My Rebellious and Short-Attention-Spanned Sourdough Making Process

Learning to make sourdough has been a really interesting adventure. I wanted to learn because I love bread and I don’t like to rely on stores. Plus, homemade bread is yummier. The biggest problem I encountered was how confusing, complicated, and math-heavy the process is, or so I thought. Turns out, it’s mostly harder to explain how to make sourdough than to actually make it. Let me tell you what I do.

Dude, I did so much research when I first started. I watched videos, read books and blogs, and I tried so many recipes. I followed the instructions as to-the-letter as my squirrel brain would allow. All to no avail. So I gave up on following instructions. 

If you have read any of my gardening posts, you’re familiar with this approach. First, I hyperfixate and try to do everything exactly as stated in the research. Then, if I run into too many questions without answers or don’t get the desired result, I just stop following the directions entirely. I make wild guesses and see what happens. Honestly, it usually works out fine.

Yummy

Very important special equipment and ingredients

Common sourdough wisdom states that one must measure one’s ingredients by weight instead of cups and spoons because it is more accurate or whatever. Absolutely unacceptable. I’m not buying kitchen equipment to bake bread. Also, at the time, I lived in a tiny house. No room for scales. I use cups, spoons, my hand, or the old reliable eyeballing method because rules aren’t real and you can’t tell me what to do.

It also states that one must use only some kind of knight-in-shining-armor-or-whatever brand of unbleached, bread flour. That stuff is crazy expensive. No way I’m doing that. After my starter refused to, uh, well, start, I realized that the only important part of that rule was the unbleached part.  I use whatever cheapest unbleached, all-purpose flour I can find. 

While we are on the subject of required ingredients, I would be remiss if I did not mention that you must use fresh filtered glacier water sourced from the oldest and finest glaciers. Whatever. I use tap water. I used to use well water when I was living in the cabin. Making sure you use potable water is the only thing I care about. 

Lastly, sourdough must be baked in only the finest cast iron dutch oven in the land. Psh. I have a giant cast iron dutch oven that is for cooking on a campfire. It works fine, but is unwieldy to use in the kitchen. Plus, it is too much exercise for bread making. 

Instead I use the big ol’ roasting pan that everybody and their mothers have hiding in the “holiday crap” section of their kitchen. You know the one. I put two rustic loaves in that bad boy and they come out fantastic.

This is an experiment. Don’t get discouraged after the first crappy, dense, flat loaf. Keep playing with it and you’ll figure out what works in your house. Because that’s the thing, you are using the wild yeast from the environment in your kitchen. No one can tell you exactly what is the best way, it all depends on the wild yeast fairies in your house and what they like.

My starter, Doughlene

The starter

Sourdough starter is the “alive” part that makes your bread fluff. It is a jar of flour and water that you “feed” every day until it seems to come alive. Then, you name it (mine’s name is Doughlene) and start making stuff with it.

When I first started, I just found some recipe online. It called for flour and water in ounces. I used one of those conversion calculators online to convert it to cups. It worked fine and if you like to be precise, you should totally do it. 

But, if you’re rebellious for no reason like I am, just take a wide mouthed big jar (like a giant pickle jar, that’s what I use) and put just a little less than one cup of flour in. Then, add about half of that amount of water and mix with a wooden spoon. Why a wooden spoon? No idea, evidently they are like fairies and dislike metal. 

Then you cover it with a clean cloth and a rubber band. Or, in my case, a cloth napkin and an elastic hair tie. I reject your judgment. Use whatever is handy and allows enough airflow for the pixies to get in there and breathe.

The next day, you will “feed” the pixies with the same amount of stuff as the day before. Inspect the starter for air bubbles, feed it, then cover it again. You will do this everyday (about a week) until your starter gets all bubbly and is doubled in size from the day before. That’s how you know that you have a thriving colony of bread making fairies in there.

Once you discover that you have a happy starter, you are going to maintain it. Everytime you feed it you will need to “discard” about half of it (unless you are trying to build up a large quantity for something). I hate using that word because it makes people think they need to throw it away and waste it. Not so. “Discard” is just unfed starter that you need to get out of the jar so that it doesn’t get all excited and swallow up your kitchen like the monster in the movie “The Blob”. Ask me how I know.

If you plan to bake nearly everyday, feed your starter everyday and keep it at room temperature. If you aren’t going to bake every couple of days, refrigerate it after feeding. The pixies get lazy when they are cold, so you only have to feed it once a week when it is stored in the refrigerator. Take it out of the fridge a few hours before you are ready to bake and let it warm up on the counter. After you use it, feed it and re-refrigerate.

Bird’s eye of Doughlene

Uses

There are so many things I make with sourdough. The main things I have on the weekly rotation are pancakes, tortillas, pizza dough and sandwich bread. I have to adjust the recipes a bit to work the way I want, but it’s all so good. Like I said, it is really all about what works for you. If what you make comes out too tough and crunchy, use less flour next time. Or more if it is too soft and sticky. 

If you want to use up your discard and you don’t want to make another jar of starter, but you don’t have enough for a recipe, I fry it. This has a really strong, sour flavor to it and that’s why I love it. I just put a tablespoon of oil in an egg pan and heat it on medium until the oil and pan get hot. Then, I pour the discard into the pan, spreading it around so that it looks like a big pancake. 

Next, I sprinkle Italian seasoning, a little salt and pepper, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes. Once it bubbles in the middle and looks dry around the edges, I flip it and let it finish cooking. Voila. Then I fight the kids to get a piece because they always steal it.

Here is a list of recipes I like to use as a base for my breads:

Sourdough tortillas are the kids’ favorite.

Conclusion

Sourdough is a really ancient technique for making bread. It really isn’t as difficult as it may seem when you look it up. There are so many variables involved that it is really more art than science. Just look at it as an adventure and don’t get discouraged. I hope I inspired you to try it out, if you did, let me know in the comments!

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