Isolation Skills: How to Make Sourdough Bread

Homemade, Sourdough-Risen, Caraway and Onion Rye.

Today, President Trump extended the federally recommended period for isolation against the Wuhan virus until the end of April. In light of that extension, I’d like to share some personal, practical knowledge with as wide an audience as possible.

Ten years ago, I actively sought out a low-tech, hands-on hobby – something that I could do to fully unwind from a stressful day working in I.T.. I eventually settled on baking bread. Two years into that hobby, I grew and used my first sourdough culture. I have never looked back.

Today, my bread is sought by family, friends, and a few loyal customers. I am occasionally asked by local colleges to give demonstrations on baking with sourdough. My bread even almost appeared in a movie once – another story for another time.

I’m pretty sure that most of the people who have bought bulk flour in the past few weeks aren’t bakers: they probably don’t have and were not able to find packaged yeast, they certainly don’t have a sourdough culture, and they most likely wouldn’t know what to do with either if they had them.

So, I’d like to help in what small way I can.

At the end of an initial Q & A section, I have included the text from material I use when I talk on sourdough.

After that in the comments, I will answer whatever questions on the subject that you might have.

 


Q & A

My Sourdough Culture with Bread in Pans.

Q) What is “sourdough”?
A) Sourdough is a method of leavening bread. It is what was used for millennia before factory-processed yeast became available in the 19th century. Sourdough is a mixture of flour and water in which natural occurring yeast is enticed to grow. Along with the naturally occurring yeast, a second microbe, usually something in the acidophilus family, naturally occurs as well in a symbiotic relationship with the yeast: the yeast consumes the carbohydrates in the flour and then it excretes alcohol; the acidophilus consumes the alcohol and excretes a substance that skews the pH of the mixture to acidic. This skewing ensures that nothing but the yeast and the acidophilus can survive in the mixture – as a result, a “well fed” sourdough culture is sterile and stable at room temperature. This skewing also gives sourdough its distinctive flavor.

Q) How long will it take to grow a sourdough culture from scratch?
A) If you are successful, about seven days.

Q) How will I know if I’m not successful?
A) The smell. After four or so days, the sourdough culture should smell pleasant: like beer, maybe even a hint of fruit. If the culture smells like acetone (nail polish remover), it needs another “feeding” immediately. If the culture smells bad or rotten, toss it and start over.

Q) What things can I do to have a better chance of success at growing a culture?
A) Use filtered water. Use wheat flour.

Q) What things do I need to grow a culture?
A) Flour, water, a half gallon container – preferably glass and wide-mouthed, coffee filters or something else with which to cover the container that will allow some air transfer.

Q) What is meant by “feeding” the culture?
A) Flour is food for the culture. Once the carbs are extracted, they must be replaced or the culture will die. The carbs are replaced by feeding more flour and water to the culture.

Q) If you keep feeding the culture, won’t it get too big for the half gallon jar?
A) Yes. By following the process of starting a culture, given below, the resulting culture will be just the right size for the jar. After that, the culture is ready for use: use half of the culture for a batch of bread, and replace the amount used with equal parts flour and water.

Q) Once the culture is established, how should it be kept?
A) Unless I am going to make one or more batches of bread every day, I feed the culture and the refrigerate it. Out of refrigeration, unfed, the culture will start to turn in about a day. In refrigeration, unfed, the culture will start to turn in about two weeks.

Q) How do I use a refrigerated culture?
A) Remove it from refrigeration. Wait for it to come to room temperature – you can tell by the rising action of the culture. Take half of the culture and use it in a batch of bread dough. Feed the culture: replace the amount used with equal parts flour and water. Refrigerate again.

Q) Do I need any special equipment to make bread?
A) Bread pans and dough mixers are helpful but are not necessary.

Q) Are there any health benefits to sourdough risen bread?
A) Some recent studies have shown that, since the acidophilus softens the dough gluten, people with a gluten intolerance may have an easier time digesting sourdough bread. However, your mileage may vary.

 


 

Sourdough Starter Recipe

Ingredients

  • All Purpose Flour (various amounts by day – total appx. 320g.)
  • Water (various amounts by day – total appx. 390g.)

Prep

  • Clean and dry a 1 half gallon glass container.
  • After each mixing, cover the container with an air-permeable covering.

