Starting with Sourdough Bread: Essential Tips and Recipes

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About 7 years ago, I created my first sourdough starter. I’m sure I went through a 20 lb bag of flour that first month with the daily and twice-daily feedings! It was my first foray into baking sourdough bread.

The sourdough did well and I developed some basic sourdough maintenance skills that fared me well until we moved across the country from Virginia to Washington.

I even dehydrated my sourdough starter in addition to driving it in a refrigerated cooler, hoping that would keep it healthy. In fact, the starter totally survived that trip with no problems! I continued to use it in recipes for a while.

The funny part is that I have no idea what happened to this first starter. Did I ignore it at the back of the fridge for too long? Did I throw it away on accident?

sourdough baking tips

Sourdough bread baking feels intimidating

I remember feeling like sourdough was a fussy, fiddly thing and that dealing with bakers percentages was way too confusing. I’d find a recipe to use and they’d be like “use a 75% hydration starter,” and that stuff always did me in. Even when I used it to make sourdough bread, it never came out consistently. It was mostly disappointing, time consuming, and messy!

Fast forward to 2020 when I watched loaves of glorious Tartine Bakery style loaves coming from home ovens. I’m a decent baker, so I knew that if all of these folks could bake like this, so could I!

Except flour was out of stock everywhere and we’d just finished the last of our all-purpose baking brownies (yup).

Fortunately, I found an amazing source of organic food online and had fresh flour the next week!

It took a little time to get the hang of bulk fermentation and shaping, but within a couple of bakes, I had beautiful, well-risen bread at the ready.

Now, I’m not here to walk you through how to create a sourdough starter, but I am here to provide you with some unmissable resources!

How to Bake the Best Sourdough Bread

From how to make a starter, the kitchen products you’ll need, and the very best recipes, consider this your sourdough starting point. Please be sure to let me know if the comments if this is useful!

How to Create a Sourdough Starter

This second time around, I made the glorious choice to follow the sourdough starter recipe from The Perfect Loaf. You need to know that Maurizio makes sourdough EASY. He has the best recipes and explanation pages!

Not interested in spending a few weeks and tens of pounds of flour creating your own starter? Buy one online!

I really, really, really appreciate that he focuses on keeping a smaller starter. I have memories of an overflowing quart jar from my first round of this and it just felt wasteful. With his tips, you’ll be able to manage your sourdough starter in a single wide-mouth pint jar!

He makes the entire process of culturing your sourdough starter super easy and I basically just continued the last step of his process for my weekly feed.

Yes, weekly.

When you first create a starter, you’ll be feeding it multiple times a day at some points to build up enough yeast activity. Once your starter has powerful, happy yeast, you can feed it less frequently. For me, this is usually once a week, maybe less!

To feed my starter, I take the cold starter out of the fridge and sometimes store it in my microwave (turned off; I have a weird cat who will attach jars of dough) for an hour or two wake it back up. Then, I use a spoon and get starter from the very bottom of the jar to put into a new jar I have tared on my kitchen scale. If you let your starter go a little too long, you may notice it gets a little gray on top. That’s okay; just take the starter from the bottom of the jar for your next batch!

Sourdough Starter Maintenance

Following the recommendations from The Perfect Loaf, I maintain my sourdough starter with these proportions:

  • 50g of sourdough starter
  • 50g of whole wheat flour*
  • 50g of white flour *
  • 100g of room temperature water

Total weight of jar contents: 250g

*You can use either bread flour or regular flour for this! In fact, some of my happiest loaves ever were made with organic all-purpose flour and a locally milled whole wheat.

Once all of these items are in the jar, stir well and cover loosely with a lid. I usually use one of those reusable plastic mason jar lids and turn it so it’s attached, but not tight.

At this point, I always leave the starter out of the fridge to grow a bit. I feel like I should let the yeasties eat a bit before they go back to sleep. This keeps them happy.

