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Today I’m giving you 5 tips on how to get started with sourdough. Most of us have had sourdough at one time or another in our lives. Some of us love that tangy sourdough flavor, while others of us don’t really like the sourness of it. Wherever you stand, you’re gonna wanna stick around and learn more about all of the amazing benefits of sourdough and about why you should consider making your own sourdough starter completely from scratch.
If you’ve tried making a sourdough starter before, you may have had some failures in the past. Maybe the sourdough starter didn’t grow as it was supposed to or perhaps you were successful with getting your starter off the ground and going, but when it came to baking your bread, you had loaves that were dense as a rock. (My hand is raised y’all, and even though we like the sour flavor in our house, our bread was so sour that even we didn’t really appreciate it the first time).
On the flip side, in my house, my husband and I both really like the sour taste and flavor depth that you get with sourdough. But my kids aren’t such big fans. If it has a hint of sourness in it they are turning up their noses and running the other way. Or, as has happened with my son in the past, hucking that sourdough sandwich in the garbage at school. (It’s very helpful when one knows the lunch lady at school when it comes to these matters).
Listen in below to Episode #166, 5 Tips on How To Get Started with Sourdough, of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the garden, pantry, kitchen and life you want for your family and homestead.
I’ve definitely had a love/frustration relationship with making sourdough.
If you’ve found yourself in any of the previous scenarios and you’re nodding your head, or you’re like, I really want to get into sourdough, but I don’t want to have any of those mistakes or things that happened that you just talked about, then this post is for you.
Now, before we get started, I need to tell you about my four-part video series on sourdough, because it’s only up for a limited time. So if you want to learn how to make your own sourdough completely from scratch, you need to go get signed up because the videos are only up for one week.
They’re coming down Thursday, January 17th, 2019, so at the time of this going live, you’ve got one full week to watch all of them.
Alright, now let me tell you a little bit about my story and journey with sourdough…
Way back when, when my husband and I were first married, I wanted to try my hand at sourdough because, as I said, I love the flavor of sourdough. Whenever we went out and I had the option of choosing sourdough bread or buns or rolls, that’s what I always went for, so I decided I had to try making it at home.
I had a recipe for a sourdough starter that had flour and water and some sugar and some yeast and you mixed it all up in a bowl. Then you just covered it up and you set it aside.
Well, as you can imagine, it grew lovely shades of different mold and ended up stinking to high heaven. My first attempt at a sourdough starter had totally failed. So do not feel bad if you haven’t had success with your sourdough starter in the past.
The good news is that there was a reason why that first starter failed. It had to do with the fact that sourdough is fermented, after all, which means it’s got a colony of both natural, wild yeast and lactobacilli bacteria.
If you’ve heard the terms “wild yeast” or “wild fermentation,” that’s what we’re doing when we make a sourdough starter. We’re capturing that wild yeast and growing our starter with naturally occurring yeast and bacteria.
Once we understand our sourdough starter is a living thing, it’s easy to see why it doesn’t just taste good, but, like all fermented foods, it’s beneficial to our health too. Plus, the fact that it’s fermented means that it’s got natural preservatives, because fermentation is basically nature’s way of preserving food.
And since that yeast and bacteria are essentially consuming the the mixture of flour and water, they are actually pre-digesting them for us. This is really good for our gut health, which is why live cultured and fermented foods of all kinds are so good for our digestive system and overall health.
When it comes to sourdough though, the bacteria isn’t alive when we eat it because we’re not eating our sourdough starter raw. We’re using it to bake with. But when we put our flour in it or whatever grain medium we’re using (ie. brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, gluten-free flour, etc.), whatever you’re using, it’s being pre-digested for you. This means our bodies are able to get the nutrients out of it that much easier even though we’re baking it and killing the bacteria. When we’re doing our baked goods, we’re not worried about that. It’s already done the work for us.
I go over this and a whole bunch of other cool things in the first video of the 4-part sourdough series, so make sure you sign up and check it out before it’s too late!
