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Sourdough Bread from starter to loaf!

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We started making sourdough bread years ago mostly because of a desire to still have that wonderful comfort food known as bread but yet do it the most healthful way as possible if we were to eat a wheat product at all. Without getting into how healthful or unhealthy grain products in general may or may not be know the following is a fact. Sprouted and or well soaked or well fermented grain products, especially wheat particularly, are vastly better for you than the normal unsoaked/unsprouted or non fermented grain products. This is due to various reasons but most namely soaking,  sprouting,  and fermenting grain before further processing changes carbohydrate structure and therefore ease of the body processing them and causes the breakdown of "anti-nutrients" like phytic acid compounds which inhibit body absorption of other good nutrients that might be present in a grain substance.  So in a nut shell if we were gonna eat grains we want to eat them in their best most healthful forms. That's were sourdough bread comes into play for us. The well fermentation of the wheat before baking the bread greatly reduces the gluten (wheat protein) content and overall reduces stress on the body processing it and makes whatever good nutrients present easier for the body to absorb and utilize. You could take this ideology further and use the ancient types of wheat instead of modern wheat too which are lessly bred for higher gluten content and in a more natural state like nature intented them to be before man bred the varieties to suit our fancies. Einkorn wheat is a good example of a more natural form of wheat though there are others as well.

Now onto how to make your own sourdough bread "starter" to give your homemade bread that nice fluffy rise you expect from using a packet of good old store bought bread yeast. Essentially you are creating a living bread yeast culture to always have on hand instead of using a packet of store yeast. The process is fairly simple and leaves you with plenty of "discard", or somewhat fermented wheat product, to use to make other goodies such as muffins or pancakes. The starter culture is best made in your own environment which will capture the unique yeast varieties in your area and therefore be more adapt to your conditions. Often times if someone buys a culture made elsewhere or moves a culture to a new place it struggles or goes bad in the new environment. We had experienced this ourselves after moving. However there are plenty of places to buy pre made starters online and we used to sell ours as well on Etsy though we haven't for awhile now. These are the steps to make your own unique sourdough bread starter culture:

On a side note I would only use organic flours that are unbleached and unbromated.

1. Start with one cup whole wheat flour and stir in half cup water. Let rest 24 hours. Use a clear glass container such as a mason jar to perform your starter culture in so you can see the progress easier.

2. Split whole wheat mixture in half discarding one half and use that for some recipe such as muffins. To the saved half add 1 cup all purpose flour and 1/2 cup water mixing well. Let rest 24 hours.  

3. Repeat process now every 12 hours or otherwise twice daily. Discard 1/2 cup of starter now then add back 1 cup all purpose flour and 1/2 cup water.  Should start to smell yeast by now and might see the culture start to bubble.

4. Repeat process again twice daily indefinitely discarding 1/2 cup starter then adding back 1 cup all purpose flour and 1/2 cup water.  By now should notice yeasty smell and bubbling. Also culture may begin to rise after "feeding" in new flour.

5. Basically keep repeating process twice daily as above using your discard material to make other tasty goodies as to not be wasteful.  Once the starter culture begins to double in size after a feeding its pretty much ready to be used to initiate leavening of a sourdough bread. Get ready to start baking! May want to mark your jar or whatever clear glass container you are using after your feedings to determine when doubling is definitely occurring within a few hours of a feeding. Eventually the culture will start to sink back down naturally so don't worry when that happens.

6. When you go to make a sourdough bread once your starter is ready you want to capture 1 tablespoon of starter culture when its most active. Do this by extracting that 1 Tbsp when the culture has neared doubling in size after a feeding but before it starts to sink back down. Your now ready to start the bread making process!

7. Maintenance of your starter once its ready to use is simple. Use the above ratios of discard a half cup starter then add back a fresh 1 cup all purpose flour and 1/2 cup water.  Once a week or every other week is sufficient to maintain your living culture.  However if it's sat for awhile you may want to feed it several times leading up to preparing to make bread to get it really active again. Doing so gives a better chance of a better rise. You can also put your entire starter culture in the refrigerator for up to a few months but you should feed it every so often and reactivate it well before making bread again.

There's gonna be some trial and error no matter how hard you try. Don't be discouraged if you don't get the greatest looking bread or the nicest rise on your loaves all the time. Your dealing with a live active culture and making sourdough bread is an art unto itself.  Patience and practice is key with all things in life especially sourdough bread.  Keep at it and eventually you'll get it more or less right most of the time.

Recipe to make bread with your starter:

Makes two loaves.
Two separate pieces of the recipe first.
1. Leavening recipe:
  1 Tbsp active sourdough starter
  75 grams (g) or 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  75g or 1/3 cup water
2. Dough recipe:
  1Tbsp salt
  525g or 2.5 cups water
  700g or 5.5 cups all purpose or bread flour

Steps to follow:

1. Make leaven by mixing all leavening ingredients and let sit overnight to 24 hours.
2. Dissolve salt in about 50g or 1/4 cup water and set aside.
3. Mix leaven and remaining 475g or 2 cups water in a large bowl.  It's ok if there's lumps.
4. Add the flower to the leaven mixture. Let dough rest 30 mins to 4 hours covering bowl. Dough may not look totally together at this stage.
5. Mix in salt mixture.  Dough should be wet and loose now.  
6. Begin folding dough every 30 mins in a clockwise motion lifting dough from bottom up for 2.5 hours or approximately 6 times.
7. Let dough rise undisturbed 30-60 mins.
8. Sprinkle flour on dough and divide dough in half with pastry scraper. Sprinkle each dough with flour. Shape them round by slipping scaper under the edge and turning it clockwise from left to right a few times. Then let each rest 20-30 mins.
9. Prepare two bread proofing baskets by putting clean rags in the bottom and flouring the rags heavily.
10. Shape the loaves by flipping over and dusting with flour on top. Flip top over half way then fold the sides into the middle and roll it over to the bottom. Repeat with second loaf.
11. Transfer both loaves back to the proofing baskets making sure they are floured to prevent sticking. Cover with plastic and let rise 3-4 hours.  Alternatively place in fridge and let rise slowly 12-15 hours.
12. Bake right away and if you used the slower fridge method bake straight from fridge. No need to warm before baking.
13. Preheat oven to 500F
14. Transfer to dutch oven and bake 30 mins.
15. Cool, eat, and enjoy!

It's a fairly simple process other than being long and involved but it's totally doable and worthwhile.

Thanks for reading!  Derek and Cassandra

round loaf of sourdough bread
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