Sourdough From Start to Finish

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Introduction: Sourdough From Start to Finish

Getting Started on your Sourdough Journey

In this post I’ll be walking through the process of creating your sourdough starter, feeding your starter, and then getting your first loaf up and running.

What will you need?

  • A scale capable of measuring grams (seriously when you are starting out it’s WAY easier to use a scale than measuring cups for consistent results)
  • 3 or so small wide containers to capture yeast. I use these: https://www.amazon.com/Ziploc-Container-Medium-Re...
  • Quart containers with a wide mouth, Ball canning jars work well.
  • Organic raisins/grapes
  • Plain table salt
  • UNBLEACHED! All-purpose flour
  • A way to cover your quart container (cheese cloth or paper towel work) that can breathe
  • A way to keep the cover on your container (bell jar ring, rubber band, twine, really anything you want)
  • Parchment paper
  • A Medium glass or plastic bowl
  • A clean cotton dish/tea towel
  • SHARP knife/razor blade

What will make your life easier (these aren’t needed but they help)?

  • Large dutch oven with a flat lid like this
  • Stand mixer
  • 2 cups of ice.

Step 1: Start Your Culture

The general idea of creating a sourdough is to capture wild yeast and nurturing it along so that it can create it’s perfect living environment. It’s that environment that will create and sustain a living colony. The sourdough starter I’ll be walking you though is a moderately sour starter. Why? Because really sour starters are a bit more finicky, and really mild ones well…they miss that tang we want 😊

Start your Culture:

We are going to start by trying to jump start the capture of yeast. One place that yeast LOVES to live on are grapes, yeast will settle and live on the skins of grapes and raisins for months in a dormant state. We can use those yeasts as a seed for our starter.

  • So take 9-15 grapes or raisins and soak them in ~3/4 cup of room temperature water for 2 hours in a container/small bowl.
  • Strain the grapes/raisins and reserve the water. Split the reserved raisin water into 3 of the plastic storage containers (1/4 cup each) and add ¼ cup of flour to each and mix to create a slurry.
    • This is the medium in which the yeast will grow. I recommend making 3 of these so that you have a higher likelihood of at least one being successful.
  • Cover LOOSELY with a lid, you want air flow but you also want to prevent things from falling into it, and place in a warm area where it won't get disturbed. I used the oven with the light on.

In about 24 hours you should see some small bubbles in the slurry and it should be looser than when you put it up.

What you see there is your living starter! With some care and time you can turn this into bread (or waffles, pancakes, cakes, etc). Your next step will be to nurture it to a state where it is highly active and starts to smell sour.

Step 2: Nurturing Your Starter

Now you will do your first feeding of your starter. But first transfer the each of the cultures you created in the plastic containers and place each it in its own quart container (I do this for all of the cultures that succeeded as the cultures are still fragile, I had 2 of the 3 cultures succeed while capturing these pictures so I had 2 starters going).

Step 3: Your First Feeding

This is where you will need your scale

Place your quart jar with your starter on the scale and zero it. Add 40 grams of water and 40 grams of flour to the starter. Mix till mostly smooth, no need to go overboard some lumps are fine (the image is in a pint jar as I didn’t have a quart container on hand at the moment).

Step 4:

Cover with the cheese cloth, handkerchief, paper towel, etc. and place someplace warm.

Step 5:

It should start bubbling and growing in a few hours. This means that it's now active.

Step 6: Next and Future Feedings

After 12 hours:

If you are using a quart container just stir the starter and feed it with 60 grams of water and 60 grams of flour again, your shouldn’t need to pour any starter off at this point. Future feeding will require you to discard the existing starter so that you only have ~50 grams of starter.

If you made the mistake like I did of using a pint jar, you’ll want to pour off about half of your starter after stirring and before feeding. Note you will eventually need to use quart containers.

Feeding Schedule:

For the first 2 days you will want to feed your starter every 12 hours as above (stir/pour off/feed).

I recommend 50 grams of starter and 100 grams each of flour and water. Just add these together and mix until all the flour is moistened.

It won’t smell sour at this point. In fact, it’ll smell sweet and yeasty. It can be fun during this phase to see it grow and fall.

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Tip:

Pay attention to how far up the jar the starter climbs. You’ll see that it likely doubles or more in size. Because of this when it comes times to feed your starter you’ll want to make certain that the volume after you feed it is <1/3 of the way up the jar (it’s not that it will hurt to have more in the jar, it’s just that cleaning up the mess if it overflows is kinda annoying and means you need a new cover).

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After 2 days reduce your feedings to 1X a day and reduce the starter to 20 grams and keep the flour and water to 100 grams each. Just pick a time and go with that, morning or evening is irrelevant and you don't need to be exact, you can vary by a few hours either way. This is the stage where you will begin developing more of the sour flavor. You’ll want to keep this up for ~ 1-2 weeks or so before baking.

