Sourdough eCourse

Readers of this blog will know that I love my sourdough! To my delight, I have found an online course all about sourdough. It’s “pay what you can” for 23 lessons in sourdough cooking. There are lessons on everything from bread (naturally!) to chocolate cake, to english muffins, to tortillas, to muffins, and many other things.

I’ve watched two lessons so far–the initial interviews with 3 bloggers talking about how they fit sourdough into their lives, and the lesson on sourdough pancakes. I was so excited that I made myself some peanut butter and honey sourdough toast, and then got my starter out of the fridge to watch with me. Seriously!

Now, I’m just a eStudent of this course, not affiliated in any way. I encourage you to check it out if you’re interested in expanding your sourdough recipe index or your skills. You can find it through

It’s totally inspiring me! Sourdough pancakes tomorrow! I’ll let you know what else I try.

The miracle of life–a sourdough starter

I started my new starter three days ago, according to Peter Reinhart’s new “Artisan Breads Every Day”:

Day 1: combine 1 oz flour with 2 oz pineapple juice. Stir together and leave at room temperature for 2 days, stirring three times per day.

Day 3: add 1 oz flour and 1 oz pineapple juice to the Day 1 mixture. Stir together, and leave at room temperature until it becomes frothy and bubbly, stirring three times per day.

The idea is that the pineapple juice prevents the bacteria leuconostoc from taking over, and the stirring  prevents the mixture from getting moldy. The next step is adding 2 oz flour and 1 oz water, leaving for 1-2 days and stirring intermittently. Then adding 3 oz flour and 1 oz water to 4 oz of the previous culture, at which point you let it ferment and then it is ready to become your Mother Starter.

So today is day 4 and I am delighted to report that my goop is starting to bubble! It is delightful to be bringing a new starter to life. It holds the promise of amazing tasting bread to feed my family. The promise of not having to go out and buy bread because I’ve just baked up a couple loaves. Just the smell of sour yeasty goodness makes me verklempt. (Really. I get choked up very easily).

Now, if only I had thought of doing this at the beginning of winter instead of the beginning of summer!

Stepping back into Sourdough

I’ve lost my sourdough starter. By which I mean, it got so polluted and gross that it wasn’t working at all any more. So I’m starting my starter over. Again.

I actually gave it a try not long ago, and found my starter infected with leuconostoc, which imitates a true starter by getting bubbly and smelling sour, but it is actually bacteria, not yeast, which is bubbling. It gets very sour right off the bat, and doesn’t have that yummy beery/yeasty smell that makes bread taste like bread.

Peter Reinhart says to make the starter with pineapple juice, so that is what I am going to do. I’ll start it tonight and will report back soon. Once my starter is established, I’m going to follow the methods described in Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day, which incorporates the no-knead approach with sourdough techniques, exactly what I set out to investigate last summer. Fortunately, Peter Reinhart, with his big team of testers, has taken the challenge instead!

I’ll let you know what happens . . .

Sourdough Bread in Five Minutes a Day: an Experiment

I’ve been enjoying the bread recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day so much lately–it’s all we’ve been eating for the last few weeks.  I’ve been baking the full batch (two 2-pound loaves) each time and freezing one loaf, but there have been a couple of occasions when we got through both loaves in about 2 days. We eat a lot of bread!

But since this revolution (REVOLUTION, I say!) of the no-knead, high-hydration, easy-peasy bread, I have been missing two things: the first is my sourdough. While the Artisan Bread does have a complexity that quick-rise breads lack, it still isn’t quite sourdough calibre. Second is whole grains. We’ve been eating a LOT of white flour. Delicious, sure; but it’s definitely less nutrient-dense and fibre-rich than whole grains.

So, I decided to finally give my latest experiment a try: merging the Artisan-Bread-in-Five-Minutes-A-Day techniques with my sourdough knowledge, to try to come up with a slightly easier way to make sourdough. I’m also hoping for a lighter, more holey loaf.

I took a look on the interweeb, and found a lot of sourdough recipes using the no-knead techniques discussed in the Mark Bittman New York Times article that made the no-knead bread famous. I find the Artisan Bread in Five techniques even easier and lower fuss, but didn’t turn up any results on a sourdough version.

So I gave it a try.  And the results were . . . well, they were okay. Quite sour, which might be due to the long rising time, or possibly because of the state my starter is in (I keep leaving it for weeks, and then just refreshing it a few times before baking; it will probably change with more use).

It also burnt a bit at the temperature I baked it at, while the inside is a bit undercooked, so next time I’m going to try 400 for a short time–maybe 20 minutes–and then 325 for maybe 40 minutes.

Also, it is more holey than my previous sourdoughs have been, probably due to the higher hydration and longer rise, but it didn’t get much oven spring, which I attribute to the “germ-added-back-in” organic bread flour. I just don’t find it has much gluten structure, no matter what I do to it. Next time I’ll try an all-white sourdough to rule out the possibility that the structure is simply breaking down from the longer rise. After that I’ll maybe try an organic all-purpose whole wheat, just to see.

