Before I jump into this post, allow me to quickly clarify something: baking with sourdough is definitely a learning process. I started with it earlier this year and am by no means an expert. 🙂 However, in talking to other people, I’ve realized that sourdough can be a little intimidating for those who have never tried it before and I thought it would be nice to share what I have learned so far. I’m always open to ideas and suggestions, and love to learn new things!
Sourdough is something that I was always a little nervous about using. Growing up I learned a fair bit about yeast breads from my mom and my own research/experimenting, but I was hesitant about trying sourdough (like it might grow and take over my house or something). Ok, sort of kidding.
After I got married I started thinking about giving it a try. My husband Casey is a big fan of sourdough. So I did some research and experimenting, and the recipe below is the result.
This sourdough starter is an easy, basic one to begin with if you are new to the process (and if you don’t have the time or the memory to feed a starter every day). I use this starter in all the sourdough recipes that I will be sharing on my blog.
A few things to note before we begin:
- There is a lot of debate about what type of container should be used to store sourdough. Some say no metal, some say no plastic, and then others say that neither of these materials are a problem. The claim is that some materials react with the sourdough. Personally, I’ve been storing my starter in a plastic container and haven’t had any problems, though I will probably start using glass at some point. The types of containers I have seen most recommended are crocks or glass jars, with the suggestion of using a wooden spoon. If you do forget and accidentally touch your starter with a metal spoon, don’t freak out. I did that by mistake one time, panicked for about five minutes, and nothing happened.
- Sourdough is not an exact process. Depending on what bacteria or wild yeast the starter collects from the air, as well as the temperature of the air, sourdough flavor will vary. Warmer air can result in a sweeter sourdough and cooler air result in a tangier sourdough. Don’t give up! It may take a few tries to get the starter where you want it. Consider it a fun science experiment. 😉
- There are multiple other methods out there by people who have more experience than me. If you have another method, please share it so I can learn too! If you are a beginner and tackle this easy starter and then begin feeling adventurous, feel free to do your research and learn more. The point of this particular post is to keep things as simple as possible for the absolute beginner.
Basic Sourdough Starter
- 2 cups warm, but not hot, water (about 100 degrees F), divided
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 2 cups whole wheat flour (or regular unbleached flour), divided
Stir together yeast, honey, 1 cup water, and 1 cup flour in glass bowl or crock with wooden spoon until well combined. Let sit for 5-10 minutes or until mixture becomes bubbly. Add in remaining 1 cup flour and 1 cup water and stir until blended.
Loosely cover container with a light towel or cheesecloth, and place in a corner. Let sit for about a week, stirring once daily. Over the course of the week, you will notice that the starter begins to take on a sour odor. Once the sour smell is distinct, your sourdough is ready to be stored for long-term use (this may take less than a week; mine took 5 days). Cover container and store in refrigerator.
To use in a recipe: 8-12 hours or the night before use, remove starter from refrigerator and stir in or remove any dark liquid that may have formed on top. Measure out what you need for your recipe. 1/2 to 1 cup starter is typically about right. Replace equal parts of water and flour in recipe with the same amount that is in your starter. For example: if you want to use 1 cup of this starter in your recipe, reduce the flour in the recipe by 1/2 cup and the water by 1/2 cup. Depending on whether you are using whole wheat or white flour, you may need to play with the ratio a little bit.
Add 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup warm water to remaining starter, stir to combine, and return to refrigerator.
In a glass bowl or crock, combine starter for your recipe with the main liquid used in the recipe (such as milk or water) and add part or all of the flour (just enough so that the mixture is the consistency of batter; this may vary depending on what you are making). For example, with pancakes you may need to add all of the flour, but with biscuits need less flour so as to keep the mixture at a batter consistency. Let this mixture sit overnight. The following day, when you are ready to make your bread, proceed with recipe as normal, adding any remaining wet ingredients to mixture first. Combine remaining dry ingredients such as flour and baking powder separately and then add to wet.
Note: if your recipe calls for yeast and rising time, you can either use or omit the yeast when using sourdough starter. If you omit, keep in mind the bread will probably take longer to rise, so be sure to account for that.
You can use your starter about 2-3 times weekly. Whether you use it or not, you need to feed/replenish it once a week. To do this, remove half (either use in a recipe or throw it out) and replenish remaining half with equal parts water and flour and return to fridge. After using and replenishing, wait 24 hours before using starter again.
There you have it! Basic sourdough starter instructions. Like I mentioned before, there are different ways of doing this and if you google “sourdough starter” you will find all the information your heart could ever desire about sourdough.
If you really want to get technical, try googling “science behind sourdough starter”. I just did that and my head started spinning, so I came back here. I’ll learn more as I go, I’m sure.
A few other notes:
- It is normal for dark liquid to form on top of the sourdough starter. Just stir it back into the starter before using in recipe OR drain it off, your choice. I usually stir mine back into the starter.
- Signs your starter is bad: If the starter itself turns dark brown or pink or forms mold, throw it out. If it begins to smell moldy, decaying, foul, etc, throw it out. The yeasty sourdough smell is normal; if you start smelling something else, play it safe and start over.
- Remembering to feed and use starter: I have a calendar on my fridge and mark whenever I use and/or feed it. This helps me to remember (just a suggestion).
- If you don’t have time or forget to get the sourdough out 8-12 hours before use, it is ok to use it straight from the fridge. I do this sometimes if I’m in a hurry or just want to keep things simple. The flavor will probably not be as strong that way, but one of our favorite bread machine recipes involves using a cup of starter straight from the fridge (I’ll share that one soon). Follow the same rule of reducing flour/water in the recipe by the amount in the starter.
You guys, it is basically impossible to get an appetizing picture of a starter, but here is what mine looks like right out of the fridge so you have an idea. (Note this is after I stirred the dark liquid back into the starter.) Yes, I use a plastic spoon because I currently don’t own a wooden one.
When the starter has been sitting at room temperature with other ingredients before use in a recipe, it will look more bubbly.
Now that we’ve finished all of that, maybe you are anxious to give this a try or maybe you’re thinking “Yeah, forget this. I’m outta here”. Either way, I am providing you with a delicious Buttermilk Sourdough Biscuits recipe to get you started! Instructions for both methods of using the starter (either the night beforehand or straight from the fridge) are included in this recipe.
I made these biscuits on a cloudy, stormy day, so I wasn’t too optimistic about getting good pictures. However, I kind of like the way some of them turned out despite lack of lighting.
Buttermilk Sourdough Biscuits
- 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 Tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup cold butter
- 1/2 cup sourdough starter
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 2 teaspoons honey
The night before or 8-12 hours before making biscuits, remove sourdough starter from refrigerator and measure out 1/2 cup starter. Replenish remaining starter with 1/2 cup warm water and 1/2 cup flour and return to fridge.
Combine starter, buttermilk, and just enough flour to maintain batter consistency in large glass (or plastic; I use plastic) bowl with a wooden spoon. Cover loosely with light towel and let sit 8-12 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Stir together remaining flour, baking powder, and salt in separate small bowl. Grate butter over bowl and stir gently into flour mixture. Add honey to starter followed by flour mixture and mix just until combined using wooden spoon.
Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead 2-3 times. Pat out to about 1/2 inch thickness and cut out biscuits using biscuit cutter or edge of a drinking glass of about 3 inches in diameter.
Place biscuits on lightly greased or parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes or just until biscuits start to turn golden.
Alternate method: If you are in hurry, you can use starter straight from the fridge in this recipe. Just mix the dry ingredients, grate in the cold butter, and then add the buttermilk, starter, and honey. The flavor will be slightly different, but still tasty.
~K in the Kitchen