I may be just a tad dramatic calling this a “sourdough miracle”, but those of you with a beloved sourdough starter will totally get me on this. Plus, spoiler alert: something really sad resulted in figuring out the easiest sourdough method EVER. This is just what I need for my crazy-busy life, so I definitely call that a miracle, and you'll understand more when you hear the whole story!
As you read, please PLEASE add your comments, corrections, or tips to the conversation:
You'll see as you go through here that I'm really not a sourdough expert and I'm still learning a lot as I go, so if I've made any mistakes or left out something important, I hope you'll let me know in the comments below! I won't be offended and hope you'll share your expertise to help all of us. As a matter of fact, when you get to the section where I explain the ways I'm planning to experiment next, I especially need you, any experienced sourdough bakers, to jump in and answer some of my questions about baking with whole grains. Thank you!
A quick refresher on why figuring out my sourdough is so important to me…
I learned many years ago that sourdough bread is the most nutritious bread in the world, and here are some of the reasons why:
- The fermentation process (longer rise times with a starter and no yeast) unlocks more nutrition, and it's the way bread was made for thousands of years!
- A big bonus is that you're not dependent on yeast, in case it's out of stock everywhere again like it was at the height of the Covid craziness.
- Many who can't tolerate grains are able to eat sourdough bread with no problems because of the longer rise and more time for the gluten to be broken down, so it's easier to digest.
- Side note: the same is true about einkorn flour. Einkorn is the original wheat that has never been hybridized, so many who can't tolerate regular wheat, even organic, can eat Einkorn with no problems.
- Note that I'm not talking about those who have Celiac disease, although often they can eat einkorn and/or sourdough with no symptoms, but most say that they still should not do that. Read more about that here from my friend Sarah: Can Celiacs Eat True Sourdough?
- Sourdough also lowers the glycemic index of the bread, meaning it doesn't cause the same blood sugar spikes as other breads do.
- A gal I found on Instagram, Amber who I'll link to below, said something I hadn't heard before but it wouldn't surprise me, knowing the power of fermented foods. She said that if you were to try and live on only flour and water you could not survive, but if the flour and water was fermented as in a sourdough bread, you COULD live indefinitely on that and be healthy.
- Mixing flour in an acidic medium (your starter) at warm temperatures, as you do in the sourdough process, also activates phytase and reduces or even eliminates phytic acid, which is a mineral blocker. Another study showed almost complete elimination of phytic acid in whole wheat bread after eight hours of sourdough fermentation. (Source)
- More of the benefits of sourdough are listed here.
Bread of Life
I love thinking about how Jesus is the Bread of Life, and how people have been eating bread for possibly 100,000 years! So even as I continue to eat less carbs to keep a handle on my weight and blood sugar, I remain convinced that ideally we can keep at least some bread in our diets, and sourdough is the best option!
So those are the reasons why I took on this challenge, and eventually I figured out the easiest sourdough method that works!
First a sad story, some terrible news, and then the sourdough miracle…
A sad story
It all started when I was out of town recently (a conference in Virginia at Joel Salatin's farm! Here are some pics if you're on Instagram or Facebook) and after getting home I knew my starter would need a feeding. I also needed buns for dinner the next day. I started looking for it and then freaked out wondering if it got tossed. If I leave it too long it does start to look bad on top, all brown and hard, but underneath is the GOLD…
So I asked Kent and sure enough, it did get thrown out. Being the great guy that he is, he was cleaning out the fridge while I was gone, and me, being the ditz that I am, didn't have my beloved starter labeled.
I was heartbroken and tried not to cry!
I'd been working on that for over a year, since not long after the whole Covid crap began, which somehow, don't ask me how, led to the yeast shortage. I'd tried making my own starter but wasn't having any luck getting the bread to rise, so this one was from my friend Lindsay who gave me her specific instructions that she said work every time. Her instructions are basically exactly the way Carla explains in her Einkorn Cookbook, only with extra feeding steps.
It took me a few feedings and lots of trial and error, but I had finally gotten Lindsay's starter to work myself. This means that instead of bricks, which I used to make a lot of breadcrumbs and croutons, I eventually got it to RISE enough to make delicious bread, homemade rolls, bagels, etc. Every time I pulled it off I'd do a happy dance, and was just so thrilled!
But then it was gone. Kent felt so bad. He gave me a hug and said, “I'm so sorry, I know you worked really hard on that.” I admitted that I definitely should've had it labeled!
