Sourdough bread is one of the oldest and most well-loved leavened breads. Making sourdough bread and sourdough bread starter does not require the use of any commercial yeast. Instead, it uses wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria (more on this in a bit) to cause the bread to rise. This makes sourdough a unique, delicious, and sustainable bread option.
Sourdough does take longer to make than other types of bread, simply because the starter takes about a week to ferment, and rising time takes longer. However, once your sourdough bread starter is active, you can make bread anytime you like!
I can remember the very first time I tried to make sourdough. And the second, and third, and sixth. I just couldn’t get my sourdough starter to activate. Once I started making my very own starter from scratch, and had the proper method and equipment, it made a world of difference.
So, what do you need to know when you are getting started with sourdough?
Equipment for Making Sourdough Bread
The equipment and tools for sourdough can be changed a little according to what you have in your kitchen. Take these suggestions and look around to see what you have to work with.
- Large Jar or Crock
You will need a glass jar in which to build your sourdough bread starter. A quart sized mason jar is preferred. The active sourdough starter can be stored in a quart sized mason jar or in a sourdough storage crock.
The lid for your storage jar can be a piece of cloth, loose plastic wrap, a paper towel, or a latch-top lid. You don’t want to use a lid that is air-tight because the starter could build up too much pressure and break the jar. It can also cause the sourdough starter to not activate (or stay activated) as well.
- Rubber Band
Place a rubber band around the starter jar to measure its growth. You simply place the rubber band around the jar at the same level as your starting point when you make your starter. Then, as the starter rises, you can see just how far it has risen above the rubber band.
- Proofing Baskets
Proofing baskets allow the dough to rise and take shape. Without a proofing basket or bowl, your dough would spread out and flatten instead of rising up. Most of these baskets are a basket that’s lined with a sewn or tied-in cloth.
If you don’t have a proofing basket, you can use a glass bowl with a floured tea towel placed inside.
- Bench Scraper
A bench scraper (sometimes called a bench knife) is needed to divide and shape the sourdough. This just makes the dough easier to work with, and cut.
- Rubber or Silicone Spatula
A spatula is used to mix the starter and to clean the sides of the mixing bowl when making sourdough bread.
- Kitchen Scale or Measuring Cups
If you are using a recipe that uses grams, you will need a kitchen scale to get the measurements correct. If your recipe uses cups and tea/tablespoons instead, you can simply use the measuring cups that you have on hand. Many sourdough recipes call for scale measurements.
- Bread Lame, Sharp Knife, or Razor Blade
Just before popping your sourdough in the oven, it will need to be scored. To do this, you will need a sharp knife (paring knives work well), a bread lame made specifically for scoring, or a razor blade.
- Dutch Oven, Cast Iron Skillet, or a Loaf Pan
When making sourdough bread you can use either a dutch oven with a lid, a cast iron skillet with a lid, a baking stone, or a loaf pan to hold your loaf in the oven.
The options with lids hold in steam and allow the bread to rise a little more before beginning to bake.
- Mixing bowl
A mixing bowl is needed when you are combining your sourdough bread starter with additional ingredients to make a loaf of sourdough bread.
- Serrated Bread Knife
Use a serrated bread knife to cut into the finished sourdough bread loaf.
The Science Behind Making Sourdough Starter
To make your own sourdough starter, you mix flour with water and then you wait. Seems simple enough, right? There is actually a complex science behind WHY this process works to make such a delicious product.
When the flour is mixed with water and left out in the open, the wild yeast that is on the flour and in the air start to feed off of the sugars within the flour.
Sometimes harmful bacteria will try to grow during this time, but thankfully the mix quickly begins to produce lactic acid bacteria. Lactic acid bacteria lowers the pH of the starter enough to kill off the harmful microbes.
The wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria are now in a symbiotic relationship. They both kill most other microbes that try to grow in the starter, but they tolerate each other well.
The yeast converts sugars to carbon dioxide which levens the dough (fermentation). And the lactic acid bacteria produces lactic acid which gives sourdough its signature sour taste.
Setting Up a Sourdough Starter Station for Storage
When you are preparing to store your active sourdough starter you will need to take a few things into consideration:
1. Temperature- If you plan to make bread every week, you will want to store your starter between 70-75 degrees F. A warmer temperature increases the fermentation rate so the starter will continue to grow quickly each week. Thi starter will need to be fed daily.
If you do not plan to make bread each week, you can store the starter in the refrigerator. The cooler temperature in the fridge slows the fermentation process so it won’t grow more than you need it to. Refrigerated starters will need to be fed weekly.
2. Location- Don’t store the sourdough starter near any other ferments as this can cause cross-contamination. It is best to keep ferments 4-5 feet apart.
3. Hydration- More hydration=more fermentation. If you need to store a sourdough starter without planning to bake with it soon, you can dehydrate it to store it long-term.
4. Lid Type- Store your starter in a jar or other container with a lid that is not air-tight. A piece of cloth or a paper towel with a rubber band works great as a sourdough starter lid.
How to Use Sourdough Bread Starter
When you have your active sourdough starter, you can start using it to make tasty treats for your family!
As long as you don’t use up all of your starter, it will last (potentially) forever. You can even pass it down to your kids and grandkids!