Sourdough bread is how bread is supposed to be made, and how it is supposed to taste. I may have a biased opinion based on my overarching appreciation for all traditional foods, but I think that claim has some historical merit.
Before commercial yeast became available, somewhere around the middle of the 19th century, fermentation provided us with the yeast necessary to raise bread. Sometimes, if a household were brewing beer, the barm from the beer would be used as the leavening for bread.
Many households, however, stuck with sourdough. This usually came in two forms – a sourdough starter made at home with just flour and water, or one started from an established starter shared by a friend or neighbor.
You can certainly catch a wild sourdough starter with just flour and water. Some prefer this method, while others prefer a more established starter. For the purpose of this series, we will be following the process of starting with an established culture.
Let’s take a look at getting started with a sourdough culture.
I am using the New Zealand Rye Sourdough culture. The above photo illustrates what the sourdough culture looks like when you open the small foil packet it is shipped in. It pretty much looks life flour.
The process of getting started with the sourdough starter is fairly simple:
- Place the contents of the package into a clean quart (or larger) wide-mouth canning jar or similar container.
- Add 1/4 cup tepid (room temperature) water and mix well. Add 1/4 cup flour and stir vigorously. Be sure to incorporate a significant amount of air into the mixture.
- Cover loosely. (A towel secured with a rubber band, or a plastic lid just set on top but not secured, will work well.) Place in a warm area (70° to 85°F) for approximately 12 to 18 hours. The warmer the spot, the more quickly the starter will activate. An oven with just the pilot light or oven light turned on can work well as will a high shelf or a food dehydrator with a low temperature setting. Be sure to verify that the spot where your sourdough culture is sitting is within the 70° to 85°F temperature range. Temperatures outside that range can be problematic for activating the culture and can even damage or kill the culture.
This completes the very first step in the culture hydration process. Next time we’ll take a look at how the starter behaves in the days following and how to continue the hydration process.