Ironically, later that same day I found out via Instagram that Carla, Jovial Foods founder and author of the Einkorn Cookbook I was telling you about, “died unexpectedly after a brief illness“!! I was so shocked and sad for her family! I only met her in person once, it was at a Weston Price Foundation conference:
We also chatted via email now and then over the years. Most recently was a few months ago when I was getting frustrated with my sourdough flops–this was when I first got Lindsay's starter and still not having any luck, so I reached out to Carla. Even with a busy, successful business and two kids, she was so sweet to get back to me. I asked how to make my starter stronger, because mine smelled great and was very bubbly, but just wasn't getting enough rise. Here's what she said:
“Hi Kelly, nice to hear from you! Every starter, even those not made with einkorn, take a while to get going. Not sure when you started yours, but if it is bubbly, that is already a good sign. Here is what I recommend:
-Refresh everyday for three days, but do not put the starter in the fridge.
-Make sure you weigh all ingredients in your recipe with a scale and don’t add extra flour, even if the dough seems sticky.
-Let your bread rise longer after you shape it. When the starter isn’t strong, the second rise can take up to three hours. Don’t bake unless the shaped loaf feels pillowy.
-Always bake in a very hot oven.
Don’t give up, I had the same problem when I started, my bread was like a brick. Keep baking and magically, it will start working soon.
You can also add a pinch of active dry yeast to your dough, but I never did.
Lauren in our office coaches a lot of people, you can always call her. We can also send you a piece of our starter if you want. Up to you.
Let me know how things go.”
So between her advice and Lindsay's I did finally get good rises and wonderful sourdough bread! And then it got tossed and I thought I'd have to start all over…
The Sourdough Miracle!
So I reached out to Lindsay to see if I could get more of her starter, but I think she was out of town for the weekend and I really needed buns for the next day. That's when it hit me… I wonder what would happen if I gave my backup starter some extra feedings before baking days, the way I did with Lindsay's starter?
Here's the back-story on my backup sourdough starter…
Before getting Lindsay's starter and playing with her recipe combined with Carla's, I was messing around with making my own starter. I faithfully fed it weekly even if I wasn't baking with it, followed all the right steps, and tried so many recipes–and again, it got bubbly, but my breads would never rise enough, so the finished product was just so dense. Then after I got Lindsay's starter and was having success with that, I still kept feeding this backup starter weekly–I don't really know why I kept that one around when it wasn't working well, maybe just nostalgia since I started it myself.
So giving my backup starter extra feedings before bake-day, the way Lindsay had taught me to do with her starter, actually WORKED! But the very best part, and the reason I ended up telling Kent THANK YOU is because it turned out to be a blessing that he tossed my starter, and this is why: on a whim I tried making my homemade buns the easy way with this starter, by adapting the recipe for my Mom's rolls to a sourdough recipe with no yeast, and THAT WORKED TOO!
Here's how it is so much easier with what I'm now calling… The Easiest Sourdough Method EVER:
1. Lindsay/Carla's method requires a kitchen scale to get the amounts just right and a thermometer to get the temp of the water just right for all of your feedings, whether it's a feeding before you're baking or if you're just refreshing your starter. Now this isn't a huge deal and it did get faster the more I did it, but my method for feeding my backup starter was even easier: I just eyeballed it. I'd add approximately the same amount of flour to the jar as the amount of starter that was already in there, sometimes less, then add about the same amount of filtered water (right out of our faucet) to get it to the right consistency–like a thick pancake batter.
2. Lindsay/Carla's method requires mixing, letting it set, finish mixing, letting it rise once, doing the final shape, then the final rise. For my easier method, I just mix, shape, and let it rise, that's it! Note that Lindsay/Carla's method and my method both do require you to think ahead before you'll need bread or buns or whatever you're making for dinner the next day, so you have time to get the extra feedings in. This is the most important step, this strengthening of your starter is what makes it possible to not use yeast, and to not need 2-3 rises instead of just one. Yes it still takes that one rise longer than if you were using yeast, but that's the whole point–you want to have time for the fermentation process to happen, but it's still less steps!
So that's how something sad, when Kent tossed my starter, became something so exciting and wonderful, when I realized my backup starter worked great too, and with less steps. Here I've tried for months, years even, since at least 2010, to get my sourdough to work, and it turned out to be so easy!
