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Home Baker Sourdough Bread 101

Sourdough leavening is as old as the rocks. It has been around for over a millennium. How do you think it started? Maybe someone ages ago decided they didn't like the heavy rock bread. Was it an accident from dough left out too long? Probably. If it was an accident, it was a delicious one!
Sourdough-bread

How Old is Sourdough?

Food scientists don’t know the exact time in history sourdough leavening was started, but it goes way back! Some say that airborne yeast got on some flour and water mixture that was just the right temperature and Ph level to make a home. It fell in love with the beautiful environment and stayed. It might surprise you to know that natural yeast is everywhere. Wild yeast can be found on grains, and when the flour is freshly milled, it is also there in the flour in microscopic amounts. This yeast on grain is the primary source of natural yeast for sourdough, even though airborne yeast is also “at play” in some smaller amounts.

Our Pastry Chef prefers sourdough starters made without commercial yeast, just the air’s spores and the natural yeasts present in flour and grain. It is a long process to make the sourdough starter and bread, but the flavor is gorgeous. The longer the sourdough starter has been fed, used, and kept, the more complex the flavor profile of your loaves of bread will become. Airborne Yeast is different everywhere, too, so our Texas sourdough will never be San Francisco sourdough. Why? Because airborne yeast is different here. Not bad, just different. Our chef’s starter has been around our test kitchen for over 15 years, but some sourdough starters are available for purchase online that have been around for over 200 years.


How to Keep it Alive

Sourdough starter can be kept in the fridge and fed once a week, or if you make sourdough daily, it needs to be held at room temperature and provided food daily. Large artisan bakeries make this sourdough starter several gallons at a time! It is not unusual for some shops to make this base sourdough starter for hundreds of loaves a day. We will be adding our Commercial Bakery Formulation for large volume production in a follow-up post very soon.

Make Sourdough Starter at Home

you will need:

3 ¼ cups (1 lb) Panhandle Milling Organic All-Purpose Flour
2 cups (1 lb) non-chlorinated water (artisan or filtered water works best)

Directions:

Combine the Panhandle Milling organic all-purpose flour and water in a half-gallon non-metal container and let stand uncovered (or covered with cheesecloth to keep bugs away) and out of a draft for several days until it bubbles (ours took about a week).

Chef’s Notes

  • The temperature of the room is essential. We call it the 85/90 rule. The room temperature should not be higher than 90 degrees for the best flavor.
  • Stir the starter a couple of times a day during this initial growth process. This allows the yeast to find additional sources of sugar in the batter and grow better.
  • You can use commercial yeast. For faster growth using commercial yeast for sourdough instead, use 1/8 tsp yeast in the flour-water mixture above.
  • This scenario takes 2-3 a few days to get bubbly and perfect as an everlasting sourdough yeast starter.

Sourdough Starter Care Instructions

  • Containing it. Keep sourdough starter in plastic or glass at least twice as big in volume as the start itself. For instance, if you have 2 cups of starter on hand, you will need to keep it in a quart-sized plastic container with a lid or a one-quart mason jar. Sourdough starter will have a nasty reaction to metal.
  • Keep it pure! Whenever you stir the starter, be sure it is done with clean utensils. Adding extra germs and chemicals to your starter can have a terrible effect on the yeast and can kill the good stuff.
  • Storage temperature is essential! The sourdough starter may be kept in the fridge for years on end and will remain a viable leavening source if fed periodically. Feed your starter regularly. Ours is a thick starter and should be fed about once a week if stored in the fridge. We suggest keeping the feeding day on the same day of the week, so it is easy to remember. Ours gets fed on Fridays.
  • Freeze extra starter. We’d also suggest keeping a small portion of your starter in a freezer container for up to a year. It will go into a deep sleep, but the yeast will be there should you forget to feed the starter in the fridge or lose the starter somehow. We’ve been pretty thankful for the back-up in our freezer a few times when someone forgot to retain some to feed a new batch!

To feed our Recipe of Sourdough Starter:

1 ½ cup (8 oz.) Panhandle Milling Organic All-Purpose Flour
1 cup (8 oz.) filtered water
1-2 Tbsps. Sourdough Starter

Directions:

In a 1-quart glass or plastic container, stir with a non-metal spoon until there are no dry spots of flour. Cover with a lid and return the mixture to the fridge. Allow the mixture to come to room temperature before using. When making bread, retain 1-2 Tbsps. of the starter to keep alive in the refrigerator for your next baking project and feed using the feeding directions.

4 Ingredient Make-Ahead Sourdough Bread

6 cups Panhandle Milling Organic All-Purpose Flour
2 cups lukewarm filtered water
1 tsp. salt
1 cup sourdough starter

Directions:

  • Mix the ingredients in a large bowl and knead for 3-5 minutes until smooth and elastic.
    Cover and let rise at room temperature about 12 hours or until doubled in size.
  • When you’re ready, shape dough as desired, this recipe will yield two standard loaves of bread.
  • Place into a greased loaf pan, and lightly mist or brush the top with oil.
  • Let rise about 1½ hours or until doubled in size. Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake 35-40 minutes until golden brown (at least 195°F internal temperature). Yield 2 loaves.