Day

  1. Mix 20g flour and 50g water. Stir two more times throughout the day to incorporate air.
  2. Stir three times throughout the day to incorporate air.
  3. Stir three times throughout the day to incorporate air.
  4. Mix in an additional 20g flour and 30g water. Additional stirring is no longer required.
  5. Mix in an additional 40g flour and 50g water.
  6. Mix in an additional 80g flour and 90g water.
  7. Mix in an additional 160g flour and 170g water.

Notes

  • More water than flour is added at each step to allow for 10g of evaporation per day.
  • When mixing, do not stir too vigorously (encourage gluten development).
  • During the first 3 days, disregard odd coloring of the mixture.
  • If at any time the mixture smells strongly of acetone, pitch half of the mixture and add the equivalent amount – half flour, half water.
  • By day 7 the mixture should start rising. If not, it should at least have a healthy smell: fruity or beery.
  • Adjust the size of the culture to what suits you best, but be sure whatever container you use can accommodate the size of a risen culture. I keep my culture at about 800 grams, which when risen fits well in a half gallon container.

 


 

Sourdough Pancake Recipe

Ingredients

  • 400 g. (appx.) Sourdough Culture

Wet Additions

  • 1 T. Maple Syrup
  • 1 T. Vegetable Oil
  • 1 Egg (Large to Jumbo)
  • (Optional) up to 100 g. Water

Dry Additions

  • .5 t. Baking Powder
  • .25 t. Baking Soda
  • .25 t. Non-Iodized Salt
  • 1 stick Butter or Margarine

Prep

  • Preheat a skillet or griddle to between Medium and Medium-High heat

Mix

  • Thoroughly beat eggs with the other wet additions in a large bowl. Water is optional. Less water (or none) will produce thicker, more cake-like pancakes. More will produce thinner, more crepe-like pancakes.
  • Add Sourdough Culture and Dry Additions to Wet Addition mixture.
  • Mix thoroughly but not vigorously (do not encourage gluten development) – mixture will immediately start to rise.

Cook

  • Melt a pat of butter onto the hot griddle or skillet.
  • Ladle enough batter for one pancake onto the hot griddle or skillet.
  • Flip when almost all of the surface leavening bubbles have burst.
  • Remove from heat and serve when other side has finished cooking (appx. 1 minute).
  • Adjust heat to prevent burning either the pancake or the butter.
  • Repeat from Cooking step 1 until all batter is used.

 


 

Sourdough Basic Bread Recipe

Ingredients

  • 400 g. Sourdough Culture (risen and at room temperature)
  • 250 g. White Bread Flour
  • 115 g. Water (at room temperature)
  • 9 g. Non-Iodized Salt (Do not use Iodized Salt, it will ruin the taste of the bread)
  • Olive Oil

Mix

  • Mix culture, flour, and water in a large bowl until dough is “shaggy.”
  • Cover the bowl and rest the dough for .5 hour to allow dough to autolyse.
  • Add salt evenly throughout the dough.
  • Mix/knead the dough for 1 – 2 minutes.
  • Rest the dough for 5 – 10 minutes.
  • Repeat steps 3 & 4 until dough is smooth and pliable.

Rise 1

  • Place dough in an oiled glass bowl.
  • (Optional) Cover with a floured linen.
  • Allow dough to rise at room temperature (or in a proofing box) until doubled in size (appx 1 – 2 hours).
  • Removed dough from the bowl onto a work surface.
  • Punch the dough down (press down on the center and work outward to force most of the air out of the dough).

Rise 2 – Ferment (Retard) – (This step is optional but will produce better tasting bread)

  • Place the dough in an oiled glass bowl.
  • Cover the bowl.
  • Place the bowl in refrigeration for 24 – 48 hours.
  • Remove the bowl from refrigeration.
  • Allow dough to come to room temperature (or sit in a proofing box) and then to rise until doubled in size (Proofing box: 2 – 3 hours, Room temperature: 6 – 8 hours).
  • Punch the dough down.

Rise 3

  • Pan the dough (use oil or parchment paper according to form of dough).
  • (Optional) Cover with a floured linen.
  • Allow dough to rise at room temperature (or in a proofing box) until doubled in size (appx 1 – 2 hours – possibly more in colder temps).
  • Score the dough to allow space for the dough to bloom.