A note to professional bread bakers:
Now some of you wonderful professional bread bakers out there may tell me that you'd get a better result without skipping those steps, and Carla talks about some of that in her book, but here's the thing: even though our kids are getting older, we've still got a lot going on here everyday! I love every minute of it, between my business, homeschooling, running Kasey to all his activities, etc., and cooking our meals from scratch is a priority for me. So if I can make this extra nutritious bread with less steps, I'm going for it, even if it's not perfect. Especially if it has a nice rise, a good texture, great taste, and the family loves it. 🙂
Details & How-to's:
Now that you know the whole story, I'll explain more of the details for those who want to give it a try. So many of you have asked me to get this post up, and I hope you'll let me know if you think this is the easiest sourdough method too! Here we go…
Here's how I made my own sourdough starter from scratch:
This was a little over a year ago, probably late March of 2020 after Covid Crazy geared up. I got the method from @AmbersKitchen on Instagram. She shows exactly how to do this in her story highlights if you want to watch that, but I'll explain below too. She starts with small amounts so she's not wasting as much flour, since you have to toss half every day (called “discard”) before adding more flour and water–this is part of the process in the very beginning.
Making and caring for your own sourdough starter:
- You'll need any unbleached flour, preferably organic, and even better is Einkorn all-purpose flour–that's all I use in my starter because of the benefits mentioned earlier: it's the original wheat that has never been hybridized, and many who can't tolerate regular wheat can eat Einkorn with no problems. I add in regular all-purpose organic flour when I'm making the bread (Einkorn doesn't rise as easily as regular AP flour, so I'm always working on it and trying different things), but only Einkorn in my starter. You don't have to do that too, that's just what I do so as I continue to play with it, so it'll remain a “pure” starter.
- In small bowl start with 2 heaping Tablespoons of flour + 2 Tablespoons filtered water, the amounts don't have to be exact. Go by texture, you want it to be like a thick pancake batter. If you don't have filtered water with no chlorine, just let your water set for an hour and the chlorine will evaporate.
- Stir well. Amber or someone said to use a non-metal spoon to stir it, so I always used my wooden spoon. BUT Carla always used a regular metal spoon, so I've started to do that too with no problems. (Maybe it's fine once the starter is mature?)
- Cover with a plate over the bowl (or a loose lid on a ball jar) and let set at room temp for 24 hours or so.
- The next day scoop out and discard half of your starter. Add another heaping Tablespoon of flour and 1 Tablespoon or so of water, again, mix 'til it's the consistency of thick pancake batter, cover loosely and again, let set for 24 hours.
- Keep doing this daily, bubbles and smelly liquid is normal on days 5-10, even mold is okay. Just scoop that part off before you add more flour and water for the next feeding.
- After about 10 days you can use your discard in recipes, but she explains why it's not usable early-on: because just until your starter is mature, or when you're reviving a dehydrated or old starter, it could harbor bacteria, and it won't smell great either.
- About half-way through the process I transfered it from a bowl to a 1-cup ball jar with a rubber band around the side at the line where the starter is, so as it bubbles overnight you'll be able to see how much it went up the side. This is so fun when you see it starting to work! It should be bubbly and smell wonderful, so fresh and sweet and alive.
- I always set a lid on top but don't screw it on. Sometimes I'll rubberband a thin towel on top. You want the wild yeast from the air to get in there, but keep the dust or bugs out.
- It’s ready when it smells sour but fresh and has lots of bubbles, and when after feedings it doubles in size, which will be after day 10 or so. She also explains that a small spoonful of starter should float in a cup of water if it's ready to use, but I've had it float before and still not gotten a good rise! So I'd suggest “beefing it up” with 2-3 daily feedings (without discarding any at that point) for a day or two before baking with it.
- I'll usually add however much flour to match what's in there currently, or less than that if I'm starting to get a lot of starter–remember you need room for it to bubble up to about double. Obviously not using exact amounts doesn't hurt anything. (Although I've heard that adding too little flour is better than too much, because supposedly you can overwhelm it? No more than 3 times the amount of flour as the volume of the starter is what I've read. Obviously I'm no expert at this!) Then add the right amount of water to get a thick pancake batter consistency. You'll need to transfer to a bigger quart-size ball jar or even a half-gallon jar depending on how much you end up with and how bubbly it's getting.
- I keep a note in my calendar to feed it every Sunday and I'll think then about what meals we're eating that week and if I want to bake with it.
- If I'm baking on Tuesday, I'll give it a feeding Monday morning and Monday evening, maybe one more in between there too, even with just 1/4 cup of flour or so. Then I'd make the dough Tuesday morning so it can rise much of the day. Although now that my starter seems pretty strong, I can get it out the night before and just feed it then, and maybe once early in the morning before making bread later in the morning.
