Bread Starters: Sour

Bread Starters Part Three: Natural Cultures

by Sarah House in Featured Articles, Recipes

We’ve prefermented.  We’ve baked.  We understand the basic concepts of yeast fermentation!  Now, it’s time for the grand poobah – natural cultures.

Natural cultures have unlimited life (you can keep them alive for practically forever with proper feedings).  You need only flour and water.  The only yeast used is that which is found in the surrounding environment.  It takes about a week to grow a starter and after that, it’s good to go!

There are several names for starters: sourdough, sour, levain, mother, chef, seed, etc., but they are all essentially the same thing.  Hydration amounts may differ but growing, sustaining and using starters follow the same steps.  Below is a recipe for building Bob’s Red Mill Basic Loose Wheat Sour.

Bread Starters: Sour

Building Your Sour

_____ Day 1  

Unbleached White Flour         3 oz

Whole Wheat Flour                 1 oz

Water (85°F)                           4 oz

Mix until combined in a large bowl; scrape down sides.  Cover with cheesecloth or a clean towel and let sit at room temperature for 18 – 24 hours.  *Use a clean non-reactive metal or glass bowl.  Only use plastic if it is clean and free of other odors.

_____ Day 2

Mix well and scrape down sides.  Cover with cheesecloth or a clean towel and let sit at room temperature for 18 – 24 hours. *This should look bubbly and smell “ripe”.  Discard if there is ever mold in the sour.

_____ Day 3

Unbleached White Flour         3 oz

Whole Wheat Flour                 1 oz

Water (85°F)                           4 oz

Sour                                         4 oz

Discard remaining 4 oz of sour (or give out to friends so they can grow their own).  Add flours and water and mix well; scrape down sides.  Cover with cheesecloth or a clean towel and let sit at room temperature for 18 – 24 hours. *There will be quite a bit of waste when building a sour.  Unfortunately, this is necessary so the sour does not get too large to easily maintain or use.

_____ Day 4

Unbleached White Flour         2.25oz

Whole Wheat Flour                 .75 oz

Water (85°F)                           3 oz

Sour                                         6 oz

Discard remaining 6 oz of sour.  Add flours and water and mix well; scrape down sides.  Cover with cheesecloth or a clean towel and let sit at room temperature for 18 – 24 hours.

_____ Day 5

Unbleached White Flour         4.5 oz

Whole Wheat Flour                 1.5 oz

Water (55°F)                           6 oz

Sour                                         3 oz

Discard remaining 9 oz of sour.  Mix water and 3 oz sour until dissolved.  Add the flours and mix well; scrape down sides.  Cover with cheesecloth or a clean towel and let sit at room temperature for 18 – 24 hours. *Cooler water is used from now on to slow down fermentation and build flavor and acidity.

_____ Day 6

Unbleached White Flour         4.5 oz

Whole Wheat Flour                 1.5 oz

Water (55°F)                           6 oz

Sour                                         3 oz

Discard remaining 12 oz of sour.  Mix water and 3 oz sour until dissolved.  Add the flours and mix well; scrape down sides.  Cover with cheesecloth or a clean towel and let sit at room temperature for 18 – 24 hours.

_____ Day 7

Unbleached White Flour         4.5 oz

Whole Wheat Flour                 1.5 oz

Water (55°F)                           6 oz

Sour                                         3 oz

Discard remaining 12 oz of sour.  Mix water and 3 oz sour until dissolved.  Add the flours and mix well; scrape down sides.  Cover with cheesecloth or a clean towel and let sit at room temperature for 18 – 24 hours.

It is now time to decide if you want to use your sour within 24 hours or if it will be time to begin maintenance and storage.  If you are going to store your sour for use at a later date, decide if you want to store it at room temperature with daily feedings or in the refrigerator with monthly feedings.

Maintaining Your Sour   *Feedings eliminate over-fermentation (which occurs when yeast consumes all available food leaving it unable to leaven).

At room temperature

_____ Day 8 and on…

Unbleached White Flour         1.5 parts

Whole Wheat Flour                 0.5 parts

Water (55°F)                           2 parts

Sour                                         1 part

Discard remaining sour as often as needed – always keep at least 8 oz of sour.  Mix water and sour until dissolved.  Add the flours and mix well; scrape down sides.  Cover with cheesecloth or a clean towel and let sit a room temperature for 18 – 24 hours.

