I'll be honest. I don't know all the answers. (My husband already knows that, but don't tell my kids or my brothers.) But I have been having fun and I have yet to make a loaf that is not edible. I've come close, but with some butter, it's always been edible.
First, you need starter. I made mine. It was a process, but now it is lovely and active and I have consistent success with it. (And if you want some, all you have to do is ask!)
Making sourdough isn't all that different than making yeast bread. You still make a dough, knead it, let it rise, punch it, let it rise again, and bake it. If you've made bread before, you'll see the difference. But it's super easy and super forgiving. In fact, yesterday was the first time I actually measured anything. I'm more of a dumper I guess.
This recipe makes two loaves of bread. It's best to start the day before. But the day before you need a grand total of less than 5 minutes and a cup to a cup and a half of starter.
I store mine in a good old fashioned canning jar with plastic wrap covering it. I've read several different places that sourdough doesn't like metal and plastic containers make me crazy, so a glass canning jar it is.
In a glass container, place two cups of flour--just plain ole' white flour--and pour in two cups of water. Just plain ole' tap water. Not super cold, but not hot. Something around room temperature.
Add your starter.
Cover it with a piece of plastic wrap and then go about the rest of your day while it sits happily on your counter. This is your "sponge" and you are now "proofing" it.
Yes, "proofing" is an alcohol term, but it's much the same process and I'll come back to alcohol in a moment.
In a few hours your sponge will look like this.
All nice and bubbly. It might smell yeasty, too.
In a few more hours it will probably look like this.
The top layer of liquid is called hooch. This is a good healthy layer of hooch. You can pour it off or mix it in. But basically it's alcohol created by the little yeasty pets in your starter. Hooch will also tell you about the health of your starter. If it starts to turns brown or grey, your starter is bad. I haven't had that problem.
You can proof your sponge for several days if you'd like. The longer it proofs, the more sour it gets.
When you are ready to make bread (I start in the morning), stir your sponge well and set aside a portion of it--a cup to a cup and a half. If you don't, you'll be sad.
Again, before you begin to mix your bread, make sure that you have a visual like this:
Or you won't have any starter for your next sourdough adventure.
Put a piece of plastic wrap over your reserve and put it in the fridge.
A note about starter: the more you use it, the more active it is. Make sure you feed it (proof it) at least once a week to keep it happy and healthy. If you need to feed it and don't plan to make bread, you can add 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water and it'll be fine.
Also, if you want to "build" your starter so you are making more loaves of bread at a time, take a few days and add your flour and water each day without baking bread until you get the amount you want.
Now you may proceed.
Pour the remaining sponge, about 3 cups, into a mixing bowl and add 3 tablespoons of oil (I use olive), 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1-3 tablespoons of sugar, brown sugar or molasses. The more sugar I add, the heavier my bread is. I like to go for about 2 tablespoons, but this particular batch got a little heavy on the molasses.
Notice that I use my mixer. And the bowl is metal. The metal here doesn't seem to affect the sourdough, but it's only in there for about ten minutes.
Now you will start adding your flour. On this particular batch, I just used white flour. Generic white flour. But I've had really good success with wheat as well. Generally I go about half and half when I use wheat. And sometimes I toss in a few tablespoons of flax seed.
Anyway, add 4-5 cups of flour about a half a cup at a time. The final amount depends on how liquid your starter was and the flour itself.
It will eventually begin to look like this.
At this point I switch from the paddle to the dough hook and begin to knead the bread, still adding flour about 1/8-1/4 cup at a time.
The goal is to knead for about 10 minutes and end up with a good stiff dough that is still sticky but not gooey. See how it clears the sides? That's usually a pretty good sign.
After about 10 minutes, I find a glass bowl that is at least twice the size of my hunk-o-dough and drizzle some olive oil in it.
Swoosh it around to grease the majority of the bowl (I use my fingers and then rub the rest of the oil in like lotion because olive oil makes my hands feel so nice) and drop your dough in. Flip it over so the top is oiled and won't dry out.
Cover it with plastic and let it rise for a few hours.
Ideally it should rise in a warm spot. The top of your dryer if your dryer is going, on your stove top if your oven is on, or simply switch your oven on for a minute, switch it off and then place your dough in there to do its business.
In an hour or three, it should look something like this.
Now you will punch it down, knead it a few times, and it will look something like this.
Since this recipe makes two loaves, I have two loaf pans ready to go. By ready to go, I mean that I sprayed them with some vegetable spray. But, if you don't have loaf pans, you can just shape the loaves and put them on a cookie sheet.
Then I cut the dough in half . . .
Shape it into loaves . . .
Cover them (with the same piece of plastic wrap just because it seems like the responsible thing to do).
And let them alone until they double in size.
While they are doubling in size, I will tell you about my loaf pans. They are old. And well seasoned. And they belonged to my great grandma. I have fond memories of walking into her house when I was younger and smelling fresh bread. And her signature treat for us was a slice of her bread with butter and brown sugar. The other day I told Grace about that and she lit up. I'll have to actually let her have some here pretty soon.
These two beauties are ready for the oven.
Now I preheat my oven to 350 degrees. When it's done heating, I put both loaves in and set the timer for 30 minutes.
And in 30 minutes, I have these two beauties. My general test to see if they are done is to tap the top with my fingernail and listen for a hollow sound. I really try not to over-cook them because that makes them really dry.
Slide them out of the pans. Butter the tops.
Let them cool a little bit, mostly because you don't want to burn yourself when you cut them.
And then you get to reap your reward!
3 cups sourdough starter
3 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1-3 tablespoons sugar, brown sugar or molasses
4-5 cups flour
Yield: 2 loaves