- If you don't get a good rise, just make some croutons or grind it up for breadcrumbs in recipes, keep feeding it, and be patient!
- If I'm not baking that week, I'll pull it out for a feeding on Sunday, let set overnight on the counter, then back into the fridge the next day. You should see that some bubbly action was happening overnight.
- Feeding weekly is best but I'm pretty sure that if you forget about it for a few weeks, you'd just scrape the top off that would probably be crusty or icky, then refresh with the starter underneath in a new jar. By ‘refresh' I mean: add flour and water again, stir, cover lightly, let set overnight, then do more feedings to get it ready to bake with, or put it back in the fridge.
- In the beginning when it still wasn't strong enough, when I'd have a couple of cups or more of excess starter, I'd use it to make “discard recipes” with yeast, so I wasn't wasting flour–especially since for a while there you couldn't find any flour, let alone Einkorn flour! So I'd use the same replacement ratios as I mention below (for every 1 cup of stirred-down starter that you add, omit 1 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of liquid from the recipe). Here are some “discard recipes” with yeast to try as you're strengthening your starter, like pancakes or pizza dough. BUT once it's strengthened, if you're baking 1-2 times/week or so, you can just build up your starter more, and then use it all for your baking. I don't really have any extra discard anyore, I can usually just feed it enough for what I need. If ever you do have extra you could also share with a friend!
- Whenever you're using your starter to bake, remember to ALWAYS RESERVE SOME so you don't use it all up and accidentally lose your beloved starter! Just keep it in a labeled jar in the fridge.
Adapting any bread recipe to a sourdough bread recipe is easy!
There are tons and tons of sourdough recipes online, but I'm going to show you the simple way: in any bread recipe such as homemade rolls, regular bread, cinnamon rolls, etc., just use 1 cup of your well-fed and stirred-down starter to replace the yeast, and omit about 1 cup of flour from your recipe and 1/2 cup of the liquid that's called for.
This part is important: be ready to adjust as needed.
If your dough is looking or feeling dry, add a bit more liquid. If it's looking too wet and you can tell that it won't hold a shape when you form it, add a bit more flour. Dough that is a little sticky is much better than a little dry, just use floured or buttered hands to shape it, and this will also make a lighter bread.
So to adapt my Mom's homemade rolls recipe into a sourdough recipe, here's how that looked (these are the notes I took in my phone as I was baking that day):
- Extra feeds starting the morning before–2-3 times that day. (Most recipes call for 1 cup of starter for 2 loaves of bread, but I was shooting for feeding it enough to make OVER 2 cups of starter, so I had some left to keep it going after taking the 2 cups out.)
- Next morning made the recipe with no yeast! (Used 2 cups of stirred-down starter, so took out from the recipe: 2 cups of flour and 1 cup of water.)
- Throw the following into the Bosch (but you could just stir and then need by hand like my Mom used to):
- 2 cups stirred down sourdough starter (again, don't forget to reserve some!)
- 1 cup warm filtered water, not hot (original recipe calls for 2 cups)
- 1/4 cup this sugar (original recipe calls for 1/2 cup sugar, but I cut that back more)
- 1 egg
- 1 1/2 Tablespoon soft butter
- 1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- Mix, then add in 5 cups flour (I used 4 cup regular organic all-purpose flour & 1 cup Einkorn AP flour, original recipe calls for 7 cups of flour)
- It was too wet so I added in another 1 cup regular AP flour
- Took 5 hours to rise by the window in the sun, SUCCESS!!! Tasted great!
Note that a longer rise in the winter months would be normal, I always allow for more time and then you can bake earlier if needed. It's not AS good as bread that's fresh and warm from the oven, but you could always pop it back into the oven for a bit to warm it.
Keep your own good notes so you know what works for you, your starter, and your kitchen!
As noted in the original recipe, I use this dough to make everything! Dinner rolls yes, but also hamburger or hot dog buns, sub buns for easy sub sandwiches or meatball subs, and cinnamon rolls are great too.
A note about breadmaking machines:
Because you can easily adapt any bread recipe to a sourdough recipe as explained above, if you want to use your breadmaker machine, just follow the instructions that came with yours (they usually include recipes or you can find many online) and bake away!
Please do let me know if you try this and if you also think it's the easiest sourdough method ever!