Step 7: A Bit of Science:

A very well fed starter will develop just a little little sour flavor. It is when the culture gets hungry that it produces more lactic acid.

In the culture you have 2 main organisms thriving, Yeast and Lactobacilli. Yeast creates a LOT of carbon dioxide and some lactic acid as long as there is a lot of sugars to eat. However, over time the yeast struggles to remain active as the environment becomes more acidic and less sugar rich. At that point the Lactobacilli kicks into high gear, it likes that more acidic environment and start reproducing rapidly. A side effect of this is an increase in acidity and concurrent increase in sour flavor. When a starter is hungry you may notice a layer of brownish liquid on top. If you want a more sour starter, mix this in. If you want a less sour starter pour it off.

Step 8: Getting Ready to Bake:

Before you can bake with your starter it needs 2 things, to have enough volume, and to be active enough.

After you have had your starter going for about a week you should start to smell the sour notes even right after a feeding. So now it’s time to bake that first loaf!

The first thing you’ll want to do is determine how much starter you’ll need for your formula. For a single loaf you’ll need between ½ to 1 cup of starter. As you get used to your starter and it’s activity level you’ll get a ‘feel’ for how much you’ll need per loaf. This is part of the art of Sourdough baking.

Once you have determined how much of your starter you will need you’ll want to ‘grow’ your starter to ~double what you’ll need. That way you will have plenty of starter ready for your next feeding.

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Tip:

The way you grow your starter is simply by feeding it more the morning you are going to bake. I've been known to quadruple the starter the morning of a bake when I am making a large batch of bread. Just remember to keep the proportions of flour and water equal in the feeding.

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You will want to feed your starter and ‘grow’ it ~4-6 hours before you plan on mixing your dough. This will give it time to be at it’s PEAK activity when you are ready to use it.

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Tip:
How do you tell where that peak is? If you look at your starter from the side of the jar you will see that it grows to about 2X it’s volume and at some point it will stop climbing and dome upward. That is what you want. Before it starts to deflate. If you miss this by a little bit and it starts to collapse it’s not bad, it’ll just slow the proofing times)

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Step 9: Making Your First Loaf

Time to Mix the Dough:

So now it’s time to get things mixing!

First some technical talk:

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One way to help your sourdough baking along is by starting with what’s called an Autolyse. This is a process where you mix the water and flour and leave to sit for at least 30 min and hydrate before adding any other ingredients.
When you hydrate the flour you IMMEDIAELY start creating gluten, and that’s critical to a starter based dough. While you have lots of little yeasties growing in your starter, they are really laid back as compared to the yeast in those packets. So you want to capture ALL the carbon dioxide that they are going to produce.

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With that here is a basic formula for a single loaf of sourdough.

Step 10: Basic Sourdough Formula

This will make 1 loaf:

Ingredients:

  • 170 grams – Luke warm water
  • 300-325 grams – All Purpose Flour
  • 6 grams – table salt
  • 200 grams - ACTIVE starter
  • Flour for dusting

That's it, no other ingredients needed.

Onto the process...

Step 11: Autolyse:

(if using a stand mixer use a dough hook, if mixing manually I recommend using your hand and not a spoon)

Mix flour and water together until the flour is fully moistened.

Cover with a plastic wrap and rest for 30-60 min.

Step 12: ​Mix the Dough:

Mix in the starter and salt. If using a stand mixer mix on low/med-low for <2 min. If mixing by hand mix for ~3 min.

You will have a dough that is pretty sticky and will tear easily. That's ok, the next steps will help get the gluten developed to where we want.

Step 13: Gluten Development:

Cover bowl again and set aside.

For 2.5 hours, every 30 minutes you will want to fold the dough using the stretch and fold method. Here is a video showing how that method works.

You should see the dough firming up and becoming more elastic as you go through the process. It will still tear a little at the end of this process. The final gluten development happens during the fermentation (yeah like beer)

Step 14: Bulk Fermentation:

Cover the bowl and leave in a warm location until it has grown by ~30-50% .

The time for this will vary based on the temperature, the activity of your starter, the humidity, etc. I’ve seen this take as little as 2 hours and as many as 6 hours in cooler weather. If you are running short on time, you can leave it on the counter for 1 hour then put in the coldest part of the refrigerator for up to 12 hours.

What is happening here is the yeast are fermenting the sugars and creating pockets of carbon dioxide. This is adding flavor, but ALSO very gradually stretching the gluten in the dough making it more elastic.

Step 15: Pre-Shaping:

In this step we are essentially getting the dough used to being in it’s final form. This isn’t a critical step, however it will improve the crust and crumb of the final product.

