Sunday, June 29, 2008

How To: Sourdough

Some call you sour; I call you sweet.
A tastier bread I have yet to meet.

All week your 'mother' sends me smells that entice;
They beckon me bread box to cut another slice.

Smothered with honey and butter that's yellow,
A few bites is all I need to stay mellow.

With no yeast to mention than what's naturally there,
You are rye, water, salt, spelt, a very simple fare.

Fermenting all week, you're a digestible treat,
Quite different from breads peddled on the street.

So simple,
So wholesome,
So easy to share,
Brought to the table with love, butter, and care.

I cannot start pictures from scratch, because I already have the sourdough starter from my previous batches. But sourdough starter is so easy to make! Especially when it is so warm. Place two cups of rye and 2 cups of cold water in a clean bowl, mix well. Everyday transfer the starter into a clean bowl, and "feed" it another cup of rye and another cup-or-so of water to keep it "soupy". Once you reach 3 quarts of starter (often called "mother") you are ready to go.

You will need:
1 large bowl
1 wooden mixing spoon
2 quarts starter
13 cups spelt (just under 5 pounds)
1 1/2 cups cold water
2 1/2 tbsp coarse sea salt (I have substituted 2 tbsp ground sea salt and the bread has still done fine)

Save a quart of the mother aside. You will continue transferring bowls daily and feeding a cup of rye and a cup-or-so water to keep it soupy. See the video below for a picture of what "soupy" means to me:

Defining Soupy Video

Cover the mother with double layered cheesecloth. I use butcher's string to keep it tight (keeping bugs and such things out). Leave in a nice warm place on the counter or above the refrigerator.

Here, in a much larger bowl, is the 2 quarts you will turn into loaves. Add a cup of cold water, and the salt, and mix until it dissolves.

For the actual bread-making, I use organic spelt. It is springier than wheat and will make for the easiest transition for non-traditional bread eaters.

The lovely first cup of spelt.

Here we are after about 4 cups spelt.

Here is the addition of the 8th cup spelt and the last 1/2 cup cold water soon to follow.

It gets quite thick as we plug along reaching towards our goal of 13 cups spelt.

At about this point, I fore go the mixing spoon and use my hands.

This keeps me well aware of the consistency of the dough, and whether it needs a little more flour or water.

Now for the kneading, which I do in my large bowl for 10-20 minutes.

Here I fold... I punch flat.

Eventually the dough feels right, and not so much sticks to my hands.

Here are some well-buttered loaf pans.

The dough, formed gently, and placed in pans (I am still looking for a couple more loaf pans)

Shallow slits made to let the gases out during rising.

Now, by the time they had risen I had forgot to take a picture. It was about 5 hours later, and they had nearly doubled in size. Below are pictures of loaves rising from the first time I made this recipie:


After rising

Entering the oven...

Exiting fully baked.

Then I let them fully cool on racks before placing in plastic loaf bags I have saved from previously store bought bread. You can also place the bread in large airtight containers. Loaves should keep, out on the counter, for a week. They will start to mold on day 7-8 depending on weather. Refrigeration actually makes sourdough stale faster. If you have more bread (3-4 loaves) than you can eat in a week - bless your friends and family!

Here is a peak at a mid-week "feeding" and transfer:

This is what the starter will look like after sitting all day before you transfer it to a clean bowl.

Make sure you wash the other bowl immediately as part of your routine. This will keep your sink and counters open for other projects. Besides, you will need this bowl again for tomorrow's transfer, how nice to have it clean and ready.

Here is the transfered starter and a bag of the rye flour I use.

Flour added first, then water, for thorough mixing.

Capped with the double layered cheese-cloth and tied off with butcher string.
Tomorrow repeat!

Find a good source of bulk flour if you cannot grind your own (we are still waiting for our own grinder). If you are in the Northwest, Azure Standard probably has a drop point near you and has great prices. Buying from a trendy natural grocer can put the flour costs upward of $4.50 a loaf, whereas buying from Azure standard will cost around $1.50 per loaf.


  1. Even though I'm not eating bread these days, I can just about smell these - mmm! And it's good to see how you keep everything natural (at low cost). This is inspiring.

  2. Deanna,

    I though of your gluten allergy as I posted this and meant to add that I think it can be done with rice flour. I accidentally bought bulk rice flour instead of rye flour when I first tried to make my starter. I did not make the bread from it once I realized my mistake - but the starter seemed to have worked fine. What I don't know is if it could over-ferment and lend itself to alcohol formations. Perhaps I will have to look that up on line.

    Also, have you tried sprouted and truly soured grains (like the above recipe)? Truth be told, pretty much no human should be eating refined or non-soaked or sprouted grains of any kind. It makes me wonder how much of the gluten allergies are just allergies to improperly prepared glutenous foods. But, if I remember, it sounded like you are doing much better with out bread. I'll make sure to feature gluten-free recipes here too (or at least alternatives)!

  3. Thanks! Yes, I have no scientific evidence for my preferences, and I ought to try the sprouted grains sometime. But I'm sure not missing bread at this point. Any gluten free recipes would be greatly appreciated. Wish I'd had your blog when the kids were young. :o)

  4. Deanna - Amazed to hear you aren't missing bread. I love bread. But, I have actually cut back, and am currently looking for a good home for about one of my loaves a week. I will work on the gluten-free recipes...much of what we eat is gluten-free if you just remove the accompanying slice of bread =)

  5. Hi,
    I had a few questions (I'm a sour dough newby). . . .
    How long can you ferment the starter? It it horrible to miss a feeding day? Is splitting the recipe OK? And is Rye a must for the starter? OK, I thinks that's about it for now. Sorry for all the questions. This is probably obivious stuff when your "in the knlow" Hopefully, I'll get there soon : )

  6. Hi Tracey,
    Thanks for asking questions! I am happy to see more people making their own bread.

    I have gone 36-48 hours between feedings, but typically not more than once a week.

    You can split the recipe. I would suggest feeding it daily half as much (I haven't tried this, but I would think it would work), and then once a week you could make half the recipe. Please let me know how it goes.

    I believe Rye is a must for the starter, or is at least most effective for this nutrient-dense bread.

    Bring any more questions as you have them!


Questions and Comments welcome! If you would prefer to contact me privately, please email mariannescrivner (at) gmail (dot) com.


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