Bake

  • Place a pan of water on the bottom shelf of the oven.
  • Preheat the oven to 500° F.
  • Place bread in the oven.
  • Reduce heat to 460° F.
  • Bake for 20 – 35 minutes (depending on oven, form of dough, and type of pan) (finished when the top of loaf is brown).

Test

  • Remove bread from the pan.
  • Lightly tap the bottom of the loaf.
  • If the tap does not sound hollow, return the bread to the pan and the pan to the oven for 5 more minutes.
  • If necessary, repeat steps 1 – 3 until bread is done.

Finish

  • (Optional) Coat the top of the loaf with melted butter or margarine, or other oil to soften the top crust.
  • (Optional) Cool before serving. (Fresh bread is great, but doesn’t cut very well.)

Please ask any questions you have. And please share with whomever might find this useful.

And most of all, stay safe and stay well.

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16 thoughts on “Isolation Skills: How to Make Sourdough Bread”

  1. WOW, you certainly went through a lot of work to get that posted on here and shared!

    I thank you and will save and print this.

    Let’s see if I can save your post as a PDF here for fellow Ratties: sourdough

    HOORAY it worked !  You being a software/IT type person will not be impressed, Rick, but to me it’s  impressive to make a pdf and post it in Ratburger to help people get a copy of your post. I believe if they right click on it and choose save, they will get a copy.

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  2. Gerard:
    WOW, you certainly went through a lot of work to get that posted on here and shared!

    I thank you and will save and print this.

    Let’s see if I can save your post as a PDF here for fellow Ratties: sourdough

    HOORAY it worked !  You being a software/IT type person will not be impressed, Rick, but to me it’s  impressive to make a pdf and post it in Ratburger to help people get a copy of your post. I believe if they right click on it and choose save, they will get a copy.

    I think it came from his website.

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  3. I also have been baking bread (and other goodies: scones, cakes, etc.) for a while. It’s very rewarding.

    Most people think making bread is difficult and time-consuming. It’s not. If one can follow a recipe and measure properly, making a basic sandwich loaf is easy. The actual hands-on time is 20 minutes or so, even less if one uses a stand-mixer to handle most of the kneading. The rest of the time is just letting the yeast do their work.

    Of course, there are some “advanced” techniques, but even those aren’t too complicated.

    One of my favorites is from the King Arthur Flour site, French-Style Country Bread. Just the four base ingredients: flour, water, yeast, salt. So good.

    Now, to get my sourdough starter out and fed….

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  4. Lemme ask,

    Why use all-American wholesome measurements for tablespoon and teaspoon, but then switch to Europhilic globalist measurements for everything else?

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  5. MJBubba:
    Why use all-American wholesome measurements for tablespoon and teaspoon, but then switch to Europhilic globalist measurements for everything else?

    Good question.

    Because sourdough cultures are notoriously temperamental. Rise times are affected by numerous factors, most you will not have any control over: ambient temperature, air pressure, humidity, etc.

    So, to remove one set of variables, I moved from volume measurement to weight. And I use the setting that gives the finest granularity of weight measurement on my own personal kitchen scale – and that measurement is metric.

    The tablespoon and teaspoon are for measurements that are too small to measure well without fractions of a gram sensitivity on a scale, which my own personal scale cannot do. Also, I believe that the spoon measurements are all in the pancake recipe, and a lot of that really comes down to taste.

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  6. MJBubba:
    Why use all-American wholesome measurements for tablespoon and teaspoon, but then switch to Europhilic globalist measurements for everything else?

    “Tablespoon” and “teaspoon” are (informal—non-SI) metric units, widely used in recipes using metric units.  Tablespoon is defined as 15 millilitres (mL), and teaspoon as 5 mL.  The conventional U.S. definition of teaspoon is 4.92892159375 mL (defined exactly, and hence referenced to SI), which is the easy-to-remember 77/256=0.30078125 cubic inches.  The metric teaspoon is 1.5% larger than the U.S. teaspoon, which is negligible for the precision of measurement in recipes.  The metric tablespoon is 14.8 mL, 1.3% larger than the U.S. unit.

    Naturally, the definition of “tablespoon” in customary units differs among the U.S., U.K., and Australia.

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