In any case, here’s my recipe, which I did by weight because that was the only way I could keep the hydration (percentage of water) consistent with the original recipe.  Basically I substituted 6 oz of my 100% hydrated starter (that means a 1:1 ratio by weight of flour to water) for 3 oz of water and 3 oz of flour in the recipe.

Sourdough Bread in Five Minutes a Day

6 oz well-fed, fresh starter, 100% hydration

13 oz water, lukewarm

29.5 oz flour (for this I used about half white all-purpose and half of my “germ-added-back-in” bread flour)

1 1/2 tbsp salt

I dissolved the starter in the water, and mixed the salt with the two flours, then stirred the dry ingredients into the wet until combined. I let this sit out overnight for about 14 hours, after which I divided it, shaped it, and put the 2 loaves into their loaf pans. After a rising time of 4 hours, I baked the loaves in a preheated 450 degree oven for about 45 minutes, after which time they were almost burnt on the outside so I took them out.

See this recipe for more detailed instructions.

And if you have any other resources that might help me with this project, please recommend!!!

not so sourdough

Last night I made what might just be the last home-baked of the season.  I’m thrilled that summer is here but I will miss my weekly-or-so ritual of baking bread.  Maybe I’ll stay on the lookout for cool nights, but with sourdough you can’t just throw a loaf together when the wind is right.  You have to be organized.

Which I wasn’t yesterday, not really.  For some reason I just didn’t get it totally together yesterday to make proper sourdough.  I started it too late in the day after some good park time in the morning, so I didn’t have enough time for all the long rises.

However, I had a good batch of starter I’d refreshed just a couple of days beforehand, so I took the plunge and did what any honest sourdough cheater would do: I added commercial yeast (gasp!).

First I mixed my firm starter (without yeast) and let it rise for the indicated 4 hours.  Then I took a look at my recipe and decided to add 1 1/2 tsp of instant yeast to the final dough.  I let that bulk ferment for 2 hours, and then divided and let the loaves sit for about 90 minutes before baking as per my usual recipe for 40-60 minutes (40 for the tin loaf pan and 60 for the pyrex loaf pan) at 350 degrees.

It turned out well–nice crust, and decent flavour, though it’s missing that real sourdough punch.  But if you’re pressed for time, it certainly makes a passable loaf.

Sourdough Starter

I have never had much luck in starting my own starter, although there are many books and websites that practically guarantee success.  I was lucky enough to have been given some starter years ago that a co-worker of my mom’s brought back to Sudbury from a bakery in Ottawa.  I was living in Montreal at the time, so it was quite the journey for this little lump of single-celled organisms!

I did take a sourdough course in Toronto several years ago, and most students in the class were able to get a starter going, so I have faith that it can be done.  I will do my best to summarize the guidance on starting a starter, and then tell you how I keep my starter going.  Then I will list some resources that I have relied on over the years when I get stuck.

What Is a Starter?

A starter, also called “barm” or a “mother”, is the mixture of flour and water and yeast and bacteria that you keep around to use to start your breads.  Most starters are wet, with a 50-50 mix of flour and water; however, some people prefer to keep a “firm” starter that is more like bread dough.

I keep mine wet using a 50-50 mix of organic bread flour and tap water.

How to “Catch” Some Yeast

If you do a Google search, you will find lots of “recipes” for starting a starter from scratch.  You will see additions ranging from honey, milk or grapes, to commercial yeast.  I don’t think you need any of these.  The yeast and bacteria you want live either in the air around you, or in the flour you buy (depending on what you read), so these additions are unnecessary and may lead to some pretty gross concoctions after leaving them sit on your counter all day.  Also, sourdough yeast is a different animal than the commercial yeast you buy, so that won’t work–I promise.

Most instructions for catching a culture instruct you to leave a large bowl out on the counter with a mix of flour and water, with strict timing for refrigerating the mix, dumping out half or more, and adding more flour.

Here is a summary of the instructions from the “Starter Doctor“:

– mix 2 cups of flour with 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water in a clear glass bowl (you will be inspecting for bubbles, which are easiest to see through the sides/bottom of a bowl, but it won’t affect the process if you use an opaque bowl)

– stir vigorously and fan some air across the mixture, then let sit for 24 hours in a warm place (80 – 85 degrees F).  Fan, mix, then fan again after 24 hours, and let sit again for another 24 hours.

– once 48 hours has passed (since the beginning), remove 1 cup of starter and add 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup warm water.  Stir it in vigorously and then continue as above.

– you will continue this 48-hour cycle until it is clear that bubbles are forming in your mixture.  This may take anywhere between 3 and 8 days.

– once bubbles start appearing, pat yourself on the back–you have caught a starter!  Now you will treat your mixture like “new starter” and follow the instructions below.

Taking Care of, or Reviving Your Starter

New starters can be very unpredictable, and will take anywhere from 1 week to 4 weeks to become hardy and abuse-resistant.  Make sure to take good care of them during this stage.

