How to Make Sourdough Bread: The Deflating Truth

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At the risk of running many of you off in the first two seconds, I’m going to tell you a hard truth: making truly excellent sourdough bread at home is not for the faint of heart. 

There are much, much easier ways to make great artisan bread at home. I’ve done it. I’ve shared one of them on this blog.

But those recipes AREN’T sourdough. And if you’ve ever left your heart in San Francisco, and part of that experience was enjoying their exquisite sourdough bread, or if you’re at least a more determined and inquisitive cook who thinks, “Surely I could make something sort of like that”, well, then, you’ve come to the right place.

Because, you can.

How to Make Sourdough Bread

Oh, yes! You CAN make beautiful sourdough bread, at home.

 I’ll also tell you after baking with sourdough for a full three months, that it’s a little bit harder to find sound, helpful information on the internet regarding sourdough than you might think. There’s information out there that is just bad, or poorly written.  I wish there were more and better books and blog posts on it. 

Let’s put it this way: I kissed a lot of Sourdough Toad Recipes before I found my Sourdough Prince Charming.

So maybe this is a post whose time has come.

Here’s another deflating truth: making your own sourdough bread takes a lot of time, and a lot of flour.

It also takes throwing a lot of goop down the sink.

I’m a frugal sort of gal. It’s really painful for me to read that I have to stir together perfectly good ingredients, and then “discard” large portions of it. You’re going to have to trust me on this when I tell you that you might as well resign yourself to doing this. I HAVE discovered a recipe for pizza dough that I can make when my starter is happily fed, and it’s the last time I’m supposed to discard that last amount of starter. And I’ll share that recipe with you, too, in an upcoming post. But for now, I want you to be prepared that throwing large portions of your starter away as you go is just a part of the process of getting your starter up and running.

I stumbled into making sourdough bread. My neighbor had purchased a starter via the internet from King Arthur Flour. It’s from an original starter that is over 200 years old, which is pretty cool. Her starter arrived in a little jar in the mail with instructions on how to hydrate and feed it and bring it into working order, so to speak. I think she kind of blanched when she figured out how much work there is to this process, and called me up to see if I might want to adopt it.

My dog Deacon died in July. My husband can’t be talked into another puppy, as of yet, and my maternal instincts were needing something to nurture. “Sure!” I said. “I’d love to play with a sourdough starter.” So, I took it in, and it has taken up residence in my accommodating fridge. So, that’s another thing a prospective sourdough parent has to consider: where will you KEEP the baby?

(Because yes, I’ve gone that far over the edge: it’s become my “baby”.)

Here’s my little bun in the oven. Isn’t he precious?

You have two options:

  1. You can keep the starter out on the counter. If you choose this option, you will have to feed it every day. Feeding it involves adding a very specific amount of flour and water, mixing it up, and discarding a very specific amount. Unless you are a very dedicated baker, who bakes often, I do not recommend this option. The advantage to this method is that your starter will always be refreshed, and you can begin any sourdough recipe that very day. The disadvantage is that you will be going through a butt-load of flour to keep your sourdough starter-baby fed and happy. It would be wise, in fact, to buy stock in Gold Medal, Pillsbury, Martha White, or King Arthur, if you plan to go this route.
  2. You can store your starter in the refrigerator. The advantage to this method of starter storage is that you do not have to feed your starter everyday. The downside of this method is the TIME involved to get a recipe up and running: you can’t just take your starter out of the refrigerator and bake with it any old time you want to. When you take the starter out of the fridge, you have to stir it together, feed it flour and water, throw out the extra, AND give it 8-12 hours to bubble up, and THEN repeat that ENTIRE process two more times. 

If you’re actually following closely what I just said, you probably think that I really explained something wrong, but I assure you, I didn’t. Let me give you a “for instance”. (I always did better in Algebra class if they plugged in the names “Bill” and “Sally” rather than Person A and Person B, so here’s a more concrete example.)

If I take my starter out of the refrigerator on Sunday night for its first “refreshment”, I will not have a loaf of bread till WEDNESDAY NIGHT. Are you tracking with me here, people???

THIS is why I said making your own sourdough bread is not for the faint of heart.

But is it an investment of time, flour, and effort that is worth making?

Well, I think so, or I wouldn’t be writing about it. But only YOU can determine if it’s right for you.

So, in upcoming posts, I’ll tell you:

  1. The BEST ingredients to use, because using the exact ingredients really DOES make a difference.
  2. How to Refresh and Maintain a Sourdough Starter. 
  3. The actual Recipe for Making Sourdough Bread. 

Here’s hoping I haven’t scared you off completely. What I really HOPE to do is to inspire some brave, but informed soul to take on this eminently rewarding challenge.ow about you? Have you ever tried making sourdough bread?

Think you might be up for the challenge?

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  1. I've got a nice starter, nice ingredients and feel that I have got my sourdough bread recipe to where I want it. The dough proofs nicely and everything, but when I try to move the loaf from the banneton to my baking stone or -tray it deflates quite a bit. Any advice?

    • My guess would be that you dough is a little too wet. I'd probably try adding a bit more flour to help it better maintain its structure. I have noticed my favorite bakery in town having a similar problem lately with their Tuscan loaf. It used to have more lift. Now it looks more like a deflated cow patty.

  2. I was taught to store the starter in the fridge, and make sure it is fed every two weeks, and then I only need to take it out in the evening, feed it, and then can remove what I need in the morning and pop it back in the fridge.

    I also always shape my loaves and let them rise on whatever I am going to bake them on, I NEVER try to move a loaf that has risen, because it will always deflate – even if it is a contemporary yeast recipe.

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