A Journey into Sourdough…

Sourdough bread baking is not a hobby nor a mere interest. It’s an obsession. Once you start, you won’t be able to stop. Not only because of the fun it brings and the vast amount of experimentation, but also for the starter’s livelihood. It’s a living creature after all. It needs to be fed, replenished, used, and tucked into bed.  Well, maybe I like my starter a little too much. However, it does turn you into a glutton of bread.  But in this case, gluttony is a very good thing.

What the hell is that? Well, that’s the very start of the seed culture. It’s mainly flour and some water, but also some pineapple juice. The juice is only needed for the first two days because it prevents the innoculation of lactobacteria, which is a commonly present bacteria that can overtake and kill a yeast starter. After this initial period, the yeast is strong enough to kick its butt if it were to present itself.

After a couple days it’ll smell slightly tangy because of the juice. It’s not spoiled, just developing flavor. In fact, everyday it should rise in the container. This is how you’ll know it’s healthy.

On the left is the seed. After you take some seed and add more flour and water, it becomes the barm. This is what you’ll be refreshing weekly or bi-weekly and making bread out of. The rest of the seed can be given to friends or family so they can use it. An alternative is to start multiple barms and experiment with types of flour, storage, etc. The term “starter” refers to a small batch of dough involving the barm and some other flour and water. That starter can be added to more ingredients the next day for more flavor.

After the first addition of starter into the barm, let it sit on the counter overnight. It will take over and spread. It’s ready to bake with when it looks like this. Small bubbles all over the place and it’s very gooey. At this point it can be stored in the fridge. Storing in the fridge is important because it slows the yeast activity. This allows you to use it over the course of the week, or store for a week. Otherwise, you’d be refreshing it daily at room temperature. Now that it’s fairly established for me, I put it in the fridge immediately after feeding and refresh it on Saturdays.

I suggest keeping the barm small if you don’t bake often. I currently keep a 15 oz size in my fridge for the week. That’s composed of 5 oz existing barm, 5 oz water, and 5 oz bread flour (or high gluten flour). That lasts me about a week which may involve 2 or 3 loaf recipes. Whenever you refresh it with more flour and water, you’ll have to dispose of the other starter, assuming you have more than 5 oz (for my size). This “waste” becomes the starter for the next batch of bread, becomes quick crackers in the oven, or becomes a snack for the chickens. You can also give this away to friends if you must.

For longer storage, keep in fridge in airtight container and refresh immediately when you need it. This applies if you’re going on vacation or something like that.

If you notice water on the top of the barm in the fridge, don’t panic. It’s called the “mooch”, seriously. This is, if you will, yeast pee. It’s harmless and can either be dumped off or stirred back in. There’s really nothing to worry about once you have your yeast healthy. As long as you feed it on your decided schedule, you’re good to go.

Bread flour is best for refreshing because of the high gluten content (above 11% protein). I experimented with King Arthur White Whole Wheat (12.7% protein) but it resulted in a gummy stiff consistency, so I use King Arthur bread flour only and use whole wheat as an addition to recipes. Never use bleached flour!!!!!

Sourdough Seed and Barm

Seed culture:

Day 1: 4.25 oz dark rye flour + 4 oz unsweetened pineapple juice, room temperature. Mix to form a ball. Place in 4 cup glass beaker and mark the top level of the dough with tape or something similar. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 2: 2.25 oz bread flour, unbleached + 2 oz pineapple juice, room temperature. The dough shouldn’t have risen much by now. Mix Day 1 dough with new ingredients. It will be softer and more moist. Return to beaker and mark the top. Cover and sit 24 hours again.

Day 3: 4.5 oz bread flour + 4 oz water. There should have been some rise at this point. Discard half the starter and mix with new ingredients. It will be wetter again. Mark top, cover and sit 24 hours again.

Day 4: 4.5 oz bread flour + 4 ox water. At this point it should have doubled in size at least. If it’s still sluggish and hasn’t, let sit another 12-24 hours. Discard half the starter and mix with new ingredients. Cover and ferment until it’s doubled. This can take 4 to 24 hours. Mine took 6 hours as it was vigorous. The sign that it’s ready to be transferred into a barm is it will fall when you tap the beaker.


16 oz (about 3.5 cups) bread flour, unbleached
16 oz water, room temperature
7 oz (about 1 cup) seed culture

Mix well and store in glass, ceramic or plastic container twice as large as the barm. Cover with plastic and let it sit for 6 hours until bubbly (see above). The plastic may swell because of the carbon dioxide formed by the yeast. Release it occasionally and re-cover as needed. Don’t breathe this in!!! You may pass out, no joke.

