2020 has had many tense, alarming, and outright scary moments. But there are a few silver linings for all of us to hold onto as we trudge through this year. One of those is the resurgence of homemade bread and bread-like products, chiefly sourdough.
At the start of the pandemic shutdowns, a lot of folks turned to baking to ease the, well, unease (I was one of those people—so, so many cookies were made!) and landed on bread baking as a great option. As a bonus, hand kneading can work out a lot of stress! But very quickly after the toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and cleaning wipes ran out, so did the yeast. So, many resourceful bakers decided they’d make their own in the form of a sourdough starter.
Sourdough starters are easy enough to get going and pretty easy to maintain. To start, you need two basic ingredients: flour and water. You’ll also need a decent-sized jar or crock (something that can hold at least 4 cups) and something to cover the jar (a cheese cloth or flour sack towel and a rubber band works well for me, but you can also just cover loosely with the lid or plastic wrap; others use a paper towel and a rubber band).
The process from How to Bake Bread, a class available in Universal Class, gets you started by mixing 4 ounces of flour (your choice—this recipe starts with AP flour, but others use bread flour or whole wheat flour) with 4 ounces of filtered or distilled water. Mix those together until they become a smooth batter and let it sit on your counter (or on a window ledge if your house/kitchen is cold) loosely covered. Repeat these steps for about five days; each day you will see more bubbles, and the mixture will become looser (almost like a runny pancake batter). Once you get to this stage, you are good to go for baking!
Once you’ve got your starter going, don’t forget to keep feeding! Once you get to the “good for baking stage,” you’ll actually discard and feed each day (or twice a day). When your starter is ripe, before each feeding, remove about 1 cup of “discard,” and then mix in the usual 4 ounces flour and 4 ounces water. You can use the discard for your baking. Most recipes call for 1 cup of starter (this may be referred to as discard or “levain”). If you don’t feel like baking with the discard, you can literally discard it (rinsing it down the sink works just fine).
If you’re heading out of town or just don’t want to mess with consistent feeding, you can also store your starter in the fridge for a few days. If you’re going to refrigerate, feed it as you normally would, let it sit for a couple hours to do its thing, and then pop it in the fridge. When you’re ready to use it again, pull it out of the fridge, and let it sit to “wake up” for a couple hours before you feed it again. You can also store discard in the fridge for a few days.
If you feel as if you’ll forget to feed the starter, a common suggestion is to name it! In fact, there are tons of articles and threads on the internet for clever names. I just call mine “The Baby,” so I feed The Baby twice a day. It’s pretty hilarious when I forget and literally blurt out, “I forgot to feed The Baby!”
Now that you’ve got a ripe starter, it’s time to find recipes! Most people default to sourdough bread to use their starter, but you can do so much more! Basically, you can use sourdough starter as the yeast in nearly any recipe. But places like King Arthur Baking and Pinterest are excellent stops for quick recipes. I’ve been making King Arthur’s biscuits, and they are *chef’s kiss.* I’ve also found recipes for sourdough pancakes that are enormously fluffy and a great way to finish off my blueberries. You can also find recipes using resources from the Library!
The bread baking class from Universal Class mentioned above has several recipes (including one specifically for sourdough bread). You can also find some excellent recipes in various cookbooks available from OverDrive or from the Library’s physical collection.
Consumer Technology Specialist