Most recipes call for cups and cups of flour and water, most of which gets thrown out, for no good purpose at all.  I keep a very small amount of starter, around 3 oz max, unless I am baking with it and then I will increase it to what I need for my recipe, plus 1 oz to work from next time.  However, I can also work with less.

I have also revived my good ole starter many many times.  Usually what happens is that I take a break from baking and my starter sits in the fridge, sometimes for months, slowly drying out into a hard puck in the bottom of a drinking glass.

But I can always get it back by following these steps, adapted for smaller volumes, from “The One Tablespoon Method” in the Starter Doctor document:

– use 1 tablespoon, or even 1 teaspoon, of your “dead” or “barely living” starter.  This refers to either new starter that HAS shown some life (bubbles) previously, or old starter that used to work but seems dead at present.

– in a drinking glass, add starter, 1 oz flour and 1 oz lukewarm water, and let sit, or “proof” for 24 hours in a 72 – 77 degree F environment.  Then check for bubbles.  If the starter looks “healthy” (see the Starter Doctor for these definitions), you’re good to go–time to make some bread!

– if your starter is still “dead” or “barely living”, refrigerate for at least 12 hours and then follow the above procedure again & again until the starter is “healthy”.  This WILL work–it just takes some time.  You can also try different flours to see if you get different behaviours.

Sourdough Links

There are lots of resources here, from the newsgroup.  The newsgroup is hilarious to read but they can be very mean to “Newbies”.  Lurk awhile and you will pick up more info about Sourdough than you ever needed to know.

Also try for all sorts of amazing baking tips.  Here is their Sourdough section.

Good Luck!

Now go and make some bread.  And remember, if you’re not quite confident that your sourdough will really rise, you can always add 1-2 tsp of yeast to the mix and follow conventional rising times (1 1/2 to 2 hours first rise, then form into loaves and let rise 60 to 90 minutes before baking).  It won’t leave enough time to fully develop the sourdough characteristics (full flavour, sourness, chewy texture), but it can be a way to ease yourself into the Sourdough frame of mind.  Good luck!

Sourdough: latest experiment plus recipe

Sourdough June 5Last night I made sourdough again (yum!) after a couple of batches of plain white bread.  That bread was fantastic–when it was fresh from the oven–but by the next day it just doesn’t cut it for me.  The flavour is so . . . simple.  And a bit on the sweet side.  So back to the sourdough, which seems to get even better as the days go by.  

I kept a couple of my alterations from my last experiment: I kept the water content on the low side, and I added 1/2 oz of high gluten (80%) flour (also known as Vital Wheat Gluten).  I also baked in my small loaf pans, and discovered that I do have 2 after all–my lovely yellow pyrex loaf pan is the perfect size for these little loaves. For some reason the Baker’s Secret ones I have are just a wee bit too big.

I also made one more change in this recipe after my little white-bread holiday: I used half white all-purpose flour in place of some of the “germ added back in” flour I’ve been using.  

The result: the best bread yet!  It’s much lighter in texture, and tastes complex, moist, not-too-sour, delicious.  The littler loaf pans shaped the loaves perfectly, and I will look forward to poached eggs tomorrow after I get some organic eggs from the farmer’s market.

Next time I think I’ll follow these same alterations again.


Here is my adaptation of the recipe I use for my “Basic Sourdough”, from Peter Reinhart‘s book “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice“.  I’m not going to write out the instructions step-by-step, but will write it assuming that you, the reader, know what to do . . .

Firm Starter

4 oz regular wet starter

4.5 oz bread flour

1 oz water

Mix this together, knead briefly, and then let it rise for 4 hours.  The recipe recommends refrigerating this overnight but I usually mix this up in the morning before I go to work, and then do the next step when I come home at lunch time.

Final Dough

10 oz white all-purpose flour

9 3/4 oz white “with germ added back in” bread flour

1/2 oz high gluten flour

1/2 oz salt

12 oz water, lukewarm

Mix the flour & salt together, then add all the firm starter, cut into chunks, and the water.  Mix with a spoon, or in a mixer until it all comes together, then knead for as long as you need, until the dough passes the “Windowpane Test“.  Form the dough into a ball and put into a lightly oiled bowl, rolling the dough ball so it is lightly coated in oil.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 3-4 hours, or until doubled in size.

Next, divide the dough into 2 and shape into loaves.  Proof (let rise again) for 2-3 hours, or until doubled in size.

Preheat your oven for quite awhile, especially if you are making free-form loaves. For these, bake at a very high temperature (450 or 500 degrees), using a baking stone and a steam pan and everything.  Bake for 10 minutes, rotate the loaves 180 degrees, then bake for another 10 to 20 minutes, making sure they 

I prefer to bake my bread in loaf pans so it makes a good shape for sandwiches and toast, and so I bake at a lower temperature for a longer time: 350 degrees for 20 minutes, then turn the pans and bake for another 20 minutes or so.

Good luck!  I will be writing an entry soon on raising/keeping starter, so stay tuned!