For the Love of Sourdough by the Bearded Baker
If you’ve ever tried to tackle the process of making homemade sourdough from scratch, you may have come away with lots of stinky disappointing goop or flat, dense loaves that just did not deliver the airy, crusty loaf you fantasized about. You’re not alone. We’ve been there.
It's been a long road to figure out how the heck one not only, makes a successful home sourdough starter, but one that will create hundreds of beautiful and consistent loaves for all our West of 3rd customers on a weekly basis.
The trick for us has been to treat both the starter and the bread like a friend you get to know, not just a step by step recipe that both the internet and professionals make it out to be. I often joke that I am a single parent raising three dogs and a sourdough starter because it can be quite demanding, especially in the beginning, but its not as rigid of a process as they make it out to be.
Especially here in AZ, where the climate is generally drier most of the year, and then super moist during the monsoons. Your starter and your bread will have different needs not only from kitchen to kitchen, and neighborhood to neighborhood, but also throughout the year as the seasons change. This was a big hurdle for us in our first year, just when we would get the perfect loaves, the seasons would change, or the humidity would change, or the temperature would change, and it would throw the whole process for a loop. Learning to be friends with your starter and figuring out its needs throughout the whole year will be the key to your success no matter how or what recipe you use.
One of my favorite books is “Beard on Bread” by James Beard, I love how he describes the relationship between the baker and the bread, about leaning into your intuition, trying things out, and being okay with sucky results. Even celebrate them because it’s one of those how-not-to lessons that helps us get better and better. Remember a disappointing looking loaf of bread is still going to be delicious fresh out of the oven and slathered in butter. James Beard's book also suggest that how you learn what your bread needs is by paying attention, just like how we know what our friends and family need and when they may need it because we spend time getting to know them.
Because sourdough starter relies on the natural yeast in the environment around it, you can take pride in knowing that YOUR bread will be uniquely different from even your neighbors, as Beard says (and I'm paraphrasing) “Even the chemistry and the temperament of the baker will work its way into the end result”. Meaning simply, you being you will make bread that is unique, and if its one thing we celebrate here at the Bearded Baker, its being unique just as you are.
If we’ve inspired you to take another crack at sourdough, remember that it's a relationship more then it is a recipe, keep trying, keep experimenting, keep leaning into your intuition of what your bread needs, keep going! And keep…. A lot of butter on hand for the mess ups and delicious mistakes!
Here’s a basic way to get started if you want to try again:
1 Cup Wheat Flour like All Purpose
1/4 Cup Rye Flour
1/4 Cup of another whole grain flour, we like to use Pumpernickel
Combine with 1 Cup of Water and let rest 24-48 hours in a jar or container with a loose fitting lid or breathable cloth, so the starter can capture the natural yeast from the air. For one week, each day discard half the mixture, and incorporate fresh flours and water, using only half of the measurements listed above, stir really well, and cover again with the loose fitting lid or breathable cloth. After about a 7 -10 days of this process you should be getting lots of bubbles as the starter ferments and becomes very active, you can now start to use it in your doughs.
How much you use will depend on how much bread you plan to make and all the nuances of your environment, but generally a little goes a long way. Basic sourdough is simply starter, water, flour, and salt. Play around with the proportions to develop your own flavor and style of bread. We use a 70% hydration to flour ratio for ours, but you may find a different ratio creates the flavors and textures you desire. It should be noted that desert born sourdoughs without any enhancers or out-of-state starter, generally produces a yogurt style of sour flavor, rather then the sour flavors you’d get from San Francisco or coastal regions. After your starter becomes established, you can start to keep it in your fridge and feed it fresh ingredients once or twice a week. You might still discard half at feeding, but generally you don’t have to if you are using it often enough.
From here the sky is the limit! Experiment, try new things, and start a beautiful friendship, it's the yeast you can do for yourself! (We love baking puns)
-Gideon, That Bearded Baker