Warm, fresh-baked bread. Mmmm. It truly can’t be beat. I used to make bread all the time and then our lives became crazy with multiple moves and I removed sugar and refined carbs from our house and homemade bread sadly fell to the wayside. But now, my home is filled with the rich, warm aroma of baking bread once again! Making your own sourdough starter and sourdough bread is so simple and insanely affordable, it really makes no sense to buy it from the store.
We only eat 100% whole wheat sourdough or sprouted bread anymore. Why? Many people think simply switching to whole wheat bread is good for their health. While they are correct, whole wheat bread is a much better choice than the super refined and nutrient-stripped white bread, most store-bought whole wheat breads are not truly whole wheat. And, even if they are, they still have a devastating effect on your blood sugar, digestive system, and overall health. By souring or sprouting the wheat, the grains become much more gentle on your body and help to keep your blood sugar more stable. I like to use each bread, sourdough or sprouted, for different purposes. Both are excellent as toast and even for sandwiches but they each have very distinct flavors. Sourdough, of course, has that tangy taste that people either love or hate (my oldest currently hates it while my husband tolerates it and the younger two and I love it), while sprouted has a more nutty, earthy flavor which I also adore and my whole family enjoys. I tend to use sourdough for sweeter options such as French toast while I prefer sprouted for the more savory flavors like garlic bread.
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So, how simple is sourdough? So simple that all you will need is:
*Whole wheat flour (I prefer white berry whole wheat as it has a more mild flavor)
*Water (NOT chlorinated! If you are lucky enough to have untreated well or spring water, no worries! If, however, you have chlorinated city water like me, you will want to pick up a few gallons of purified/spring water from the store. I use the gallons of purified drinking water from my local Aldi)
*Salt (preferably a good quality mineral salt)
*A couple non-metal bowls (I prefer to use glass)
*A non-metal stirring utensil (I use a silicone spatula or sometimes a large plastic cooking/serving spoon)
*Cheesecloth (I had to search high and low for this in our new area. I had never had trouble finding cheesecloth before but when I went to look for it most recently, I couldn’t find it anywhere. Turns out, cheesecloth is so unused for baking and cooking (at least around here), that it was located in the craft section. Go figure… Also, after managing my starter for a while, I am finding that the typically marketed “cheesecloth” that was in the craft section is too thin, flimsy, and delicate and is causing me a lot of grief. I plan to purchase an actual fabric soon, something like this, that will hold up better for my purposes. Any breathable fabric will do.
*2-4 bread pans. I personally prefer glass or stone.
You’ll start out by creating a sourdough starter and then you will use that starter to make your bread dough.
Creating Your Sourdough Starter:
This will be a week-long process but will only take a few minutes of your day and once you have your starter, you will be able to nourish and care for it for all time, sharing with friends and family, if you so desire. To begin, sterilize your non-metal bowl. To do this, I simply boil a pot of water on the stove and then pour the water over the inside of the bowl while holding it over. After sterilizing your bowl, mix one cup of whole wheat flour with one cup of water, cover the bowl with cheesecloth so that it can breathe while keeping the bugs out, and find a happy home for your starter on your kitchen counter. Every day for the next 6 days, mix in one cup of flour and water to your starter, sterilize a different bowl, and transfer your starter to the clean bowl and keep your starter covered. I began with a small glass mixing bowl and sterilized a slightly larger one each day to accommodate for the growing starter. If, at any time your starter accumulates a pool of liquid on top, simply pour it off before adding your next cup of flour and water. After 7 days, total, your starter should be looking somewhat bubbly and have a slight sour smell to it. If so, you have a sourdough starter and are ready to make your first loaves of delicious bread!!! If it does not seem to be working, you can try again or you can get some starter from a store or a friend and jump right into feeding it with flour and water.
