Posted by: A Part of the Solution | February 9, 2012

Another Sourdough

You can make a sourdough, completely without yeast in the comfort of your own home. You can make sourdough bread from a starter made of sourdough bread, recipe to follow. You can also make sourdough starter with some potatoes. You can also make sourdough starter the French way, with a levain–recipe given below.

The important thing to remember about sourdough is that the timing isn’t as important as the condition of the dough at its various stages. You’re not looking for a certain amount of clock time to have passed. You’re looking for the dough to take on certain characteristics which mean it’s well enough developed to move on to the next stage. I produce a better final loaf when I let the bread call the shots instead of the clock. All recipe times are approximate in the extreme.

The two sourdough recipes start differently (that’s the starters themselves). They immediately find common ground in Steps 2 through 5.

A word about environment: You don’t want your starter to go up too quickly, since it won’t be as ‘soured’. And you don’t want your sourdough to take weeks either. So you want your chef (the starter) and its subsequent stages to have about 70°F in order to move well along. A warm towel wrapped around the bowl helps in the winter time. Letting your chef develop in the basement in the summer moderates the process likewise.

Sourdough Starter from Sourdough

1/2 cup (1+ ounces)  inner crumb torn from a sourdough loaf and made very small (with a knife or food processor)

3 1/2 TBSP warm water (hot when dropped on your wrist)

1/4 cup, 1.25 oz, approximately, whole wheat flour

Soak the breadcrumbs in the warm water for several minutes in a medium small bowl. When the crumbs are very mushy and the water mostly absorbed, add the whole wheat flour and stir it into the glop with a couple of fingers. Shortly, you will have a shaggy mass. Now knead the tiny starter until it is smooth and no longer sticky and bounces back somewhat when you poke it (five to seven minutes of good kneading).

Let the chef rest, covered with a tea towel or a sheet of plastic wrap, for up to two full days. You’re looking for signs of expansion in the starter. The light crust which forms where it’s exposed to air will begin to crack as the starter beneath it begins to make bubbles from the natural yeast it cultures. Under the crust, it should be spongy, moist and slightly soured. If your chef shows no signs of life after two days, you’ll need to start over. It will help if you’ve been drinking unpasteurized beer in the kitchen, or baking other yeasted goods.

Levain: Sourdough Starter the French Way 

1/2 cup, 2.3 oz, whole wheat flour

3 TBSP warm water (hot when dropped on your wrist)

1/8 tsp cumin

Measure the flour into a small mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the water and cumin. Stir the water into the flour with your finger(s). Once you have a shaggy mass, start kneading. Knead the chef for about 5 minutes. It should become firm and smooth and springy when poked. Put the chef in a small bowl. Cover it with a tea towel or plastic wrap and set it somewhere draft-free to rise.

Read the information in the starter recipe above regarding how to know if your chef was successful in capturing and culturing wild yeast after two days rest.

Stage 2 for Both Starters

2 TBSP chef, either recipe above will work–as would any other sourdough starter you have confidence in

3/4 cup, 3.75 oz, whole wheat flour

1/3 cup, 2.65 oz, warm water (hot when dropped on your wrist)

Pull the chef away from the crust which has formed until you have 2 tablespoons. Put the flour into a medium mixing bowl. Make a well in the center. Tear the sticky chef into pieces and drop them into the ‘well’. Pour the warm water over the pieces of chef and let the water soften it for several minutes. Using your fingers, stir the chef-and-water into the flour around it. Once it forms a shaggy mass, knead and fold the dough for 5 to 7 minutes.

The dough should be springy and firm and hold its shape. If the dough seems wet to you, add a little more flour (a tablespoon at a time gradually worked in). If the dough seems dry to you, and isn’t taking up all the flour, add a little more water a few drops at a time, kneaded in gradually.

Place the dough in a small mixing bowl and cover it as before. You want this stage of the dough to proof for about 18 to 24 hours. It should show signs of having risen before it is ready to use. If it appears to have risen and fallen and risen again, that’s OK too. Your dough should be stretchy and sticky under its crust. It will give off a faintly alcoholic aroma.

