I mentioned in my last post that I had begun my adventure with sourdough bread. Since then I have had a ton of questions about how to get started with baking sourdough. I first want to caution you; I haven't met anyone yet who makes sourdough who is only a little into it. This is a hobby and a skill that really draws people in. For me a large part of the compelling nature of this type of baking is the huge number of variables to experiment with; the posts in the Sourdough Bread Baking group that I follow often read like lab reports, detailing the hydration levels, proofing times and temperatures, and other factors in that day's delicious experiment. Having so many ways to tweak each effort, constantly in pursuit of the ideal flavor, crumb (the way the gases create bubbles inside the bread), crust, and shape, makes each week's bake an exciting new challenge.
If so far I sound like a weirdo to you, maybe check out my easy yeasted sandwich bread recipe as a gateway to baking your own bread, and come back to sourdough when you're hooked. If what I've said so far sounds like a magical world you're ready to step into, let's go. But before I dive in I want to talk about something.
You will not see affiliate links to Amazon products in new Hey Jillian posts; I don't support their business model, and while I do need to get paid for what I do, I am choosing to find other ways rather than align myself with a company I don't want to promote. As a non-driving person with a limited budget, I find myself called by their convenience and selection, but in my heart I know their business model is hurting, not helping, and so I am no longer using them as source of income. If you love what I do and feel like sending me some money for my work, I would love that. Now back to our regularly scheduled post:
What do you really need to bake sourdough?
The Must Haves:
-Starter (see below)
-Container to keep your starter in
-Pan to bake in/on (bread pan, dutch oven, cast iron pan, pizza stone, they all work!)
-Patience- from start to finish, my bread usually takes me about 16-30 hours but obviously most of that time is spent doing other things.
Timelapse of sourdough starter after feeding:
The most important element is your starter. Starter is a mixture of flour and water (some people get into cultivating fruit yeasts, but let's stay less complicated for now) kept at a warm temperature that encourages wild yeasts to grow. When you bake yeasted bread, you are taking a packet or jar of yeast you bought from the store and introducing that into your flour and water to get your bread to rise, and with sourdough you're literally growing your own yeasts. There are a few ways to get your hands on these wild yeasts:
1) You can make your own. This is what I did, it took 13 days of feeding mine before it was ready to bake with because my house is pretty cool, but I love the satisfaction of having done it all myself. Here's a great guide from King Arthur Flour on making your own starter. This option takes some time and attention each day, but if you're someone who enjoys a good science experiment, you should totally go for it!
2) You can get some mature sourdough starter from a friend who has one. You will then need to feed it for the three days leading up to baking, but otherwise you can keep it in the fridge. It's not a hardship for someone to give you some of their starter; as you will soon discover, it's always growing.
3) You can buy a starter and follow the instructions for getting it up and going.
No matter how you get your starter, you should know it's bad luck not to name it. Mine is named Pam.
If you don't have any bread pans or a dutch oven, I would recommend checking out your local thrift store home section. Cast iron lasts a lifetime, so getting a used one is a real score! You could also invest in a good dutch oven, I use mine four out of seven days a week, it's the real workshorse of my kitchen and worth investing in. TJ Maxx and HomeGoods often have good deals on them. You can also bake your bread on a pizza stone, but when you are first learning to shape your bread it may spread out a bit flat without any walls to hold it in. Here's an awesome video of a beautifully shaped loaf of bread as it bakes on a stone:
If you live somewhere temperate, or you keep your house around 70F in the winter, finding a warm spot to let your starter grow is no problem. We keep our house at 62F in the winter, so finding a warm spot can be trickier here. You can turn your oven light on if it's an incandescent light that will provide some warmth. You can find a good spot near a heater. For me, it's just been a lot of trial and error.
There are tons of great sourdough bread recipes out there. Tartine's 40 page recipe is world famous. I used this guide from The Kitchn to get started. I would highly suggest your join the Facebook group Sourdough Bread Baking and access the many recipes in their group files. I have found this blog incredibly helpful, and his accompanying Instagram is inspiring to any aspiring baker.
So those are the absolute must haves. But as you will find out as you get started, baking sourdough is like giving a mouse a cookie. So here are some of the extras you may find yourself wishing for as you get into sourdough baking:
The Nice to Haves
-Understanding of all the sourdough lingo- here's a great glossary of sourdough terms you'll read as you get more involved
-Food Scale- more accurate measuring and less dishes
-Rice Flour- helps keep your bread keep from sticking to the container it rises in
-Banneton/Brotform- fancy baskets for your bread to rise in that give it those characteristic beautiful swirl patterns
-Lame- a curved razor blade and handle for it that allows to to score your bread, allowing just the right shape of cut for your bread to bloom out of as it rises in the oven.
-Combo Cooker- a cast iron pan with a tall lid that allows you to cook your bread covered for the first part of baking and simulate the steam ovens of professional bakeries.
-Different kinds of flour- whole wheat, rye, freshly milled flour, bread flours from all over, there are practically limitless flour options out there, and they all lend different results, and can be used together or separately.
In addition to being uniquely delicious, many people find sourdough easier to digest than other breads because of the fermentation process. Many store-bought sourdough breads use commercial yeast and only use sourdough starter for the taste, to speed up the process, but there's a lot of interesting science about why home baked (or if you're lucky enough to have a traditional bakery near you, we have a few here) sourdough bread is chemically different than commercially yeasted bread. There are some claims that even people with celiac disease can eat long fermented sourdough, but that is only backed up by one very small study so far. I think in coming years we are going to be hearing a lot more about the benefits of fermenting foods before we eat them, for both health and taste. If you're on a low-gluten diet for whatever reason, consider adding some traditional long fermented sourdough.
Here's the progression of my loaves so far; I bake once a week and each time it gets better:
I hope you're feeling inspired to try out this inexpensive and interesting hobby! Baking bread truly from scratch, developing a good sour flavor, learning to work with the dough and shape it so you get those perfect tall loaves, it's all incredibly rewarding and relaxing to me. One of the best part about this hobby is flour is not that expensive (especially when you buy 25lb bags at Costco like I do) so while you are learning it's no big deal if you get a flat loaf or eight. Tag me on Instagram if you get your starter going of bake up a loaf, @heyjilliankirby , I'd love to see them!
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