I typically have no place being in the kitchen. I am not the cook in the family. That is best left to my husband or mother. But I do have a strong desire to grow my food and make things from scratch. This, coupled with the fact that I have always loved breads (especially sourdough bread) led me to pursue creating my own sourdough starter.
I waited until my mom and dad finally moved in with us to get this new activity started. I don’t know exactly why I waited. I think I was waiting for my mom’s support and experience, thinking that it would be a difficult task. After one failed attempt, I finally succeeded with the second attempt and have now made my first sourdough loaves!
First Attempt – Sourdough Starter using Kombucha
Since my mom is a fanatical kombucha maker/drinker, we found the following post on how to create a sourdough starter using kombucha. This surely seemed like an easy way to speed up the process since we already had happy, thriving yeast at the bottom of her kombucha container. We did exactly as the post directed, combining 1 1/2 c. flour with 1 1/2 c. kombucha and leaving that in the oven with only the light on for 24 hours. We thought it was going brilliantly because it already smelled yeasty and sour. However, the next day, we discovered that the yeast had eaten all of the “food” and there was a lot of liquid on the top of the mixture. We tried feeding again, but couldn’t get any bubbles, so we had to toss it. If you have been able to successfully use kombucha for sourdough, please let me know in the comments what we may have done wrong.
I read up some more on sourdough starters and decided to try the good old-fashion way of trying to start one with wild yeast.
Second Attempt – Sourdough Starter with Wild Yeast
A key component of keeping the yeast alive and happy was that the starter should always be fed in a 1-1-1 ratio. That means if there is 1 part starter, you have to add equal parts of both flour and water to the mix. I decided to start very small and feed my starter every 12 hours. This worked out perfectly with my work schedule. I would feed the starter at 8:00 am before I left for work, and then I would feed the starter again at 8:00 pm after putting the kids to bed. The schedule looked like this:
- 8 AM (Day 1) – Mix 1 Tbsp Flour with 1 Tbsp water
- 8 PM (Day 1) – Add 2 Tbsp water and 2 Tbsp flour to the starter
- 8 AM (Day 2) – Add 1/4 c. water and 1/4 c. flour to the starter
- 8 PM (Day 2) – Add 1/2 c. water and 1/2 c. flour to the starter
- 8 AM (Day 3) – Keep 1/2 c. starter and toss the rest, then add 1/2 c. water and 1/2 c. flour to the starter
- 8 PM (Day 3) – Add 1 c. water and 1 c. flour to the starter
By the morning of Day 4, the starter was very bubbly, sour smelling, and ready to be used to bake.
When adding the water, make sure you have de-chlorinated water as chlorine can kill the natural yeast. An easy way to do this is to fill a glass or measuring cup with water and let it sit overnight (I just put a paper towel over the top of mine while I did this). Every time I used some water, I made sure to replenish it so I would have some for the next time. When feeding my starter, I always added the water first to help break up the existing starter, then I added the flour and stirred well. I left my starter in a bowl on my kitchen counter covered with a clean towel.
Baking Sourdough Bread
I started mixing my dough for the bread on a weekday morning. In hindsight, I should have started it at night on a weekend, but I’ll get into the why in a bit.
- 6 cups flour (I used 5 cups organic all-purpose white flour and one cup of organic whole wheat flour just for good measure!)
- 2 cups warm water
- 1 cup sourdough starter
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- In a large bowl, combine the water, sourdough starter and 4 cups of flour
- Mix well and cover with plastic wrap in a warm place 8-12 hours
- Stir in the salt and sugar and add remaining 2 cups of flour 1/2 cup at a time to make a very stiff dough
- Knead until smooth
- Cover and let rise 2 to 2-1/2 hours
- Punch down and divide in half
- Knead till smooth and place into greased and lightly floured glass loaf pans. Cover lightly and let rise till double and puffy (1 to 1 1/2 hrs)
- Bake at 400 degrees F for 30-35 minutes
- Allow to cool to fully develop the sourdough flavor
As I mentioned before, I started this on a Monday morning. I mixed the first ingredients, covered and then went to work. When I got home from work at 6pm, I immediately added the rest of the ingredients and kneaded the dough, then let it rise until 8:30 PM. It was starting to get late, so I divided the dough, kneaded and then let rise in the loaf pans for 1 hour (until 9:30 PM). I was then baking the bread from 9:30 until 10:00 PM. I was so crunched for time trying to get the bread baked and still be able to go to bed at a reasonable time that I didn’t allow the dough to rise enough. And then I only baked it for 30 minutes, which also turned out to be not enough.
My bread had a wonderful sourdough flavor. It was just very dense and a bit too doughy still in the center.
Keeping the Sourdough Starter
After using a cup of my starter for the bread, I kept only another 1/4 cup in a glass jar that I could seal and keep in the fridge. The rest I threw out. The starter does not need to be fed as often if it is kept refrigerated, so I am feeding it about twice a week (though I have read you should only have to feed it once a week).
Even though the bread was dense and a bit under-cooked, I chalk this experiment up as a success! I was able to get an active starter in just 3 days and had bread with a wonderful sour flavor. I am now in search of a good recipe / variation to try to make a sandwich bread. I’ll definitely budget plenty of time to let the dough rise the next time. I’d love to receive your favorite bread recipes in an email or in the comments below.