If you have toyed with the idea of baking your own bread, you have probably already come across references to sourdough. Sourdough is a natural leavening agent and the best way to get heavy doughs to rise. Through the fermentation process, we grow lactobacilli and yeast fungi in the flour-water paste which, in turn, work to leaven the bread dough. This means you do not need industrial yeast. Instead, the sourdough gives the bread a more intense flavor and makes the bread more durable. It also works to splits up the nutrients in rye flour so that the body can use them. So, long story short, I highly recommend baking bread with your own sourdough – it is fun and surprisingly easy!
Before We Start
Before we begin, keep in mind that there are many ways to make a sourdough. If you search the web, you will find many different suggestions in forums about how to proceed, what to do and what definitely not to do. However, I soon came to a point where I did not find these debates helpful anymore because some people got very aggressive and dogmatic about the whole affair. Instead, I would want to reassure you that since there are so many ways to go about it, it also means you cannot really do things wrong (no matter what some people on the internet would have you believe). And if you find that your sourdough base did not turn out the way you expected it to – oh well, no problem, it happens. Just try again.
- 190 g whole grain rye flour (or any other type of flour, just make sure that it is whole grain)
- 300 ml lukewarm water
How to Make It
- Mix 50 g of flour and 100 ml of lukewarm water and blend it until you have a paste.
- Cover it and let it rest in a warm spot (ca. 20-26° C) for 3 days.
- During these 3 days, stir it once a day briefly and cover it again. Keep it in its warm spot.
- In the morning, whisk in 80 g of flour and 100 ml of lukewarm water. Cover the batter again.
- In the evening, whisk in another 60 g of flour and 100 ml of lukewarm water.
- The sourdough base should have fluffy and bubbly consistency. It should have the typically fermented smell.
- Fill about 50g of sourdough in a jar and store it in the fridge.
- You can use the rest for baking straight away.
How to Use It
Sourdough is a resilient, crafty little leavening agent! You basically keep a jar with a rest (I usually keep around 50-60 g) in the fridge where it “sleeps” until you activate it again.
Activating the dough means that you take the sourdough base out of the fridge, mix your rest with a paste of fresh flour and lukewarm water, and let the new sourdough “wake up” for 10-12 hours (usually overnight). In that time, the sourdough base infuses the fresh flour-paste and ferments it. Voilà – you have multiplied your sourdough! Take around 50 g and store it again in your jar in the fridge and use the rest for baking.
The flour-paste is also easy to make: Just take between 50 to 100 g of flour (ideally whole grain) and mix it with the same amount of lukewarm water. Then stir in your sourdough base, cover the bowl, and let it all rest for 10-12 hours in a warm spot.
You should try to feed your sourdough base as I described above once a week so that it remains alive and active. It is worth the effort because the more you use your sourdough base, the fluffier and better it becomes. I did not believe it at first, but I have had my sourdough for a few months now and I can tell that it has become stronger and bubblier.
A Few General Rules for Baking with Sourdough
Bread dough made with sourdough has significantly longer resting times than dough made with industrial yeast. At first, I did not quite believe it myself, but it is true: the longer the dough can rest, the better. These days, I let the dough rest at least 6-8 hours and it really makes a difference: the dough grows significantly bigger, tastes better, and is fluffier. I really want to encourage you to give your dough a lot of time to rest and rise! The way I go about it is that I make the dough in the morning, let it rest until lunch, knead it one more time and put it in the proofing basket (link), and let it rest again until dinner time. Then I bake it and we have warm and fresh bred for dinner.
Bread made with sourdough also needs a bit longer in the oven, usually around 40-45 minutes. You start baking at the highest temperature so that the dough does not “melt” and the loaf does not lose its shape. Then you lower the temperature after a while so that the bread can slowly finish and does not burn.
You should also always put a little fire-resistant bowl or cup with water into the oven to help the dough rise a bit more. Before you put the loaf in the oven, take a sharp knife and cut across it 2-3 times. Then sprinkle the top of the loaf with a bit of flour and water to create a crunchy crust.