I’ve been making my own yeast breads for a while, usually with pretty good results, but for some reason the idea of making sourdough bread at home always seemed intimidating to me. Whenever I tried to look up recipes for a homemade starter, I only found elaborate instructions and contradictory information on the addition of sweeteners, yeast, and different flour types that only made the process seem even more daunting. However, after reading these simple instructions by Mihl from Seitan is my Motor, I decided to just give it a try.
Her recipe uses just flour and water – definitely no added yeast or sweeteners – and it’s very easy: Start by mixing together one part flour and two parts water, stir every 12 hours, and feed every 24 hours until the starter is ready to use. Mihl’s post has additional instructions and helpful step-by-step pictures, but the basic method is surprisingly simple. And it worked so well! I really wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to tell when the starter was ready as I’d never baked with sourdough before, but by the fifth day the batter had clearly changed and the smell, which was pretty unappetising during the first few days, had become nice and fresh, a little like fresh fruit – just as Mihl described.
After five days of feeding the starter I had quite a lot of it, so I used up a couple of hundred grams in this batch of pancakes. I started with this recipe but didn’t add any berries or spices to the batter because I really wanted to be able to taste the sourdough on my first try working with it. As a result, they were a bit plain on their own, but we love pancakes and I served them with some grilled nectarines so they were a great breakfast. I did notice that they weren’t quite as fluffy as other American-style pancakes I’ve made, even though the recipe included baking soda and baking powder in addition to the starter. Maybe it would help if I let the batter sit for a while so that the sourdough could contribute to the leavening process? I’m definitely going to make sourdough pancakes again because they seem like a fun dish to experiment with and you can never really have too many pancakes.
After polishing off the pancakes I quickly moved on to bake my first actual sourdough loaf. I followed Mihl’s instructions as closely as possible using all wholemeal flour, just as I’d done for the starter. I was pretty pleased with the results, especially for a first attempt! It had a good crust (I should practice scoring my loaves, though), and I liked the sourdough flavour which actually seemed to improve as I let the finished loaf rest (I wasn’t quite patient enough to let it cool completely before slicing). It was still slightly too dense for my liking and almost undercooked in the middle, though, so I think I should’ve left it in the oven for just a little longer and then let it cool properly. I’m also going to try and let the dough rise just a little bit longer the next time I make a loaf that’s 100% whole wheat.
For my next loaves, I used plain flour in addition to the wholemeal flour and I also added a spoonful of the gluten flour I use to make seitan in an attempt to mimic the high gluten content of bread flour. This combination of ingredients seems to work quite well, though I did notice some loaves turned out lighter and crustier than others – I think the rising and cooling times can really make a difference here. I also decided to bake the loaf in a ceramic baking dish that I kept in the oven as it preheated, and I think that helped to improve the crust a little.
I’m going to keep experimenting with these recipes because I love bread and it’s so much fun to try out different shapes, sizes, flours, and other ingredients. Baking with sourdough is super cheap, too – most of the loaves only contain water, flour, and salt.
Has anyone else baked with sourdough? Do you have favourite recipes you’d like to share? I’ve made breads and pancakes now, but I’d also love to try making things like waffles or baked goods!