Caring For Your Sourdough Starter:
After that first week of creating your starter, you will still want to feed it every day but you can cut back to switching it to a sterile bowl once a month or so. If you need a short break from caring for your starter because things get busy, you’re heading out for a short trip, or because your house and freezer are overflowing with loaves of bread, you can place a loose cover on it and stick it in the fridge without feeding it for a while. If you need a longer break, send it into hibernation by placing it in the freezer instead. When you are ready, pull it back out onto your counter and give it a good feeding and stir to wake it back up.
If it’s exceptionally warm or humid, your starter can get really hungry and form a substantial amount of liquid on top. It took me a few days of trying different things but I found that the best solution was to just gently pour the liquid straight into the sink before giving the starter its daily feeding.
Making Sourdough Bread:
Now for your tasty reward! Starting on day 7, you can use your starter to make your first batch of sourdough bread. The starter is what is going to give your bread that wonderful rise and help your dough ferment to provide that lovely tang.
*5 Cups of sourdough starter
*8 Cups of whole wheat flour
*3 ¼ Cups of water (NOT chlorinated!)
* 1 ½ Tablespoons of salt
This will make 4 nice-sized loaves of bread. If you’d rather make 2 loaves at a time, simply cut the recipe in half.
Before you begin, grease your loaf pans with butter or coconut oil. You are going to want a very large mixing bowl if you are using the full recipe. I use my large stainless steel stockpot or you could use your stand mixer with a dough hook or any other device that will thoroughly kneed the dough. Fair warning! You are going to get a workout if you decide to do this by hand!
Add the starter, water, and about half of the flour and salt to your mixing bowl. I started out trying to use a utensil to mix and kneed the dough but I have always found using my hands to be the easiest for these sorts of tasks. The dough is very sticky so I always remove my rings beforehand. Mix up the ingredients well, adding the remaining flour and salt until everything is thoroughly incorporated.
Once, mixed, knead the dough for 10 minutes. If you are using a machine, simply run it for 10 minutes. If you are doing this by hand, here’s where your workout comes in. You can either use a utensil to mix, making sure you are scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl and rotating the bowl to get at the dough from every angle, sort of scraping from the edge, lifting the dough, and mixing it into the middle. Or, if using your hands, which is what I prefer to do, I kind of grab the dough from the far edge, lift, pull it towards me, and punch it down. I give the bowl a slight rotation, grab, lift, pull, and punch again. Repeat for 10 minutes. The dough will become more ball like but it will remain sticky.
After kneading the dough, separate evenly into your greased loaf pans and set aside to let the dough rise. I place mine in the oven because that is where it is safest from children and pets and everyday life but anywhere is fine. Just don’t forget it’s in there and turn on the oven to preheat for cooking something else! Unlike some other breads, this bread will not rise much, if at all, while baking so you want to get a good rise out of it before baking. This will take anywhere between 7 and 12 hours. This also allows the bread to ferment and sour. In this summer heat, without air conditioning, I’ve been letting it rise for about 8 hours. With air conditioning or in the winter, it will need longer.
When you are happy with the rise of your bread, preheat the oven to 400* F and place a pan of water on the bottom rack. Don’t forget to remove your loaves if they’ve been rising in the oven! The other rack should be in the middle of your oven. Once preheated, place the loaves on the middle rack and bake for 10 minutes then reduce the temperature to 350* F and bake for another 40-60 minutes until the crust is nice and golden brown and hard and crispy. Take the loaves out of the oven and run a dishtowel under hot water, ring it out, and place it over the bread for about 20 minutes and then remove. Your bread will have a nice crunchy crust with a soft middle. Store your bread on the counter if you will be eating it within the week. Otherwise, freeze any extra to pull out for the weeks when it’s just too crazy to bake.
I know it seems like a lot but it is actually so quick and easy! Once you’ve done a couple batches, you’ll get into a groove and hardly have to look at the recipe. Your house will be wafting a soothing aroma of warm, fresh bread and your taste buds will thank you!
I would love to hear about your experience after you give the recipe a try! Or, do you have a favorite bread recipe? Share in the comments below!