Like many, I decided that a pandemic lockdown was the perfect opportunity to try my hand at creating a sourdough starter, and baking sourdough bread. In this guide to sourdough bread for beginners, I’ll walk you through my experience in getting a bubbly starter, and the resources I found useful in learning how to bake sourdough bread.
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Creating a Sourdough Starter
There were two reasons why I decided to create a sourdough starter. First, I had some spare time on my hands. Second, I bake bread regularly using yeast and it was in short supply during lockdown. For some of my other bread recipes, see: No Knead Seeded Crusty Bread and No Bowl Fast Wholemeal Bread.
I decided to name my starter “Bernerd”. Technically, it’s name should be spelled Bernard, but Brits and Canadians pronounce this name differently and I wanted to go with the British pronunciation. Thus, Bernerd came into existence on the 2nd of May 2020. For a guide on how to create a sourdough starter, I recommend following Joshua Weissman’s video. You can also download Joshua’s feeder schedule, so that you don’t get confused about measurements over the seven days.
Feeding and Storing a Sourdough Starter
To feed your sourdough starter, make sure it is at room-temperature. Then add: 100g. of flour (I use 50g. of plain white flour and 50g. wholemeal) and 100g. of room-temperature water. Mix well and leave in the cupboard overnight (or a 12 hour cycle) with the lid on loosely. It is best to use your starter when it is risen and frothy, and rising time fluctuates depending on your kitchen climate.
You can store your sourdough in the refrigerator for up to a week. This means that if you don’t have time to bake, or you go on vacation, you can leave your starter worry-free. If you forget to feed your sourdough starter, don’t throw it out! Just start the feeding process and in a few days it should activate again.
Sourdough Discard Recipes
You could in theory feed your sourdough starter every day and use the discard to create recipes like pancakes, muffins, and even brownies. However, that ends up being a lot of flour and a lot of time dedicated to baking. Occasionally, I use my sourdough discard in a recipe, but I find the shorter fermentation doesn’t agree with my IBS. Instead, I follow a bread making schedule and then use the discard when there is an extra 1/2 cup to spare.
For example, I have made sourdough brownies, which were deliciously tangy, but upset my sensitive stomach. I also made sourdough discard carrot cake muffins, and I will share that recipe soon!
Sourdough Bread Making Schedule
Friday Afternoon: Remove sourdough starter from refrigerator and bring to room-temperature. Feed starter using instructions listed above.
Saturday Early Afternoon: Mix and knead dough and leave to rise for 4 hours.
Saturday Evening: Punch down dough and put into a banneton or bowl lined with a well-floured tea towel. Cover and put in the fridge overnight.
Sunday Morning: Preheat the oven with your Le Creuset Pot (Dutch Oven) inside. Prepare the bread and bake. Enjoy fresh, hot bread for breakfast! It’s worth getting up early. 🙂
How to Make Sourdough Bread (without using the stretch-and-fold method)
My wise friend Deanna sent me a link and some tips on how to bake sourdough bread. The recipe that she recommended, and that I still follow is from a Masterclass with baker Patrick Ryan.
My Method of Making Sourdough Bread
I halve the recipe that Patrick uses and use a mix of flour (see recipe below).
I don’t have the patience to do the stretch-and-fold method. Instead, Patrick’s method of kneading for ten minutes seems to work best for me. I found the conventional method of kneading with the heels of my hands resulted in a gloopy, sticky mess so what I do is stretch-and-fold technique for ten minutes and it works well.
I don’t have a banneton basket, so I use a metal mixing bowl with a flour sack tea towel covered in wholemeal flour. Wholemeal works better than plain flour because it is coarser. You must use a tea towel and it must be well-floured, otherwise your dough will stick to the bowl and deflate – trust me!
You can either leave the dough to rest about 8 hours at room-temperature, or you can do the second rise in the fridge overnight. I find the longer, slower rise in the fridge works best. Plus, it means you don’t have to dedicate your whole day to bread making, and you get fresh bread for breakfast!
Patrick’s method was to put the dough on a cookie sheet and use a steam bath. This method resulted in a flatter loaf for me. I find that baking my bread in my Le Creuset Dutch Oven works better. Line the pot with parchment paper so that you can lower the dough into the pot and remove it safely (Eco Tip: reuse your parchment paper).
Top Tip: Plain flour won’t work! You need to use strong bread flour to develop the gluten.
Overnight Wholemeal Sourdough Bread Loaf
- 300 g. Strong White Bread Flour
- 100 g. Wholemeal Flour
- 5 g. Table Salt
- 230 g. Room Temperature Water
- 160 g. Sourdough Starter (mix before use)
- In a large metal mixing bowl on your scales, add all of the ingredients. Mix to form a wet, shaggy dough.
- On a non-floured surface, knead your dough for 10 minutes until it is firm and pliable. I knead using a "stretch-and-fold" technique.
- Place dough in the mixing bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave in a warm spot for 4 hours.
- Using the same tea towel, generously coat it with wholemeal flour. Carefully remove dough from bowl and place on floured towel, tucking in the sides to create a round loaf shape. It can be deflated or "punched down" slightly to encourage a good second rise.
- Using one end of the tea towel, cover the dough and put in the fridge overnight (around 8 hours) for the second rise.
- In the morning, place your Le Creuset pot in the oven and preheat at a high temperature for 30 minutes.
- Gently remove your dough from the bowl and place in the centre of a large piece of parchment paper. Using a razor or sharp knife, score an angled cut across the dough. It should be at least an inch deep.
- Carefully lower the dough on the parchment into your Dutch Oven and put the lid on.
- Bake with the lid on for 25 minutes. Remove the lid and bake a further 15 minutes to get a crispy crust.
Have you tried making a sourdough starter, or attempted a few bread loaves? Feel free to share your successes (or failures!) and together we can conquer the complicated world of baking sourdough bread as beginners.