By the way, this is a work in progress…
So I reserve the right to tweak this post over time as I learn more and practice more. 🙂
Next I want to try experimenting with a few more things (I'll report back!):
- I'm going to make a new starter from scratch again–just so I have another backup AND I want to see how long before I get a good rise from it now that I know that more feedings is the important key. UPDATE: I started from scratch on July 5 (instructions are above) and it was really smelly at first. Even after a week or so, there were more bubbles forming and it was definitely active, but it wasn't until day 17 that I was ready/comfortable to use it for baking. It finally had “the” smell that I love, the fresh sweet bubbly fermented scent. Next I'll try “beefing it up” (giving extra feedings a day or two before bake-day) and baking with it and then report back. 🙂
- I also want to play around with more feedings in the days prior to baking and see if I can beef it up and use ALL starter with no extra flour in the recipe the morning that I bake. That way all of the flour will have fermented for a longer time: during the overnight ferment AND during the rise. This should take less time to rise too. This dough may be too wet though or maybe too sour for my family's preference, I'll see…
- I want to use more Einkorn AP flour in the actual recipe and see if I'll still get a good rise vs. using part “regular” organic AP flour that I do now. (The organic AP flour I use is from Azure and I do trust it to be good, it just doesn't have all the benefits of Einkorn.)
- I'm going to grind and add more fresh whole grain einkorn flour slowly to see if I still get a rise. The whole point of sourdough being healthier is because of the slow rise and fermentation which makes the whole grains healthier and more digestible, and while I'm sure it's still better for us and more digestible with AP white flour, it's definitely doesn't have as many nutrients as whole-grain flour. BUT the problem is that the more whole grain flour you use, the heavier and more brick-like your bread becomes! I'm guessing the most I'll get it to is HALF whole grains to still have it be palatable for my family.
I NEED YOUR HELP READER FRIENDS:
There are some options that I've heard will give you a lighter whole-grain loaf, but I've looked and I'm having trouble finding out if these are safe/healthy:
- Many bakers, and especially store-bought whole grain breads, add Vital Wheat Gluten to make a lighter whole grain bread–is this healthy if the only ingredient is gluten flour like this one?
- Dough enhancers are also used for best rise and lightness and consistency, and this one has ingredients that aren't too bad–would it be worth it to use that in order to make a bread my family would eat with more nutrients from the whole grains? (I also found this info on using your own dough enhancers and may try those first!)
- I've also heard that sifting it to get the heavier whole grain pieces out will help get a lighter rise and a lighter taste, has anyone tried this?
I decided to give my starter a name
As I said above, it's ironic that I found out Carla passed on the same day that I was figuring all of this out, so I decided to name my starter Carla. 🙂 I'm so grateful for her research on this original grain of wheat, for her cookbook full of beautiful recipes, and for her help over the years. May God bless her sweet soul and I also pray for her family as they grieve. She and her husband have two girls, and I know from experience that saying goodbye to your Mom is tough.
More important notes, tips, & resource links:
- These pre-cut parchment paper sheets have changed my life, not kidding! I use them several times a week on baking sheets instead of buttering them or spraying with the avocado oil cooking spray. That spray is awesome now that there is such a thing again after years of not having an option without weird ingredients, and I use it for some things, but the pre-cut sheets are even easier! I also use them when I'm taking meals to others and using those aluminum disposable pans, this way the food isn't by the aluminum.
- I got the USA pans that Carla recommends for best rise: “It is a natural non-stick and non-toxic silicone that is PTFE, PFOA and BPA- free.”
- I'm so excited now to try these sourdough recipes that never worked for me before because I couldn't get my starter right! That post has easy recipes for how to make all of these:
- Sourdough waffles
- Sourdough pizza crust
- Sourdough pancakes
- Sourdough crackers
- Sourdough English muffins
- Again, there are so many good recipes in this cookbook!
- A note about the sourdough guest post from Lucinda that was posted here on my blog many years ago: while it's her tried and true recipe, I just never had good luck with it! There's a lot of good info and tips there that you may want to check out though. Also at that post there are links to helpful supplies that you may want, but these days I keep it simple and only use what I included above.
- Here's more of the science behind sourdough bread.
- Here's some info about sourdough rise times.
- I'm excited to try this Sourdough English Muffin recipe soon!
What did I forget?
This post took forever to gather all of the info and get it organized and written, so if I forgot anything or you see any mistakes, please let me know so I can fix it. Again, I won't be offended in the least, I'd actually be grateful!
More you might like:
- Did you know I wrote a book to help those just starting out with healthier eating? Real Food for Rookies