Perhaps you’ve made a sourdough starter before. You recall the memories with a mix of wonder and anxiety. There was a shapeless blob sitting in a mason jar on the counter. It bubbled and frothed for a couple of days and then - having forgotten about it for a few days - evolved into a greyish goop, a dark layer of scum settling on top. Defeated, you threw it out and went back to baking with packets of Fleischmann’s, steadfast and true.
But now, you find yourself with time on your hands. Maybe you crave a bit of rhythm in your day. You don’t mind rolling up your sleeves and getting a bit floury. With the trauma of your first sourdough starter behind you, you think: it's time to try again. This time, I'll get it right.
This post is about getting on the right start again with sourdough baking. I share my tips from four years of baking sourdoughs. I will also give you my sourdough rye recipe which gives the best bang for your buck: reliably delicious and easy to make in a bread form.
Guiding principles to sourdough baking
The master starter method
Make a 100% hydration mix of (equal parts) flour and water in a bowl.
For example, when feeding a starter, add 50 g flour and 50 g water to 50 g of the starter. Discard the remaining starter (in this case, 100 g). Set aside the starter and cover it so that dust stays out but air gets in. A cloth works well for this, or a small plate.
Option 1: Starter from scratch. Follow the Master Starter Method. Mix well and leave it on the counter so it’s covered but still gets air (a cloth is great for this). Once per day, give it a stir. The aeration promotes microbial activity and reduces the chances of getting surface mold. Depending on how warm your kitchen is, the first bubbles will appear after about 2 days. After 3-4 days, you have your very own starter. Congratulations!
Using this starter, though, will result in very dull, brick-like bread. Increase the microbial activity further by repeating the Master Starter Method 6 times over 4 days. Start with one feeding per day during the first 2 days, then increase to twice per day during the last 2 days. Now you’re ready to bake.
Option 2: Using a friend's starter. Maybe you got hold of a starter from a friend or from a local bakery. This is perfect. Time to make it your own! Follow the Master Method to feed it 6 times over 4 days. Start with one feeding per day during the first 2 days, then increase to twice per day during the last 2 days. Now you’re ready to bake.
Option 3: Re-starting your old starter. Maybe you have an old starter in the fridge or in the freezer. Cool. Get it out. Leave it on the counter for at least 1 day and up to 4 days. This reduces the acid load that built up while it was hibernating.
When ready, follow the Master Method to feed it. Repeat 6 times over 4 days. Start with one feeding per day during the first 2 days, then increase to twice per day during the last 2 days. Now you’re ready to bake.
Avoiding food waste when feeding the starter. If the thought of wasting food during every feeding horrifies you, reserve it in the fridge. This “used up” starter can be used in new ways, like in pancakes or even sour soups (more on this later). You can also share it with a friend and get them hooked on sourdough baking.
Flour type. I get the best results from a 1:1 mix of all-purpose white flour and sifted whole-wheat flour. For the latter, sift whole-wheat flour using a mine-mesh sieve to remove the bran and husks. (Save it for later - it makes a great non-stick coating for breads and looks great, too.)
You can also use any grain flour you wish. Some flours, like rye, might require a bit more water than wheat flour to achieve the same yogurt-like consistency.
Master baking method
Erik's Finnish-style rye
Made of 100% rye, Finnish-style rye is distinctively dense and sour. It also lends itself really well to sourdough baking. Rye seems to love being leavened with a starter. It's almost as if active-dry yeast, the most commonplace leavening tool for breads today, was designed for wheat. Rye diehards just don't get it - baking sourdough rye takes about the same about of time and effort and yields way better flavour, not to mention a more nutritious and digestible loaf. Rye has almost no gluten, so there is no point in shaping it - just mix and pour into a buttered form, rise it, and bake. Easy.
I'm Erik, the Burnt Chef. I'm a Finnish-born Newfoundlander living in Norway. I have a passion for cooking and a deep fascination for the culinary history of the North. Simplicity guides my cooking. Time, place, and history guide my storytelling. This is my personal blog about food.