Crave: Sourdough is simpler than it sounds

photo by: Courtesy of Mother Earth News

Sourdough starter

Creating a sourdough starter from scratch is simple and ultimately marks the beginning of an ongoing relationship. It’s also the most intimidating part of the sourdough-baking process, because it’s often misunderstood. Here are step-by-step instructions for making a starter, as well as a bread recipe you can try at home.


Sourdough Starter

Sourdough starters can be made a few different ways, with methods that include fruit juices, grapes, honey, and even potatoes to boost natural fermentation. But all you really need are two simple ingredients: flour and water. Once combined, the culture will begin to ferment, developing the wild yeasts and bacteria needed to make your bread rise.

When creating a sourdough starter, it’s vital to begin with whole-grain flour to jump-start the fermentation process. Whole-wheat, rye, and spelt flour are great choices. Temperature and location also play important roles, so for best results, find a warm spot for your starter to thrive, such as a cozy cabinet.

The overall process will take about seven days from start to finish. Be flexible with timing, though, because developing yeast can be unpredictable. Your starter is ready when it has doubled in size and has produced plenty of bubbles on the surface and throughout the culture.

Day 1: Add 1⁄2 cup (60 grams) of whole-wheat flour and 1⁄4 cup (60 grams) of water to a large jar. Mix with a fork to combine; the consistency will be thick and pasty. If measuring by volume instead of by weight, add more water to thin out the texture. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a small cloth and let rest in a warm spot for 24 hours.

Day 2: Check to see whether any bubbles, which may look like small black dots, have appeared on the surface. Bubbles indicate fermentation. It’s OK if you don’t see anything, as the bubbles might have appeared but then vanished overnight. Rest the starter for another 24 hours.

Day 3: Whether bubbles are visible or not, it’s time to start the feeding process. To begin, remove and discard approximately half of your starter from the jar. The texture will be very stretchy. Add 1⁄2 cup (60 grams) of all-purpose flour and 1⁄4 cup (60 grams) of water. Mix with a fork until smooth. The texture should resemble thick batter or plain yogurt at this point, so add more water as needed. Cover loosely and let rest for another 24 hours.

Days 4, 5, and 6: Repeat the feeding process outlined on day 3. As the yeast begins to develop, your starter will rise, and bubbles will form on the surface and throughout the culture. When the starter falls, it’s time to feed it again.

Place a rubber band or a piece of masking tape around the jar to measure the starter’s growth as it rises.

Day 7: By now, you should see plenty of bubbles, both large and small. The texture will be spongy and puffy, similar to roasted marshmallows, and the starter should smell pleasant, not astringent. If these conditions are met, your starter is now active and ready to use.

If your starter isn’t ready at this point, which is quite common, continue the feeding process for another week or two or until it smells pleasant.

The last step is to transfer your starter to a clean jar.


Soft Honey Whole Wheat Bread

Yields 1 loaf.

Ingredients:

3⁄4 cup (150 grams) bubbly, active starter

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (270 grams) warm milk, whole or 2%

2 tablespoons (30 grams) warm water

2 tablespoons (40 grams) honey

2 tablespoons (30 grams) oil

1 cup (120 grams) whole-wheat flour or white whole-wheat flour

3 cups (360 grams) bread flour

1 1⁄2 teaspoons (9 grams) fine sea salt

1 tablespoon (14 grams) unsalted butter, melted

Directions:

A few days before baking, feed your starter until bubbly and active. Store at room temperature until ready to use.

In a large bowl, whisk the starter, milk, water, honey, and oil together with a fork. Add the flours and salt, and mix to combine. Using your hands, continue mixing until a rough dough forms. Cover with a damp towel and let rest for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Replenish your starter with fresh flour and water and set it aside, storing it according to your preference.

After the dough has rested, gently work it into a somewhat smooth ball; this should only take about 15 to 20 seconds. The dough will feel supple and smooth when it comes together.

Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let rise at room temperature (70 degrees Fahrenheit) until doubled in size, about 6 to 8 hours. The dough will look domed when ready.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently dimple the surface with your fingertips to release any large air bubbles. Roll the dough into a log, tucking the ends underneath. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Lightly coat a 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan with a little additional oil.

With floured hands, cup the dough and pull it toward you to tighten its shape. Gently pick it up and place it, seam side down, in the prepared loaf pan. Cover the dough with a clean towel, and let rest until it has risen about 1 inch above the rim of the loaf pan, about 1 1⁄2 to 2 hours, depending on the temperature.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Bake on the center rack for 40 to 45 minutes.

Remove bread from the oven and brush with melted butter. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then transfer bread to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

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