Sourdough / Natural Yeast
How Starters Work: Sourdough, or natural yeast does not make a quick loaf of bread, but it does make a great loaf of bread. Sourdough gives bread a full-flavored taste, usually without the use of sweeteners and other ingredients that add softness, texture or other flavors. This is not to say that you can't use ingredients like oils, butter, honey and other items in sourdough bread recipes, it's just that sourdough bread is usually a simple bread. Simple but full of flavor because of how it is made without added ingredients.
Sourdough starters are natural yeast. The yeast comes from the fermentation process of mixing flour and water, and the starter absorbing natural bacteria and yeast particles from your environment (kitchen, pantry, region of the country where you live, etc.)
If you take the time to learn how to work with sourdough / natural yeast, I promise you'll be taken to a whole new level of how to make great bread.
1. Creating a Starter - A sourdough starter is derived from mixing flour and water and letting these two ingredients ferment over time. This requires a few days when making a starter from scratch. You can also acquire a starter from friends who do sourdough, or through the mail from reputalble sites/blogs. I like to create my own starters. Creating your own starter requires patience and a willingness to learn how the fermentation process works. The starter requires regular feedings to keep it alive and growing which allows the starter to ferment, so if making your own, plan on a regular schedule.
2. How to make a starter:
Day 1: Take equal parts flour and water (1/4 cup of each is fine) and mix in a glass jar or bowl. The starter should have a consistency like a thick pancake batter. Loosly cover the jar so that air can circulate.
Day 2: After 24 hours, repeat the same process again feeding the starter with 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup flour. Mix well and cover the jar.
Day 3: Continue to feed the starter using equal amount water and flour. Keep the starter at a pancake batter consitency. After day 3, the starter should start bubbling and smell a bit sour - this is the flour and water fermenting over time and creating a sour-dough, hence the name sourdough. Using this process, you've created natural yeast.
Day 4 - 6: At this point, the starter should smell slightly sweet/sour and be very much alive, bubbly and active. If not, continue to feed for one or two more days. Once the starter is active as noted above, it is ready to use for bread.
Some people like to use the float test to determine if the starter is ready for bread. Fill a glass with room temperature water, spoon out a bit of the starter and place in the water. If the starter floats, it's ready for baking. If the starter sinks, feed again, wait an hour or so and test again.
3. Feeding - Maintaining the Starter - Regardless of how often you make sourdough bread, to keep the starter alive and well, it will need to be fed each day if you keep the starter on the counter or in the pantry. If you keep the starter in the refrigerator, the lower temperature will slow down the fermentation process and feeding every other day or every third day is sufficient. When feeding, continue to follow Day 2 and 3 above. Discard extra starter if needed (to allow more room in the jar) or use for pancakes, waffles, muffins, or continue to grow the starter if you need more.
4. Making Bread - Once the starter is alive and well, bubbling and smelling a bit sour or fruity, it should be ready to use in making your first batch of sourdough bread. Follow the sourdough bread recipes on this site on the Recipe page or from any other sourdough recipes you find and want to use. Your starter should be good to use in any recipe where you want to use natural yeast.
Natural Yeast, or Sourdough Starters have been around for 100's of years. Breads of old were made using sourdough starters. The flavor of sourdough bread is developed through a long rise and fermentation period where flavor is developed over time. Time is a friend to great bread. The structure and flavor of the bread is typically developed over many hours, which creates that sourdough texture and flavor we all enjoy.
Increasing the amount of sourdough starter used in the bread doesn't necessarily speed up the rising process, but it can affect the taste of the loaf, giving the bread a stronger flavor.
Those who would call themselves bread connoisseurs would say that bread made with sourdough is the only true bread.