Smart Mama



What is Sourdough?

Sourdough is a natural bread leaven of wild yeasts and lactobacilli cultured in a flour and water mixture. The symbiotic culture of these organisms can continue to grow and reproduce for years when properly fed and cultured. Lactobacilli produce lactic and acetic acids which give the sour flavor that has made sourdough so popular. The wild yeast provides the leaven that raises the bread. Sourdough starters vary in strains of bacteria and yeast and the finished bread products also vary in flavor. While sourdough has been replaced by commercial yeasts as the standard method of raising bread, it is still treasured by many for its flavor and texture.

Sourdough Tips:

A glass jar with a plastic lid is my preferred container for storing starter because it can be thoroughly cleaned. But I’ve also had good luck with plastic 1-quart yogurt containers or clear plastic peanut butter jars. Sourdough crocks are cute but not necessary.

Stir your starter with a wooden or plastic spoon or chopstick. Generally you should avoid metal utensils with your starter. It will not kill it to stir briefly with a stainless steel metal spoon, but do not store your starter in a jar with a metal lid or proof your dough in a metal bowl. The acid will react with the metal over time.

I usually keep about 3 cups of starter in my 4 cup jar. If you fill it too full, it will bubble over and make quite a mess. Guess how I know this…

When you feed your starter, be sure to slightly loosen the lid of your jar. The yeast will produce gas and if the pressure is not relieved, you are likely to have a little explosion and a broken jar. It can actually launch a plastic sealed lid (like Tupperware). Guess how I know this…

If you use chlorinated tap water, as a precaution, boil it first to remove the chorine. BE SURE to cool it adequately or you will kill your starter. Can you guess how I know this?

Too cool is better than too hot. Never let your starter or rising bread reach over 120 F (110 F to be on the safe side). Never add water that is over 120 F.

Your starter will stay fresh and active if you feed it about once a week, but it can safely go for two or even four weeks if you happen to be on vacation. When you use some of your starter, remember to feed it. ¾ cup flour and ¾ cup water will make about 1 cup of starter. Keep this in mind when you want to use it in other recipes that call for flour and water.

Your starter will bubble and froth when you feed it. Then it will enter a dormant stage. A layer of clear or dark liquid will form on the top. Just stir the liquid back into the starter when you use it to maintain the correct liquid/flour ratio. If you have neglected your starter and have more than about one inch of dark liquid, pour it off and replace it with pure water. Then feed your starter.

Freshly fed starter may be frozen for 2 months. When stored this way, you must allow it to thaw, feed it, and let it stand in a warm place for 24 hours before using it. By the way, be sure to label your frozen starter. I accidentally threw away an unlabeled 18 year-old starter when I found it in the freezer and couldn’t remember what it was.

Some bakers regularly add potato flakes, cider or wine vinegar, sugar, dry milk, or rye flour to their starter. Feel free to experiment, but it is probably a good idea to keep some pure flour and water starter until you know you have a viable starter you like. About the only way you can kill it is to let it get too hot or starve it for too long. I keep a pure starter of just organic whole wheat flour and water, but I’m a bit of a sourdough snob.

If you know you will be baking the following day, remove your starter from the refrigerator and feed it so it will be at room temperature and fresh when you use it.

When baking bread you may choose to add commercial yeast if time is an issue. The sourdough starter will raise the bread, but expect it to take twice as long as commercial yeast, especially when your starter is new.

If your starter is not sour enough for your taste, you may try to encourage the growth of lactobacillus bacteria that contribute to the sour taste. Multiply your starter (reserve a pure flour and water starter as a back up). Experiment with one or more of the following:
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. plain yogurt with active cultures
Use rye flour instead of wheat
Add one heaping Tbsp. of potato flakes or
Use potato cooking water in place of the water

As you scroll down this page you will find:

Tips for Sourdough
Baking Bread
Bread Ingredients
Facts About Flour












Baking bread:

Generally, the best flavored breads are those with long relatively cool rising periods. Instant commercial yeast produces bread in record fast times but it usually lacks flavor. Three long risings produce the best flavor and longest keeping bread. Dough is fully raised when you poke it with your finger and the hole does not fill in.

You may mix, knead, and raise your dough in a bread machine instead of hand kneading. You might find it necessary to cut a recipe in half depending on the size of your machine. My bread machine can handle a recipe of about 6 cups of flour but it needs a bit of help at the beginning to insure all the flour is moistened. I use a rubber or silicone spatula to mix it.


Bread Ingredients:

Flour— Whole Wheat Flours Differ…a lot! Freshness is important. High protein (gluten) hard wheat is necessary for bread. Whole grain hard white wheat is my favorite. A fine grind makes the lightest loaves. Pastry flour (soft white wheat) is low gluten and makes tender quick breads, muffins, etc.

Liquid— liquids used in bread include: water, milk, fruit juice, potato water, applesauce, egg, cooked cereals. Dissolve commercial yeast in warm water only.

Yeast or leaven—Active dry yeast (from Costco) or Instant yeast (SAF) or the wild yeast of sourdough

Salt—essential for flavor, saltless loaves are usually crumbly, have a porous top crust, and often collapse. Salt strengthens the gluten and regulates the growth of the yeast.

Sweeteners—added for flavor, give a more tender crumb, help browning. Use honey, molasses, white or brown sugars.

Fat—a tablespoon or so of oil or butter per loaf helps the bread keep longer, enhances flavor and makes it more tender.


More About flour:

I buy 50 pound bags of Wheatland organic hard white wheat berries and grind it with a Grain Master Whisper Mill. Its high gluten content makes it perfect for baking wonderful bread. With a lighter color and texture and milder flavor, it also makes beautiful delicious quick breads. Because it is whole wheat flour, it also retains the nutritional value of whole wheat.

If you are serious about bread and can get a mill and a good source of wheat berries, your bread will make you famous in your city. Hard red wheat is good for making hearty flavorful whole wheat breads. It does not rise as high (at least for me) but has a wonderful nutty flavor. I personally don’t favor the hard red wheat combined with sourdough because of the strong competing flavors.

Sometimes people get confused when I tell them I use “white” wheat berries for my flour. When I got my grain mill I discovered that there are many varieties of wheat that vary in color, gluten content, flavor and texture. Think of all the varieties of apples—wheat is like that. “Hard” wheat refers to the gluten content. Bread that will be leavened with yeast (including sourdough) requires a high gluten level so that it will hold together and support the gas produced by the yeast. “Soft” wheat has less gluten and is good for quick breads. It is used to make pastry flour.

King Arthur brand sells white whole wheat flour in five pound bags at a reasonable price. If you can find it, I recommend it. They also have smaller bags of flour at ridiculous prices, which I don’t recommend. If you can get Gold Metal whole wheat, that should be okay, but it will not rise as high. You may have to mix in some white all-purpose, white bread flour, or add gluten.

Another important variation among flours is its ability to absorb water. Freshness, humidity, altitude, and additional ingredients are among some of the variables that affect water absorption. As a young baker, I was frustrated with recipes that would list ingredients with a range like “3 to 4 cups of flour.” I wanted to know the exact amount. Since then, I’ve discovered the differences in flours and I’ve learned to feel when I need more flour or more water. Generally “red whole wheat” flour absorbs more liquid than “white whole wheat” flour, which absorbs more liquid than “white all-purpose” flour.

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