Matt Pavelle

How to Make Sourdough Bread From Scratch

Sourdough is contains naturally occurring yeasts in a symbiotic relationship with lactobacillus bacteria. Sourdough was the first means used by people to bake leavened bread (modern methods tend to use cultured yeasts and baking soda/powders). True sourdough bread can be made without adding any cultured yeasts to a dough - the only ingredients required are flour, water, time (sourdough starter takes about 8 days to grow at first), and (optionally) salt.

The Starter

To make your own sourdough bread, you first need to make your own sourdough starter. Sourdough starter is live fermenting batter. By adding starter to your bread recipe, your bread will rise without adding cultured yeast. Interestingly, a sourdough starter's culture is stable due to its ability to prevent colonization by other yeasts and bacteria. As a result, sourdough bread tends to be relatively resistant to spoilage and mold.

Grow Your Starter

  • Select a glass jar with a loose lid to grow and house your starter. The jar should have a volume of a few quarts.
  • Day 1: Mix 1 cup of warm water and 1 cup of flour and pour it into the jar. Leave it on a countertop at room temperature.
  • Day 2-8: Pour 1/3 of your starter down the drain and mix 1 cup of lukewarm water and 1 cup of flour into the remaining starter. Keep the jar on a countertop at room temperature.

That's it! After a day or four, when you add new water and flour to your starter, it should begin to bubble a bit. This is a sign that the naturally occurring yeasts in the flour are alive, consuming the sugars in the flower, and releasing carbon dioxide gas. It should also smell pleasantly sour and beer-ish.

Your starter should be a bit more liquid than dough is, so it is fine to see these bubbles rise to the surface. When you turn your starter into dough, the same CO2 gas will cause the dough to rise.

Tip: Use unbleached wheat bread flour for your starter. You want lots of gluten in the dough for the yeast (oat and other grains may not have enough).

Photo 1: The Initial Starter (Day 1)

Care For Your Starter

  • Keeping a living starter on your counter top: As long as your starter dough is fed 1 cup of warm water and 1 cup of flour daily, the sourdough mixture can live out of the refrigerator at room temperature.
  • Keeping your living starter in a refrigerator: If you want to refrigerate your starter, it can be fed once a week. Simply remove it from your fridge, let it warm up to room temperature, add 1 cup of warm water and 1 cup of flour, let it sit at room temperature for an hour or so, and then refrigerate it again.
  • Hooch: Hooch is a layer of (often dark) liquid (alcohol) that floats on top of your starter. Hooch is a natural result of fermentation in your starter. When you feed your starter each week, pour the hooch down the sink. Too much hooch will kill your starter.

Photo 2: The Complete Starter with Visible Hooch

The Bread

Starter Preparation

  • Several hours before you plan to make your dough, take your starter out of the refrigerator and pour it in a large glass bowl. (Now is a good time to wash your jar in very hot water and dry it.)
  • Mix 2 cups of warm water and 2 cups of flour into the bowl, and stir well.
  • Let it sit in a warm place for several hours. This is called "proofing" your starter.
  • When your starter is bubbly, and has a white froth, and smells a little sour, it is ready. (The longer you let it sit, the more sour your bread will be.)

Tip: The proofing time varies and can be as fast as 1 hour or a slow as 8.

Photo 3: The Proofed Starter, Ready for Use

The Dough

This is the basic recipe I use. It is simple and makes a great bread.

  • 3 cups of flour
  • 2 cups of starter
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 3 tsp of sugar
  • 2 tsp of salt

Remember: You're only using about 2 cups of starter here. Pour your leftover starter back into your glass jar and put it back in your fridge for next time.

Now just mix and knead all the ingredients together. As flour varies in absorbency, use your judgement with the amounts. Treat it like any other bread.

Photo 4: The Mixed and Kneaded Dough

Let the dough rise in a warm place, in a bowl covered with a towel. Let the dough double in bulk, punch it down, and knead it again. Shape a loaf and place it on a lightly greased or cornmeal sprinkled baking sheet. Slit the top, cover with a towel, and place it in a warm place to rise again until doubled in bulk.

Photo 5: The Risen Dough, Ready for Baking

Bake at 350°F for 30-45 minutes. The loaf is done when the bottom sounds hollow when tapped with a wooden spoon.

Photo 6: The Fully Baked Sourdough Bread