  • Once your dough has risen turn out on to a floured work surface.
  • Start by LIGHTLY degassing the dough, you want to remove large air pockets but not make it completely flat.
  • Then fold the edges into the middle so that the underside is lightly stretched and smooth.

The ball you end up with will be quite loose, that’s ok, we aren’t done yet. Roughly shape the dough into a loose ball. Here is a video showing this process:

Cover loosely and let sit for 10-30 min.

Step 16: Preparing Your Proofing Bowl:

Line your medium bowl with the cotton towel and dust fairly liberally with flour. Go heavier then you think the first time. You can adjust amounts on future loaves until you figure how much works for you.

The towel will let you get the loaf out of the bowl and onto parchment, and the flour will let you get the towel off the loaf as the loaf will be quite fragile when ready to bake.

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Tip:

Mixing 50% white wheat flour and 50% brown rice flour will release from the loaf more easily than just wheat flour.

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Step 17: Final Shaping:

In this step we are going to create a smooth firm skin that will be the crust of our loaf. It will also remove any large voids in the loaf so that it has a more even but still open crumb.

  • Take the ball you created previously and place it on a VERY VERY lightly floured table.
  • Gently pull it towards you with your hands behind it, then turn it and repeat.

The goal here is to create a firm ball of dough with a smooth skin on top.

Here is a decent video of how to do this.

Place the loaf smooth side down, seam side up into the towel lined proofing bowl. Dust the loaf in the bowl with more flour to keep the plastic from sticking. Cover loosely with plastic or a bag and set someplace warm.

Step 18: Final Proof:

This is where the loaf will get much of its final loft. How long this takes will vary in the same way that the bulk fermentation step did. I’ve had it go in 1 hour and other times in 4 hours.

I know more uncertainty.

If you are running short of time you can put it in the fridge for up to 12 hours. Just remember to take it out and allow to come to room temp before baking.

What you are looking for is:

When you press your finger ~1/4 inch into the dough it rebounds ALMOST all the way, leaving a faint indentation behind. If it rebounds all the way, it’s not done yet, if it doesn’t rebound at all it’s over proofed (note that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bake it, just that you should get it in the oven right now and it may be a little flat). It will likely be at least double its original size.

I'm sorry but I just wasn't able to get good pics of the differences.

Step 19: Prepare the Oven and Baking Vessels

Set the top rack to the lower-middle of the oven, place the

lower rack near the bottom.

When you think that you have about 1 hour to go get the oven up to 500 deg F.

  • If using a dutch oven place it upside down in the oven while it preheats. You will be placing the proofed loaf inside the lid and covering with the bottom. You want this to be blisteringly hot.
  • If not using a dutch oven place a very heavy oven proof pan (preferably cast iron) on the bottom shelf and a sheet pan on the top shelf.

Step 20: Baking Your Loaf

When your loaf has proved and us ready to bake it’s time to turn it out of the bowl.

Lay out the parchment paper on your counter. Carefully turn your loaf out of the bowl, towel and all, onto the parchment. Gently take the towel off your loaf. It will likely look a little flat at this point, that’s ok.

Scoring:

You have a LOT of options here as to how you do this. However, note that this is NOT just decorative. It is necessary to allow the loaf to grow in the oven. You want your cuts to be ~1/4 inch deep. You can do a square, a cross, and ‘S’ shape. It’s up to you. I recommend a square for your first loaf.

Transferring to the Baking vessel:

Using the parchment place the loaf:

  • Dutch Oven: Take the ‘bottom’ of the dutch oven off and put the parchment with the loaf on the lid, and cover with the bottom.
  • Sheet Pan: Place the parchment with loaf on the sheet pan and place the ice in the cast iron pan.

Baking Times and Temperatures:

Close the door and let bake for 20 min.

- If using the dutch oven, remove the ‘bottom’ of the dutch oven to expose the loaf to the oven.

Reduce heat to 400 degrees and bake for another 20-30 min. It should be VERY dark when it comes out, it will almost look burnt. It will lighten a shade or 2 as it cools.

Step 21: Cooling:

Allow to cool for at least 1 hour and preferably 2. This is actually a critical step. It helps the structures to set up and the proteins to firm up.

The end result will be a loaf with this kind of crumb:

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3 Comments

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ClintC15
ClintC15

1 year ago

So, I already had the starter, but I followed the recipe to the letter. Truth be told. I've had my starter for about 8 years now, and I've never seen the pull method to stretch the outer layer. What a great thing. It made a substantial difference. Overall, this is the best, most in depth instructional recipe that I've ever came across. Props to you.

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spile1
spile1

1 year ago

This looks delicious. i will definitely try this recipe in these quarantine days.

0
Penolopy Bulnick
Penolopy Bulnick

1 year ago

This tutorial is very thorogh :)

You should consider entering the Baking Speed Challenge :)