Sourdough is more than just the stuff of cultured cafes and bakeries — it’s easier to digest, simple to make, and an ancient method of bread baking that requires no yeast!
Sourdough bread is amazing, but there is so much more you can make — cinnamon rolls, waffles, pancakes, you name it! With a little education, this is a science experiment you can start in your kitchen today.
Here I’ll make it simple, breaking down what sourdough is, how to make it, and why the heck you would want to in the first place. Let’s get some flour on our hands and get started!
What Is Sourdough?
Sourdough is a food made from a bacteria base, kind of like kombucha or yogurt. Rather than throwing it together the instant you want a batch of muffins or a loaf of bread, sourdough baked goods are made from what’s called a starter, which has to be prepared at least a week in advance.
What is a Sourdough Starter?
Sourdough goodies come from one critical ingredient: a sourdough starter. Though you can buy them premade and ready to go (or even snag a scoop from your neighbor), they’re incredibly easy to make in your own home, and a fascinating experiment for the kids to partake in.
In short, a sourdough starter is just flour and water that has been left to ferment in a container for a little while. Easy enough, right? Here are some of the basics of getting your own sourdough starter going:
Sourdough Starter Recipe
1 cup flour (any kind)
½ cup filtered water
What Kind of Water to Use for a Sourdough Starter
Sourdough is built on bacteria, and our water supply is designed to limit the growth of bacteria as much as possible — not exactly ideal in this scenario.
Chlorinated or fluoridated water can significantly reduce your chances of success here, so if you’re on a city water system or have a system in your house adding things like chlorine to your supply, you’ll need to use a filter that removes these chemicals (like a Berkey), or buy some pure spring water.
What to Keep Your Sourdough Starter In
I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to sourdough, and I don’t like to use any potentially reactive materials when making it. Steer clear of plastic or metal containers, and opt instead for a nice long-handled wooden spoon and a glass jar instead.
One of the most important things here is that the container is not airtight. I like to use a square of cheesecloth and a rubber band to cover the jar.
Where to Put Your Sourdough Starter
To get a sourdough starter going, you really need to encourage bacterial growth. Since bacteria grows the fastest in a warmer environment, keep your starter somewhere it’ll stay moderately toasty, between 60 and 70 degrees fahrenheit. The colder it is, the longer it’ll take to grow.
How to Make a Sourdough Starter
Mix your cool water and flour together. You’re going for something slightly thinner than pancake batter here.
Add your starter to your jar, cover it, and place it in a warm place.
Yep, that’s it!
The Care and Feeding of a Sourdough Starter
Congratulations, you’ve just made a sourdough baby! This one will need to be fed and have its jar changed on occasion, so make sure you don’t forget about it (it won’t cry, but it won’t make you any breads, either).
That first week it’ll require a lot of extra attention. Every 24 hours, discard half of your starter and add ½ cup of flour and ¾ cup of warm water to it, being sure not to leave any dry flour spots. Keep an eye out for bubbles — that’s a sign your starter is alive!
After that first week, you can ease up a bit on discarding a portion of the starter, but you’ll still want to maintain a care regimen if you don’t plan to use it all in a recipe. Feed it every day, and when the jar inevitably gets a bit of a crust around the sides from being stirred, transfer the starter to a clean one.
It depends on how warm and happy your starter is, but typically a good starter takes 5-7 days to prepare before it’s ready for use (and of course, the longer, the better).
What To Do When You Get a “Skin”
Sometimes if you let your sourdough dry out a bit (hey, it happens to the best of us), it might develop a bit of a skin. It has the same look and consistency of what a bowl of pudding left out might look like, just a thin, dry layer.
No worries at all — unless there’s mold in there, that skin is just a bit of dry starter. Just use a spoon to gently scrape it off the top and discard, and then back to feeding your hungry starter with some fresh flour and water.
Why Sourdough is So Amazing
So why go to all this extra trouble for some funky bread? What’s the big deal anyway? Besides the incredible history of sourdough’s beginnings before the era of conveniently packaged yeasts, there are a number of awesome reasons why fans rave about sourdough.
Its bacterial composition plays a key role in how this bread turns out. Because of the way sourdough is made, it actually breaks down gluten, making it much easier for us to digest. Additionally, those hungry bacterium like to eat up the sugars present in the starter and dough, making it gentler on our blood sugar.
Ironically, these breads made from bacteria inhibits the growth of mold after the goods have been baked, giving them a longer shelf life.
Sustainable to Make
Sourdough bread was born of necessity — people didn’t always have access to yeast to make their breads rise! With just a little flour and water, you can make beautiful loaves, eliminating the need to buy yeast.
Okay, enough with the chit chat, let’s make with the baked goods already! Here are a few handpicked sourdough recipes for you to take for a spin (just get that starter going now so you have something to work with — remember, it takes time!).
I don’t mean to brag (okay, I do actually), but my husband makes the BEST sourdough waffles ever — I even got him a vintage cast iron waffle iron because they are just THAT good. Whip up this batter with a cup of your finest sourdough starter and serve with some real maple syrup and fresh strawberries for a treat that is just divine.
It is CRAZY how simple this recipe is, but holy wow, just look at those loaves! Sourdough can rise a little slower than conventional breads, so give yourself all day with this recipe to allow for rise times (and then all night with some honey butter to devour it).
SO far beyond the usual bakery cinnamon roll, these gems have that tang of sourdough, with all of the gooey sweetness of dessert for breakfast. This recipe does include a little yeast to shorten your rise time (because breakfast before noon is ideal), but I’m not complaining.
Another recipe from my favorite all-things-fermented resource, Cultures for Health, these biscuits come together lickity split, thanks to a little help from our old friends baking soda and baking powder. Make sure to adjust your leavening agents if you’re a high altitude baker though, or these could fall flat on you.
This recipe is in grams, so you might have to do a little math if you’re not metric system savvy, buy my does it look good. There’s something crazy delicious about sourdough and chocolate coming together. I say top it with some fresh raspberries and some homemade whipped cream (because why on earth not?).
Do you have a sourdough pro tip to share? Spill it on Facebook and tag us in the post! @WheatMT