As many of us did, I started my sourdough journey in 2020 during lock-down. I had always wanted to try it, but didn’t feel like I had the time to commit to the trial and error of it as I learned the tecniques. Well, that wasn’t really an excuse anymore, now was it?
Start your Starter
Of coure, the first thing, long before you can actually start baking, is the starter.
Starter is bascially a combination of flour and water, and all the natural little yeasties that already live in your kitchen. You let them all mix together for a while until they are strong and happy little yeasties in your starter jar, so that they bubble (burb and fart, lets be honest) and create that leavening effect that will make your bread rise. All the while, the mixture is also fermenting, which gives you that glorious sour flavor!
You can start any number of ways: buy a pre-made mix from Amazon (I recommend San Francisco Sourdough), get some gifted to you from a friend who has a strong, healthy starter, or start from scratch. Starting from scratch with just water and flour will take the longest before you can bake with it, but otherwise it’s really up to you and your preference. You will also want some clean, glass containers (Weck jars are awesome!) and access to filtered water (not distilled).
I frequently “gift” batches of my starter to friends and family, with some quick tips written on a recipe card to get them started with their starter. Here are those tips.
Day 1 – Move the gifted starter to a larger glass container. Feed with 2 tablespoons of all-purpose white flour and 2 tablespoons of filtered, room-temperature water. Cover loosely (paper towel, coffee filter or some Weck jars come with a nifty cork lid that’s perfect.) Let sit on the countertop or in your pantry for 24 hours.
Day 2 – Feed, Cover and Wait as above
Day 3 – Feed your starter with 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of water. Cover, rest another 24 hours.
By this point you are hopefully seeing it bubble and get active a few hours after feeding. If not, don’t worry – it’s still adjusting to your environment. Colder homes will take longer before the starter activates and gets happy. If your house is too cold, you can put the starter into your oven with the light on. BUT DO NOT FORGET IT’S THERE AND TURN ON THE OVEN!
Day 4 – Discard 1/4 cup of starter and feed with 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of water.
You will continue with this process FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Feed, Discard, Feed, Discard.
The sole purpose of the discard is to keep the sourdough starter from getting bigger and bigger until it takes over your kitchen and your life.
After one week – Your starter should be about ready to use in a bread recipe. But if you aren’t seeing strong bubbles and rising in your jar yet – just keep going. It will happen.
Do I Have to Discard?
Well, as I mentioned, it’s really just to keep your starter to a more manageable volume, because you need to be feeding it an equal amount of flour and water to the amount of starter in your jar. Otherwise, it gets hungry and unhealthy. But the discard is perfectly useable and delicious in a lot of recipes. I rarely actually throw any out!
- Gift it to a friend who wants to try making their own sourdough!
- Start a second starter – this is great if you want to try different types of flours but don’t want to change your “main” starter.
- MAKE CRACKERS!!! (Stay tuned for recipe!)
- Make literally anything baked, just sub in the starter for the same amount of flour and water in the recipe. For instance if you have 1/4 cup of starter to use, take 1/4 cup of flour and a 1/4 cup of water out of the recipe and replace it with the starter!
Tips and Tools
Buy an inexpensive kitchen scale. A lot of sourdough receipes are measured by weight, not by volume, and it’s way more precise.
Skip the baneton baskets and just get some good, tightly woven kitchen towels and use your mixing bowls.
Get a digital “candy” thermometer. I even use this to make sure my water is “room temp” before feeding my starter.
I do like using the razors to score rather than just a knife, but haven’t actually found a lame I like yet. Let me know if you have a good one!
Splurge item – I bought a terracotta dutch oven and it has been a game changer for the traditional “boule” style loaves. It creates steam without having to throw ice cubes into my 475 degree oven!
If your starter gets a layer of liquid on the top and starts to smell a bit vinegar-y, don’t panic! It’s not ruined. It does mean it’s underfed – up your feeding amounts and all will be well. If you like the strong sour flavor in your sourdoughs, just mix that “hooch” right back into your starter. If you DON’T – pour it off before you feed.
If your starter has a thin bit of ‘crust’ on the top – it’s also ok. Probably means you left it unfed a little longer than usual. No biggie. I usually scrape that off and throw it away before I feed my starter.
If you see MOLD – then you have my condolences. Throw it out and start over.
Need to go on vacation for a week and don’t want to have to hire a sourdough starter sitter*? No problem! Before you go out of town, give it a last feeding. Then cover tightly and put it in the refrigerator. It will go dormant while you’re at the beach. When you get home, take it out, let it come to room temp and then just start feeding it again. Those little buggers will wake right up.
*BTW I am available for that job if anyone wants to hire me
Lastly – your starter doesn’t like soap. Definitely clean your jar periodically, maybe once a week, but make sure it’s very clean and clear of all soap residue before you put your starter in. I have 2 or 3 of the Weck jars and just rotate them. Don’t change it too often! Remember you are cultivating good bacteria!
Sourdough Discard Herb, Garlic Crackers
- 200 grams (about 1 cup) sourdough discard
- 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I like to use my garlic herb infused oil here)
- 1 tablespoon dried herbs de Provence
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Mix all the ingredients together. Knead into a smooth ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats.
Cut dough in half and put one half back in the fridge.
Cut the remaining half again into 4 pieces.
Flour your surface lightly. Roll out each piece as thin as you can into a rough rectangle – this does not have to be perfect! Put two of the pieces on each baking sheet – not overlapping.
Brush each piece lightly with water and then sprinkle with salt (I like the Maldon Flake Sea Salt here).
Bake for 7.5 minutes. Then rotate your pans and bake for another 7.5 to 8 minutes or until the crackers are lightly golden brown and getting crispy.
Cool on a wire wrack. Repeat with the remaining dough.
I hope you enjoy the crackers and the overall sourdough experience! More recipes and bread photos coming soon!
Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.James Beard