In the refrigerator

_____ Day 8 and then once a week every three weeks…

Unbleached White Flour         1.5 parts

Whole Wheat Flour                 0.5 parts

Water (55°F)                           2 parts

Sour                                         1 part

Discard remaining sour as often as needed – always keep at least 8 oz of sour.  Mix water and sour until dissolved.  Add the flours and mix well; scrape down sides.  Cover loosely with a lid and store in the refrigerator.  Feed the same ratio every three weeks.

Now you’ve built your healthy starter and you know how to keep it alive with regular feedings.  But what’s the point of all this work if you never get to enjoy the fruits of your labors?  Let your starter reach its full potential.  Let’s bake some bread!

  You

Yeah!  Oh, wait, hold up.  This starter has been stored in my fridge for the last two weeks.

 Me

Ooooh, um….

You

Are you trying to tell me I can’t just whip up a loaf of bread?

Me

Yes, that is exactly what I am saying.

You

Me

You need to wake it up a bit.  Give it some energy so it can make a great loaf of bread.  You just need to plan ahead a little.

That’s right folks, using a natural culture starter requires some planning.  At least 24 hours if it’s stored at room temperature but, if you store your starter in the fridge, you need to give it four days to gain enough strength to leaven a loaf of bread.  Starters are easy to grow and maintain but if you are not so adept at planning, this aspect may be a drawback.

Using Your Sour  *Plan ahead!

If you are storing your sour at room temperature, make sure to feed it 18 – 24 hours before you plan to bake.  If you are storing your sour in the refrigerator, remove at least half the amount you will be using from the refrigerator four days before baking.  Let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours then begin feeding it for three days before baking.

From here on out, we’ll be referring to ratios and parts.  1 part sour will be the amount of sour you will be starting with (if you follow the instructions below, it will be half the amount you will need for the final bread recipe).  Let’s say your recipe call for 8 oz of starter.  Begin with 4 oz; that will equal 1 part.  Therefore, 2 parts water will be 8 oz, 0.5 parts whole wheat flour will be 2 oz and 1.5 parts unbleached white flour will be 6 oz.  Got it?

At room temperature

_____ 1 Day Before Baking

Unbleached White Flour         1.5 parts

Whole Wheat Flour                 0.5 parts

Water (55°F)                           2 parts

Sour                                         1 part

Remove at least half the amount of sour you will need.  In a large bowl, mix water and sour until dissolved.  Add the flours and mix well; scrape down sides.  Cover with cheesecloth or a clean towel and let sit at room temperature for 18 – 24 hours.

In the refrigerator

_____ 4 Days Before Baking

Remove at least half the amount of sour you will need.  Place it in a large clean ceramic, glass or metal bowl.  Cover with cheesecloth or a clean towel and let sit at room temperature for 18 – 24 hours.

_____ 3 Days Before Baking

Unbleached White Flour         1.5 parts

Whole Wheat Flour                 0.5 parts

Water (55°F)                           2 parts

Sour                                         1 part

Mix water and sour until dissolved.  Add the flours and mix well; scrape down sides.  Cover with cheesecloth or a clean towel and let sit at room temperature for 18 – 24 hours.

_____ 2 Days Before Baking

Unbleached White Flour         1.5 parts

Whole Wheat Flour                 0.5 parts

Water (55°F)                           2 parts

Sour                                         1 part

Mix water and sour until dissolved.  Add the flours and mix well; scrape down sides.  Cover with cheesecloth or a clean towel and let sit at room temperature for 18 – 24 hours.

_____ 1 Day Before Baking

Unbleached White Flour         1.5 parts

Whole Wheat Flour                 0.5 parts

Water (55°F)                           2 parts

Sour                                         1 part

Mix water and sour until dissolved.  Add the flours and mix well; scrape down sides.  Cover with cheesecloth or a clean towel and let sit at room temperature for 18 – 24 hours.

Bread Starters: Sour

That’s what I call a sour!

Baking Day!

Measure the amount of sour you need and follow your recipe as directed.

See?  Refreshing your starter is relatively painless!  And now you have a luscious, fragrant, deeply-flavored loaf of bread.  Totally worth it.

Can I make a gluten free starter?  Yes, just use gluten free flours and remember to include binder gums in the final bread dough.

Can I change of the flavor of my starter?  Yes, beer, buttermilk, yogurt, and fruit juice all provide new and unique flavors.

Will my bread really be that much better using a starter?  Yes.  Go ahead, make a loaf with starter and one without.  You’ll see.  I dare you.

Oh, and if you’re going out of town for awhile, you can always take your starter to the Sourdough Hotel.

Happy Baking!

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Sarah House Google: Sarah House
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