Before I start this blog post about baking bread, please note that I’ll use the flour type numbers common in germany. For a rough conversion for other countries (so you know what kind of flour I’m talking about), refer to Wikipedia
If you don’t know what sourdough is or how to make it without the “sourdough” you can buy at a grocery store (which often isn’t really sourdough), skip to the part about making sourdough.
Get your starter, put it in a bowl and add warm water and flour (in this case I used type 1050 rye flour and wholemeal wheat flour) until you have about 50% to 70% of the dough you want to have overall (50% will cause a milder bread, 70% will make a bread with a stronger, more sour, taste). Now just put it in a warm place for 12 to 16 hours and cover it up with a clean cloth.
Before you continue, make sure you take out some of the sourdough for the next bread. If you take out 2 to 4 spoons of sourdough and add flour to it until it becomes a very dry, crumby substance, you can keep it in the fridge (NOT the freezer) for about 2 to 3 months.
All you have to do now is add some salt (not much, maybe a teaspoon full, it’s just to stabilize the starch, not for a salty taste) and flour. Use one hand to knead the flour into the dough (if you use wheat flour, make sure you knead the dough for at least 5 minutes, better 10. If you use only rye flour, just kneading it until there are no flour spots in the dough is enough) and the other to add more flour as needed. The dough will be very sticky, especially if you use rye. When the dough is solid enough that it doesn’t “flow” visibly in your hand, you can use it to bake bread.
Now you just put it into a suitable container, spray some water on the dough and put it somewhere warm (preferably 30°C to 38°C) and let the yeast work. The dough will grow roughly twice as large as it was before you put it into the container, so make sure it is large enough. This process takes 2 to 4 hours.
Once the dough has doubled it’s volume, it’s ready to be baked. Warm up your oven on the max. temperature (usually 250°C) for 15 minutes. Spray some water on the dough once again and put it into the oven for 10 minutes, after which you reduce the temperature to 200°C and bake it another 35 to 50 minutes, depending on how large the dough is.
If you used rye flour, you need to let the bread cool down and “rest” overnight before you cut it. The taste will change a lot for the better if you do so. Wheat bread, however, tastes best if it is still warm (but let it cool down for at least half an hour!), though it may cause a little grumbling in your tummy.
Pure rye bread will be fresh for over a week. Due to the sourdough the bread is good for longer periods of time than normal bread baked only with yeast you added “manually”. Wheat bread won’t last as long as rye bread, but it should be good for at least 4 days. For mixed flour breads, the time how long it is eadible varies, but if it starts tasting stale, you know you can throw it away.
Do not put the bread in the fridge, as it will get really dry very fast in there. Just put it somewhere in your kitchen wrapped in a clean cloth. What you can do, however, is cutting the bread into daily portions and put it into the freezer, so you have fresh bread every day without needing to bake every week, though personally, I enjoy the taste of freshly baked bread.
Enjoy your fresh bread!
Don’t worry, there will be no 100 chapter novel about cultivating sourdough here. It’s in fact so easy even an idiot should be able to do it. All you need is flour, water and time (roughly 4-5 days if you don’t have a “starter”). All the bacteria and yeast you need is already in the air and the flour itself. If you have a friend who bakes bread himself, try to ask him for a “starter”. If he bakes bread using sourdough, he’ll provide you with one and you’ll save some time and have it a bit easier. If you don’t know someone who can give you a starter, don’t worry, it’ll just take a few days and you’ll have your own.
Please note that the procedure I’ll describe now has a chance to fail. It worked for me the first time but it depends on what kind of flour you use and how many bacteria other than the ones you want (lactic acid bacteria, acetic acid bacteria) are in the dough. If all goes well, you’ll get a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.
There will be no exact information about the amount of flour and water you need to use. It’s simply not necessary and rough estimates are perfectly sufficient.
When I startet out, I used type 1050 rye flour. Try to avoid flour that has been bleached or something like that, natural flour is the best as it contains the most microorganisms that you need. Also don’t use type 405 flour (the most common, completely white flour), as your attempt to make sourdough with that will likely fail due to absence of, again, the microorganisms. Once you have a starter, you can basically use any flour there is (even rice flour) or anything else that has comparable amounts of starch.
You must never, under any circumstances, use ingredients that are warmer than 40°C. It’ll kill the important bacteria and your efforts will be for naught. If your water contains chlorine, you may want to boil it before you put it into the dough.
First, put a good hand full of flour in a large bowl (you will have enough sourdough to bake a bread once you’re done) and add warm water until you get a creamy dough, much like the dough of a pancake. Now you just put the bowl in a warm place, cover it up with a clean cloth and wait 12 hours. After this time has passed, stir the dough and wait another 12 hours. Now you need to “feed” the dough (or rather, the micro organisms), with another good hand full of flour and mix it with warm water until you have a pancake-like dough again. You have to do this for 4 to 5 days until the sourdough culture has stabilized and the amount of yeast in the dough has reached sufficient levels.
Note that the dough may smell a little bad or look weird. This is perfectly normal in the beginning and can happen. As long as it doesn’t stink so abominably that you wouldn’t take any money of the world to take a second sniff, get red, black, green or blue, or becomes “hairy”, or smells extremely like vinegar (just a little is okay), everything is allright. If anything of the above happens, the sourdough went bad and you have to start over.
What is perfectly normal, though, is when the dough seperates fluid and solid parts of itself (happened with mine), light beige, yellow or white spots appear on the surface (which is the yeast) or if the dough “bubbles” or if the surface dries up and builds a solid “cover”. This is why you have to stir the dough every 12 hours. Just don’t touch it within this time.
After 4-5 days, you’ll have a stable sourdough culture if all went well.