good.
But, good news! My starter has now been alive for 6 months, and if I can do it, anyone can :) It's really pretty simple actually. To maintain your starter all you do is feed it (meaning you add fresh flour and water) once every few weeks. And even if it somehow makes its way to the back of your fridge and you forget about it (which may or may not have happened here) it can probably still be rescued.
I've been having so much fun with this project. Yes, I made bread (more on that below), but the best part has been discovering that I can use my sourdough starter to bake tons of other things too! I'm really most excited to share those with you, but I didn't feel I could introduce sourdough pancakes, for example, without first giving you some basics. So today, I'm including some information to get you going - how to make your starter, care for it, and, if you're so inclined, bake sourdough bread. I am by no means an expert, almost everything I know about sourdough I learned from King Arthur Flour's sourdough primer. It is, in my opinion, the best resource out there so I definitely recommend checking it out. Annie of Annie's Eats also put together an informative post on sourdough last year that I referenced when baking my bread - it has great step-by-step pics if you find that helpful like I do.
Making Your Starter
2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour
Add the water to a large glass bowl. Stir in the sugar until dissolved, then stir in the yeast. Gradually add the flour, stirring to incorporate. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and set aside at warm room temperature - don't use plastic wrap, you want to attract wild yeast to your starter and allow it to develop the sourdough tang.
Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 2-5 days. You'll want to stir it once a day because it will separate. So, don't be concerned if it looks like this:
It should come back together easily if you mix it up:
When the starter stops bubbling and has developed a sour aroma, give it one final stir then store it in your refrigerator until you're ready to use it.
Feeding Your Starter
Once your starter is in the fridge, it's pretty low maintenance. You only need to replenish it about once every two weeks. When you take it out, you'll find the alcohol has separated and come to the surface. Use a whisk to mix the starter back together then remove 1 cup and either bake with it (most of the recipes I've seen that call for sourdough starter use a 1 cup quantity) or discard it. Replace the 1 cup of starter you removed with 1 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water. Stir to incorporate, then let the starter sit at room temperature for at least 12 hours before you return it to the refrigerator.
Using Your Starter
If you've made a sourdough starter, I'm guessing you want to bake bread with it :) There are a ton of recipes out there, but I've tried two and can recommend both of them. The first is from King Arthur Flour, and yields bread that is really flavorful, but doesn't have a ton of that classic sourdough tang. It can also be made in just a few hours, which is in sharp contrast to the second recipe, from Williams-Sonoma, which requires an overnight rest (8-12 hours) in the fridge, and therefore a bit more advance planning. This second recipe definitely delivers the sourdough flavor you expect, and time requirement aside, it's really not difficult.
You can find the first recipe on King Arthur Flour's site here. The second recipe is available from Williams-Sonoma here. The bread photographed above was made using the second recipe, FYI.
The bread is good, don't get me wrong, but (with a few exceptions) I'm just not a bread girl. Of the 4 loaves of sourdough bread I've made, I've given away three of them, and used half of the other one for breadcrumbs :) For me, the really awesome thing about having the sourdough starter in my fridge is the wealth of other goodies I can bake with it. Pizza, waffles, popovers, even cake - you name it, it can probably be made using your sourdough starter! I'll be sharing two or three ideas in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!