Once the starter has doubled in size, it’s ready to bake! I follow a Tartine Bakery-style loaf adapted for the home baker. It makes 2 loaves of sourdough bread and is the most common recipe I use. To make this bread, I use these supplies and recommend these as my essential sourdough baking kit supplies.

fresh sourdough bread
Two fresh country loaf sourdough boules

Sourdough Bread Kitchen Essentials

Generally speaking, you probably have most of these items or something that can serve the same purpose. Make do, right?

These are my must-have supplies for baking pretty round loaves.

Feel free to download and print this page for easy planning!

The One Tricky Skill You Need to Learn for Great Sourdough Bread

Through the process of baking sourdough bread, I realized there was one stage that felt confusing and tricky: bulk fermentation.

Bulk fermentation is the period of time when you let you develop strength and texture in your dough by working it gently usually with a series of folds or turns.

In the recipe below, bulk fermentation takes a couple of hours. The first time I baked this recipe, I let bulk fermentation go on for too little. I trusted the recipe too rigidly. After that, I started scouring Instagram and YouTube for videos of bulk fermentation to understand what I was missing.

The biggest secret to bulk fermentation is patience! I almost always needed more time for this stage than the recipe called for and I usually had to add another set of folds.

Sourdough bread bulk fermentation: what to look for

When your dough has finished bulk fermentation, you should notice large air bubbles rising off the dough trapped under a seriously thin layer of dough. This is a great sign!

bulk fermentation dough
This is early in the bulk fermentation process, right after a set of folds. The dough looks tense and short.
sourdough bread dough
This dough is much lighter and smoother with noticeable bubbles. It’s still not quite done fermenting, but is towards the end of the process.

You always want to look for your dough being noticeably larger than when you started. I remember the first time I had a good bulk fermentation, I felt like the boules were massive when I shaped them! I really try to keep an eye on the dough height in the bowl, which is a great reason for using the same bowl every time. When my dough is smooth, really bubbly, AND has a noticeable rise in height, it’s done and ready for the next step.

This video will help you know what to look for and understand the science.

My Favorite Sourdough Bread Recipes (a very short list)

You may be noticing that so far, sourdough is a lot of prep and no baking! I get that. It’s not the fastest way to bake, but the texture and quality of the bread is astounding.

Although there are tons of sourdough recipes out there and I’ve even created my own at some point, I’ll admit that I’m really simple.

I bake this country loaf recipe. It’s been printed, stapled, and flipped through so many times! All I really want is good sourdough bread and this meets all of my expectations. It’s wonderful!

While I’m feeding the starter to make it strong enough for the bake, I use the discarded starter for these sourdough pancakes. The first time I made them, I realized the dough tasted a little savory to me instead of sweet, which didn’t go well with the berries and syrup I wanted to eat. The next time I made them, I decided to add fresh chopped green onion from the garden and thick-sliced cheddar shreds. They are PERFECT with these savory fillings and we find that other pancake recipes just don’t cut it for us anymore.

This recipe calls for buttermilk. I use this powdered organic buttermilk!

sourdough pancakes
Grilled in butter…this is my favorite Sunday morning breakfast!

For sure, there are plenty of other recipes and I’m sure I’ll share more of them in the future. But if I’m 100% honest on my favorite way to bake with sourdough, this is it. Pick one thing and do it well. Then, move on.

My favorite way to eat sourdough bread

I’ll let you know that this bread can be too delicious. We got into a habit of eating giant slabs of bread toasted with butter or topped with scrambled eggs and it got a little excessive. We’re on a temporary hiatus from baking bread because of this, but we will definitely start baking again with my tomatoes come on. If you don’t eat a giant hunk of salted heirloom tomato on fresh sourdough bread for breakfast, lunch, and dinner the entire month of August, then, well…you’re missing out!

Linking to:

Saturday Sparks at Pieced Pastimes
Silver Pennies Sundays at Finding Silver Pennies
The Pin Party at Pin Junkie
Weekend Potluck at The Country Cook

We love to share with other bloggers! This post was shared at one of these great linky parties!

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