Traditional sourdough has been used by people for centuries as a way to leaven their bread…
But… I have to confess…
Sourdough was not the easiest beast I’ve taken on in my kitchen.
I’ve always loved the taste of sourdough bread. My mother didn’t bake with sourdough as I was growing up, so although I loved it, I didn’t have it often.
Then, when my husband and I were first married, I tried my hand at making a starter — mistakenly using store-bought yeast and only feeding every 3 days.
An overgrowth of mold and fruit flies forced me to toss it and give up. 🙁
Thankfully, I gained a bit of wisdom and persistence with age. After learning how sourdough breaks down the phytic acid in the grain, makes the bread and flour more easy to digest so we get more of the nutrients, and is a way of creating your own yeast without having to buy it at the store, I became determined to create my own starter again.
Sourdough: Take Two… And Three
This time, I fed it twice a day, kept it warm, but not too warm, and was rewarded with bubbles and an active starter by the third feeding! (And yes, it definitely reminds me of Goldilocks and the Three Bears with the perfect temp.)
I was faithful with my feedings, and after a few weeks (and several batches of delicious sourdough pancakes), I was ready to try my hand at bread! After all, sourdough bread was the real reason I’d decided to give this thing another go.
I mixed all the ingredients, noted the time, and eagerly checked on my dough for signs of rising after a few hours.
Hmmm, not really much going on.
After a full 12 hours, I decided to bake it anyway. Maybe it would rise while baking…
No. It was a pretty dense and hard loaf.
Once again, I felt like a sourdough failure. Yet, I was determined to master this!
After 2 months, I decided to try bread again. This time, my dough began rising after a few hours. Whew!
I learned the hard way… And now I'll pass along my bits of wisdom to you! Here's how to know when your starter is strong enough for bread-baking!
Is Your Starter Is Strong Enough For Bread-Baking?
There are a few factors:
- First, how old is your starter?
A week-old starter isn't strong enough to rise bread.
- If it’s at least 2 weeks old, how often are you feeding your starter?
If your sourdough starter has been neglected and hasn’t had regular, twice-a-day feedings for at least three days in a row, you’ll want to get it back on a consistent feeding schedule first. Try to keep your feedings about 12 hours apart. Morning and evening work well. For more information on what to feed your starter, check out Can I Feed My Sourdough Starter Different Flours?, and Feeding Your Sourdough Starter…More Than Just Flour!
Furthermore, if your sourdough starter has been kept in the fridge and not at room temperature, it needs to be revitalized with at least 3 days of twice daily feedings.
- Next, is your starter doubling in size?
Your sourdough starter should be bubbling and rising up the sides of its container within 4 hours of feeding. An easy way to gauge this is to mark the outside of the jar with a piece of tape, then feed the starter.
In 3 to 4 hours, check the level of the sourdough. It should be bubbly and have risen at least a few inches above the initial mark. It also helps to use a glass jar you can see through.
Sourdough Troubleshooting Tips
- you’ve been feeding it twice a day,
- it's over 2 weeks old,
- and it’s not rising after a few hours?
Sourdough Troubleshooting Tip #1 — It warm enough?
Fall and winter can be hard on starters, especially in cooler climates. Try wrapping your starter in a towel or storing in a warmer location, such as near a heating vent, on top of your refrigerator, or on an upper shelf.
Sourdough Troubleshooting Tip #2 — Check for hooch.
Is there a layer of clear or brown liquid on top of your starter?
This is called hooch — and it's a sign that your starter needs more frequent feedings or more flour at each feeding.
- your starter is at least 2 weeks old,
- it has been receiving twice daily feedings for at least 3 days,
- it's doubling in size within 3 to 4 hours of feeding,
- there's no hooch on top…
Then, congratulations! Your starter should be strong enough to rise bread!
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Have you been experiencing sourdough woes? Are you checking for all the signs that your starter is ready for bread-baking?
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