Stage 3 for Both Starters

1/2 cup, 4 oz, of the dough from Stage 2

3/4 cup, 3.75 oz, whole wheat flour

1/2 cup, 2.5 oz, unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup, 4 oz, warm water (hot when dropped on your wrist)

In a medium mixing bowl, stir both flours together and make a well in the flour. Discard the crust on your Stage 2 dough, measure out 4 oz and pull this into pieces. Set the pieces in the well in your flours. Pour the water over the dough and allow it to soften the dough for several minutes. Stir the dough-and-water mixture into the flours. Once you have a shaggy mass, begin kneading and folding the dough until you’ve incorporated all the new flour. Knead on for another 5 to 10 minutes. If you need to add more water, proceed as instructed above in Stage 2. Ditto if you need to add more flour. You want a very firm and springy ball when you have finished kneading.

Put the dough in a small mixing bowl, cover it and let it rise in a draft-free place for 5 to 8 hours. You’re looking for a distinct mounding in the dough. You want to try and catch it at its highest possible rise.

Stage 4 for Both Starters

3 1/2 cups, 17.5 oz, unbleached all-purpose flour, or substitute up to half a cup (2.5 oz) alternative flour like corn meal, rye or barley flour

1 1/2 cups, 12 oz, dough from Stage 3

1 cup, 8 oz, warm water (hot if you drop some on your wrist)

2 1/2 tsp salt

This is easily done in a stand mixer fitted first with the paddle and then with the dough hook for the kneading stages. Or you can do it by hand. Measure the flour(s) into a large mixing bowl. Make a well and set your Stage 3 dough, torn into pieces, in it. Pour the water over the dough and let it soften for several minutes. Stir the dough-and-water into the flour(s). Once you have a shaggy mass (about two minutes with a machine and four by hand) sprinkle the salt over the dough and start kneading (or switch to the dough hook). You’ll want to knead for about 15 minutes by hand and at least 10 by machine on medium low. You want a dough which is very elastic and equally smooth.

Set the dough in a medium mixing bowl and cover it. Let the dough rise for about 5 hours. You’re looking for a definite rise, though it probably won’t have doubled in bulk. However, the dough will hold an indentation if poked with your fingertip (don’t poke it too hard, you don’t want it to deflate).

N.B. With two tablespoons of dough from Stage 4 acting as your chef, you can circle back to Stage 2 and start your next loaf of sourdough fermenting. Remember to measure and set aside your new loaf’s starter BEFORE adding the salt

Stage 5 for Both Starters (Fifth and Last)

Line a colander with a tea towel. Rub a couple tablespoons of flour into the tea towel as it comes well up the sides of the colander. Work your Stage 4 dough into a ball, folding under and into itself until it is firm and the right shape to sit, seam side up, in the colander. Cover the colander with a tea towel or plastic wrap and let the loaf rise for four hours. It should rise substantially, even if it doesn’t double.

About 30 minutes before you think your loaf is ready, position an oven rack to the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425° F. Sprinkle a little cornmeal on a baking sheet. Gently turn the loaf onto the baking sheet. With a very sharp knife or razor blade, cut a few parallel slashes into the loaf, or a broad tic-tac-toe pattern–going about a half inch into the surface of the loaf (very tenderly, so as not to deflate it now–maybe flour the blade slightly to reduce pull). Dampen a paper towel or tea towel. Lightly dab it over the surface of the loaf, until it’s shiny with wetness.

Slip the loaf into the oven and turn the heat down to 400° F. Bake the loaf for 50-60 minutes. It will be a deep golden color; it will be hollow when tapped on the bottom; and it will register 200° F on an instant read thermometer.

Allow the loaf to cool on a rack for a minimum of 20 minutes. It will have a better texture if you can wait a full hour after taking it from the oven. Good luck with that!



  1. I love you.

    Wish my family were sourdough fans. But I suppose I’ll know where to look when I dump them for bread.

    • I’m so sorry to hear it was a dominant gene passed down the paternal line. It gets better, eventually you’ll be welcome to bake the bread which fills your heart with joy and your tummy with happiness! One day!

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