Cover and refrigerate. The barm is ready to use the next day.

Refreshing barm:

Standard guidelines involve at least doubling it. I like a 1:1:1 ratio for my baking schedule. My amounts are as follows (feel free to refresh whatever size you want):

5 oz barm
5 oz bread flour”
5 oz room temperature filtered water

Mix and return to refrigerator container. Bake the next day if desired.

If using this 1:1:1 ratio, refresh at least once a week. Longer will result in the yeast running out of vigor. After 4-7 days, the enzymes break down the gluten, resulting in soupy weak gunk. It’s still alive, but the dough won’t be springy.

At this point, the barm is your baby. You must care for it. Giving it a name is a nice touch you may consider. Mine is Pierre LeBoeuf. And yes, he is delicious.

If you get serious into bread baking, I recommend Peter Reinhart’s Bread Bakers Apprentice found in my book list. John Hamelman’s Bread: A baker’s book of techniques and recipes is another resource I’ve heard is good. Some say it’s geared towards professional bakers. I recommend Reinhart’s book for beginners because he explains things very well. His book won a James Beard Award, the utmost honor for food writing, so that’s saying something.

Enough rambling, how about this…

ooooh.  and this…

30% whole wheat with slow overnight rising.

35% whole wheat with slow overnight rising plus 24 hour retardation in refrigerator before shaping and baking.

Called the “windowpane test” this is a sign of proper gluten development in the dough. Take a sample, stretch it carefully as thin as possible without tearing it. It should be translucent when held up to the light. This particular sample could use another 5-10 minutes of resting before developing even more. The best windowpane is almost clear. You should be able to see the shape of the ceiling light fixture, as an example. I let this batch rest another 10 minutes before shaping and baking.  I just forgot to take another picture.

Here’s a simple go-to recipe that you can use as a base for experimenting later with flours, rising times, delayed refrigerator rest, etc. This is also a good recipe for the working individual who doesn’t have 10 hours to dedicate to a batch.

The 16 oz flour is a standard for a nice sized boule. I like 11 oz bread and 5 oz whole wheat as a start. Full bread flour is great too and results in a drier crumb. However, I like the nutty whole wheat flavor brought on. Too much whole wheat will result in a gummy crumb in the center.

Simple Sourdough

16 oz flour
1/4 cup barm
1 1/2 cup room temperature water (I prefer filtered here)
1 1/2 t salt

Mix in a stainless steel bowl well, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit at room temperature for anywhere from 16-24 hours (can do less). After rising, take dough, knead slightly to feel the dough development, and shape. I like to shape into a boule and rest on parchment for half an hour, again with loose plastic wrap on it to prevent a skin from forming.  Take this half hour time to preheat dutch oven or sheet pan in oven at 500F.

When preheated, dust dough with flour and score top with a very sharp knife. Scoring is a skill  that takes time to learn. Don’t worry if it’s not pretty. Place in dutch oven covered or on sheet pan with parchment. Parchment makes it easier to handle. If using sheet pan, squirt sides of oven with water to create steam and close immediately. For dutch oven, don’t worry because the closed environment will create steam.

Bake 30 minutes, then remove dutch oven cover. For sheet, squirt again if you want a hard crust. Bake another 20-25 minutes until center of loaf registers 200-210 F. Remove and let cool on wire rack for at least 3-4 hours. This is the hardest part, but cutting into it too early will result in moisture loss.

Some say that the best sourdough flavor occurs 2-3 days after baking.  I ain’t waiting that damned long!

whew! that was a long post!

*next up… Mini Berry Crumbles…*


4 Responses

  1. awesome stuff Kyle! man, makes me want to try this because I love fresh dough…everything going well?


  2. for sure. you know what goes with sourdough bread? Bacon my friend…bacon. Oh by the way I used that Torani bacon syrup you sent me and made maple bacon ice cream. Yummy

    • that’s because bacon goes good on anything. You could put bacon on bacon and I’d call that genius. There’s a place in NYC, flueggers or something like that, that’s supposed to serve a mean bacon steak. Mmmmm. actually add some triple cream brie and you’ve got a party with the bacon and fresh sourdough bread.

  3. I officially have my dying meal. A bacon steak served alongside KC Masterpiece potato chips (the old 90s unhealthy variety). hot damn

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: