Sourdough isn’t that difficult. Just last week I decided to try an experiment, to see how quickly I could get up and running with sourdough, starting by making a brand new culture and taking the process all the way to actually making bread. Homesteading Edu’s Sourdough course gives more directions on starting a culture. Here, I just want to show you how quickly and easily it can be done. I pushed things a bit because I wanted to see just how quickly I could turn out a loaf of bread starting with no starter at all.
It was 8:00 PM on Friday when I decided to try this experiment. I poured about a cup of cold whole milk into a glass container. Then I added some hand ground cornmeal and all purpose flour, mixing it in until the consistency was a bit thicker than thick pancake batter. I used about 1/3 cornmeal and 2/3 wheat flour. Cornmeal is not necessary, though my theory is that some kind of freshly ground flour really helps get things kick started, and that sourdough culture is more derived from the flour than from the atmosphere. My milk was pasteurized.
I left this mix on the kitchen counter overnight.
The next morning I inspected it. Our kitchen had maintained a temperature in the mid 70s that night. It was only covered with a dry, clean cloth.
Bubbles are good, but consistency is better.
At this point I simply stirred the mix and left it set some more. Bubbles forming generally means that a culture is going, but it’s not really ready until you observe significant viscosity in the mix. I waited some more.
At 21 hours (5:00 PM Saturday) active bubbling was observed.
More importantly than bubbles, the mix had taken on some real viscosity. The growing culture caused it to stick together. When I stirred, the whole thing wanted to stick together and, there was a spongy structure to it. Starting sourdough isn’t that difficult. The hardest part is learning to recognize what you’re seeing.
At this point the starter/culture was mature, but I wanted to make more of it .
The culture was actually mature enough for use, but there wasn’t enough of it. Adding more flour and water (I only use milk at the very beginning.), I brought it back to that thick but not pasty consistency, adding flour and water to bring its volume up to about 1 1/2 pints. I left space in the dish for expansion, even though the “extra thick pancake batter consistency” of the mix prevented it from rising up too much.
At bedtime (25 hours) I used some starter to mix up batter for both sourdough bread and sourdough English muffins.
Then… I went to bed. I got up at 5:00 AM (33 hours) and finished working on the two different doughs. It was time to do chores, eat breakfast and get ready for church. Around 7:00 AM (35 hours) I started frying English muffins and popped the bread into the oven. Within an hour, both were cooling on the counter!
King Arthur Flour gives some good cultural/historical information, and their recipes pretty good!
Blog Post: The Best Bread
Of course, when I made the English muffins and French bread, I automatically added more flour and water to the new culture, leaving it on the counter for about 6 hours and then stashed it in the fridge. Monday morning (56 hours from start), just for kicks I mixed up some sourdough pancakes for breakfast, renewed the culture and left it on the counter until after work.
Sourdough isn’t that difficult. Sourdough cookery, however, is as much an art as a science, so there are many conflicting sources of information out there. Homesteading Edu’s Sourdough Course tells you, and shows you how to do some of the basics.