Surprised by Sourdough

Sometimes I surprise myself. Since graduating from my mother's kitchen, I've been working in my own for over 40 years. (I had to have a moment of silence and shake my head after writing the previous sentence. How the years fly by!) So I've seen a few trends, gadgets and diet recommendations. Most come and go, replaced almost always by the tried and true, much of what I learned from my mom. 

When I first tried baking with sourdough, perhaps 30 years ago, I would have anticipated that it would have landed in the come and go camp. For many it did. Sourdough is related to the "Amish Friendship Bread" and "Herman" craze which insisted on a regimented schedule of feeding, baking and sharing and exhausted the patience and friendships of many who tried it.  I couldn't maintain that either.  

And yet, here I am so many years later with my red tupperware juice container sitting either on my counter or my refrigerator bubbling or brewing with the tangy concoction called sourdough.

Recently there's been a resurgence of interest in fermented foods. People are experimenting with making kefir, kombucha, yogurt and even beer in their kitchens. Not me. I just like sourdough. 

What is sourdough?

Add sourdough to your recipes for flavor and nutrition
Sourdough is basically fermenting flour and water. It is added to bread, cake or pastry dough as a leavening agent, sometimes replacing or reducing the amount of yeast or baking powder/soda used. 

Sourdough can be sustained indefinitely by feeding it equal amounts of flour and water on a regular basis. Some sourdoughs date back more than one hundred years. Mine is a young ten plus.

Used for millenniums, it dates back to ancient Egyptian civilization. It was the only leavening option until the advent of commercial yeast. Pioneers used it and it was considered a valued possession. So did the Yukon gold miners who carried it under their garments to keep it from freezing and it earned them the nickname "Sourdoughs". San Francisco is famous for their sourdough breads.  

The original source may have been a fortuitous find of a wild yeast spore captured floating on the wind. Today there are those who continue the search for the wild yeast to make their sourdough and I'm told they are often successful. 

Why bake with sourdough?

After fermenting overnight, this sourdough mixture is ready to make pancakes.
My number one reason for baking with sourdough is because the flavor is exceptional. Its a bit difficult to describe. "Tangy" or "sour" are not the first adjectives that come to mind although there is certainly an underlying tang.  Its just very good. Sourdough also seems to enhance the texture of baked goods. 

There may also be health benefits to eating sourdough. A long fermentation changes the structure of the flour in ways that may add protein, increase the availability of minerals and make it easier to digest. I'm not a dietitian or an expert in nutrition so you may want to do your own research on the subject. Many of my recipes do not have the long fermentation time.  (However, here are few that do:  Sourdough Blueberry PancakesSourdough Brown Bread with MolassesSourdough Waffles)

How do I care for my sourdough? 

Sourdough requires some care but not on the level of a child, a pet or even a flower garden. Like children, they need food, water and shelter, but unlike children, there's not a lot of cleaning up afterwards. Basically, sourdough needs to be fed equal amounts of flour and water (for example 1/2 cup flour plus 1/2 cup water) on a regular basis. I use all-purpose flour and warm tap water, but I have access to good well water. My usual method is to feed the sourdough anytime from the day before up until a few hours before using. Newly fed sourdough seems to be more active but this is not an absolutely required step especially if you are making something with a long rising time. After using it I keep my fed sourdough on the kitchen counter overnight and then return it to the refrigerator where it spends most of its time. I do not usually store a lot of sourdough, probably around a cup or less since I like to feed it before using. 
Only flour and water should be added to your sourdough starter.

Weekly feeding is recommended. However, don't throw it out if you forget for a week or two. Just go ahead and feed it when you remember. Check it out for the characteristic bubbles. No bubbles? Give it a few hours (or the next day) and pour out about half of the mixture and feed again. You can do this several times if needed until you have your bubbles and characteristic sour scent.  However, should your mixture turn pink or develop mold, throw it out. It is no longer salvageable. 

Store your sourdough in a crock, glass or plastic container. Metal is not recommended. The container should not be covered tightly but needs to have a hole of some sort so gasses can be released. 

Often after sourdough sits for several days a watery liquid will form on the top. This is hooch, basically alcohol. Just stir it back into the sourdough. 

Where can I get sourdough?

First, do you know me? Do you live in my area? If so, then please ask me for some. I am glad to share. Even if I've given you some and it died, if you want some more, just ask! 

If you're into keeping things natural, you may want to do some research on capturing wild yeast to make sourdough. 
I highly recommend this book! 

Much of what I've learned about sourdough, I learned from Rita Davenport's Sourdough Cookery (published in 1977 by H.P. Books). In her book, she offers this simple recipe for making a basic sourdough starter:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dry yeast
  • 2 cups lukewarm water

With a wooden spoon stir dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and gradually add lukewarm water. Stir until mixture resembles a smooth paste. Cover with a towel or cheesecloth and set in a warm place - 85 degrees F  - to sour. Stir mixture several times a day. In two or three days sourdough will be ready. 

Store, feed and use as recommended above. 

What can I make with sourdough?

Glad you asked! I've got lots of recipes on this blog. Here are some links to find them: 
Sourdough Brown Bread with Molasses

Breads and Rolls 

Quick Breads




Sourdough Oatmeal Raisin Muffins


Sourdough Blueberry Pancakes

Pancakes and Waffles

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