You can use any grain or flour that you want to to start your starter! In my video series I show you how to make a sourdough starter from 4 different types of grains:
You can even switch out the flours once you have your starters started! You can use any type of flour that you want or you can do a combination if you want to. In that first video I also talk about the reasons why you might want to choose one over the other. Now, obviously, if you are gluten free, you’re going to pick I’m gluten free grain.
Hard white wheat is generally what I keep my sourdough starter with now because most of the time I’m baking bread with my sourdough starter and I want that higher gluten and higher protein content that’s desirable for baking bread.
How to choose which flour to begin with for your starter
Now if I thought, well, I’m really probably only going to be doing like pancakes and waffles or cakes, then you might choose to do spelt, which has lower gluten and protein content, or a soft white wheat or a pastry whole wheat blend. But you really can start it with any flour that you have on hand and then you can change it later. You’re not limited to whatever you started it with. My main goal is to just get you started and going with it and for you to have success!
One thing that I’ve had a lot of questions about is what to make with the new stuff or with the discard. When you’re making your sourdough starter and it’s in its infancy, it’s not strong enough to bake bread with on its own. Your sourdough starter has to be established before you’re going to have success using it to bake bread.
Discard is when you remove some of the starter from the container that it’s in. Discard is very important in the beginning when you’re getting your starter established. It’s also something that will come into play later on if you had put your starter to sleep in the fridge and you need to bring it back to life!
To illustrate my point, the sourdough starter that I have right now is over seven years old. I left it in the fridge this past year for close to six months. It was in the back of the fridge and we were super busy. I wasn’t baking, it was in the summertime and then fall came and I was working on my new book. Finally in the fall I decided “I’ve got some time and I want to bake some bread, so I pulled out my sourdough starter from way in the back of the fridge (you know, where things go to die) and it had a very, very dark layer on it, which is the alcohol that occurs when the culture is running out of food.
And then it had like this gray, I don’t even know how to explain it. It was not mold, but like a gray-black sludge layer beneath that, which I mean, I was like, I was so mad I almost cried. I was so mad at myself that I had this thing for almost seven years that I just neglected and ruined.
Well, I decided to do a science experiment. I decided to take off everything from the top, get a brand new clean vessel, and see if I could reviveit. And lo and behold, with just a week of regular feeding, that thing was back and was as strong as ever, if not better! So the moral of the story is that sourdough starters are very, very resilient. But if you have neglected your sourdough starter like I just shared, you are going to be using the discard method of feeding, which I go into in depth in video #2 of our four-part series.
There are so many things that you can use the discard for that taste amazing. Here’s a list of a few of my favorite items:
Now, if you have my book Handmade, you know we walked through making a sourdough starter and I’ve got quite a few recipes already in there for using your starter and your discard.
In video #3 I walk you through doing sourdough pancakes and waffles with your discard. It’s especially helpful to have these type of recipes when your starter is in its infancy because you can’t use it to bake bread yet.
But then rest assured, I walk you through how you know when that thing is ready to bake bread with! And then we dive into how to make sourdough bread, which is really interesting because it’s a different technique than using regular yeast and making regular homemade bread because it doesn’t work as fast and, since it’s a living thing and it reacts differently to the different temperatures, humidity levels, etc., you have to learn how to nurture your starter until it’s ready to bake bread with. But once you know what it’s supposed to look like and how you can manipulate that, it really is easy to make amazing bread!
I make sandwich bread with 100% sourdough starter: Lovely sliceable, barely-any-crumb sandwich bread that’s not full of holes (because for sandwich bread, we don’t want to have those huge holes because then all your stuff comes smushing out everywhere!)
And then you can take that same sourdough starter and turn it into the more artisan-style loaves too. You can do big round loaves and French bread rolls…
It’s so exciting and I warn you it is addicting, but in a very, very good way. And as always, my goal is to share what has worked for me and what hasn’t, because I want you to have success so that you love it as much as I do.
So if you want to learn everything you need to know on how to get started with sourdough, including making your own sourdough starter that you may very well have for years to come, then make sure you sign up for my free four-part sourdough video series! Remember, the videos are only available to watch for free until January 17, 2019, so don’t miss out!
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.