Sourdough has been trending lately as people are looking for yeast-free alternatives to make bread. But did you know the process of making sourdough has been around for thousands of years? It was a way for commercial bakers to make yeast-less bread prior to the 1800s. Although It takes a while to make, it is so worth it to grow your own tangy sourdough starter to use for endless bread-filled adventures!

The Science

Before we get down to the bread making, have you ever wondered about the science behind sourdough? Basically, when you make a sourdough starter you're collecting yeast (bacteria) from the surrounding air. As long as you provide it with flour and water to feed, the bacteria colony will grow and reproduce. By leaving the starter out at room temperature in a jar that's slightly covered, you help facilitate the incorporation of naturally occurring yeast into the dough you're making. The bubbles in the mixture come from aerobically-respirating yeast;  the byproduct of the yeast metabolizing the carbohydrates (flour) is carbon dioxide which is then released as bubbles in the bread!

Fun fact: the by-product of anaerobic respiration (no oxygen) is alcohol, which is how beer is made! 

To Make:

The process of starting a sourdough starter is really easy; it just requires some patience and commitment. There's lots of recipes you can find online, I used King Arthur Flour's basic sourdough starter. Basically, you need two ingredients: flour and water. 

Mackenzie Laverick

First, combine 1 cup (113g) of whole wheat or rye flour with 1/2 cup (113g) cool/lukewarm water. The recipe I found used whole wheat flour but you can start with regular flour if you want instead. Then, mix well in a container safe for storage. Basically, you can use whatever 1-quart + sized container you want- just make sure it has a lid. I used a Mason jar since glass is often preferred by bakers (you can see the activity of the starter through the glass). Set aside at room temperature (around 70˚F) for 24 hours. The next day, discard about 1/2 cup (113 g) of the mixture and feed with 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. Stir well, recover, and rest for another 24 hours. By the third day, you should start to see some bubbling and rising of the starter; it may begin to have a tangy sourdough smell as well. Continue to feed by discarding 1/2 cup of the starter mixture and adding 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water for the next couple of days. You can transition from whole wheat to regular all-purpose flour if you desire; I normally used either a full cup of regular flour or did a 1:1 mixture of regular to whole wheat. By the sixth or seventh day, your starter should be ready for baking use! Some people begin to feed the starter every 12 hours instead of 24 (starting day three), but I was busy so only fed my starter every 24 hours and it still turned out well. 

Mackenzie Laverick

Your starter should be bubbly and rise and fall consistently between feedings. It should have a slight tangy smell to it, which is what gives your bread that traditional sourdough flavor. Once your sourdough is ready to use, find a recipe you want to try and make some bread! Most recipes call for about 1/2 to 1 cup of starter, so just make sure to feed your starter the appropriate amount of flour and water to make up for whatever you use for bread. Use the same measurements as before, for every 1/2 cup used, feed 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. You can keep your starter in a sealed jar in the refrigerator, just make sure to take it out to use and feed at least once a week.

What to do with the scraps?

Don't throw them away! They can be used to make lots of delicious things! Try this sourdough biscuit recipe from King Arthur Flour (KAF) or watch this youtube video by At Home Cooks for a yummy sourdough scallion pancake! 

Mackenzie Laverick

Want something a little more sweet? This sourdough apple galette was delicious and even better if you topped it with a dab of butter and cinnamon sugar!

Mackenzie Laverick

Once your sourdough starter is ready, the possibilities are endless! I've attempted a couple recipes so far and here are my top two recipes so far: 

Multigrain boule: This was my first full loaf attempt. It turned out well and I was satisfied with the scoring (cuts). Although the dough was a little dense, I recognize that my bread-making skills are always a work in progress.

Mackenzie Laverick

Extra Tangy Sourdough: Thanks again to KAF, this recipe delivered a delicious loaf. I got more rise out of this one and a nice, crunchy crust with the help of the a DIY steam bath using water in ramekins. 

Mackenzie Laverick

Whole Wheat Sourdough: This was my latest creation. It turned out light and fluffy and (since I made it in a loaf pan) had a nice rectangular shape! 

Tip: I found out that it helps if you set out the starter to warm up to room temperature before using to make sure the yeast is active! For an extra boost, feed before use as well!

Mackenzie Laverick

I'm hoping to try out some more recipes in the future (foccaica anyone?) so please feel free to comment below some of your favorites that you've been trying or want to test out! Just remember it's important feed your starter after each use, and even if you're keeping it in the fridge continue to feed it at least once a week if you're not using it. With good maintenance, sourdough starters can last for literally years. If you don't want to keep up with the weekly feeding of the jar and fridge method, the Perfect Loaf blog has some tips on how to dry out your starter and revive the shards for later use. Yeast is practically immortal, so even if it dries out it can be revived with water and flour to help you continue with your sourdough adventures. Happy baking!