So if you are feeding your starter each day, then you are discarding quite a bit of starter each day. Especially if you have a couple of starters going like I do. It definitely seems wasteful, especially when you are working so hard to keep it alive. It turns out there are a ton of recipes out there with ideas of things to make with that discard.
So far, my favorite sourdough discard recipe is from Little Spoon Farms for Sourdough Discard Crackers. Even when I couldn’t get my sourdough bread to work, I could always make good crackers thanks to this recipe. Plus it is SUPER EASY!!
This recipe also offers some room for creativity in terms of seasoning. We prefer to use herbs de provence, but using everything but the bagel or Italian seasoning makes for yummy crackers as well.
Cracker Mixture Finished Crackers Yum!
So I strongly suggest getting a bit of sourdough starter to get started. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got mine from the Georgia Sourdough Company, via a regular order from Garnish and Gather. Or if you know a crazy baker like me, we always have some starter to spare. So this post is NOT about getting your starter started, but keeping it alive. I’ve read some articles about this where the started has been passed along through the decades, so it can’t be too hard, right?
In the beginning I was afraid that keeping the starter alive would be very time consuming. Even though there are only two ingredients, there’s a bit of exacting measurements involved and it is a bit messy. But it has become very routine and much easier as time has gone on.
What is the Starter, exactly? The sourdough starter is a combination of flour, water, wild yeast and bacteria that is used to make bread rise when baking. And you want the starter to be “strong” and very active and fluffy at the top before making bread. Bread made this way is referred to as “naturally leavened”.
And why exactly do I need to “feed” it? Once the water and flour are initially combined, the wild yeast and bacteria that are found naturally on the flour and in the environment will start to multiply. As they multiply they "eat" the flour in the jar. So once they have “eaten” all of the flour available to them, they must be fed again to keep growing and multiplying.
So how do I feed it? Here you have two options – you can store your starter at room temperature, or you can store it in the fridge. I keep one of each, just to hedge my bets.
If you are storing the starter at room temperature:
A few tips I've learned along the way:
1. I have transitioned to using the wide mouth, 2 cup mason jars for my starters. They are the perfect size, easy to access with the wider mouth, and fit nicely in the fridge.
2. Once every two weeks or so I will transition my starters into clean mason jars, and put the old ones in the dishwasher. This is more about aesthetics than anything as the jars can get pretty messy.
3. After feeding the starters but before covering them, I wipe down the outside of the jar, as well as the inside of the jar to keep it tidy and so I can easily see how the starter is doing.
4. Once you are done feeding the starters, wash all spoons and the countertop immediately. If you let the starter dry on them, it gets like concrete. It’s just too hard to get it off once its dry, so take care of it asap.
5. One way to determine if your starter is ready is to do the float test. My starter did not pass the float test until I found a way to keep my starter warm, as I shared in a previous post. My house was just too chilly. The float test is easy - fill a jar or cup with room temperature water and gently add a tablespoon of the starter into the water. If it floats, you are ready to go. If not, then keep feeding it and trying to get it more active.
After diagnosing the issues I was having with my slow starter (my house was too cold) and then getting it to be bubbly and lively, I was ready to try to make sourdough again. And I found the best teacher. The website is www.ilovecooking.ie (yes - from Ireland!) and the teacher of their Bread Masterclass was Patrick Ryan from Firehouse Bakery. In addition to the recipe, he also filmed a youtube tutorial, which I found helpful as well. I followed the recipe exactly, and my bread came out perfectly. I've never been so happy about bread!
You are supposed to let sourdough cool before slicing, and this is where I've always struggled. My previous breads were all too dense. But this one? The wait was worth it. It was perfect! It looked and tasted as good as anything I've gotten in San Francisco. Thanks for the lesson, Ryan! I'll be making your scones recipe next.....
When I first started with my bread making experiments, I realized that my kitchen need a serious gear update. Many of my tools were 20+ years old from when I first got married, and they were beat. So I upgraded with new mixing bowls, baking sheets, silicone baking mats, a new rolling pin and measuring spoons. It feels great to have an overall kitchen facelift.
I also needed some additional tools for bread. Let me save you the research and tell you what I ended up with:
1. A good mixing bowl with a cover
It turns out that the batter bowl and cover that I got from Pampered Chef eons ago is perfect for letting dough rise. Of course if you have a good sized pyrex bowl that will work, too. But this one really works great too. It's on their site for $20.
2. Banneton Proofing Baskets
The longer bread proofs, the more the gluten breaks down. This makes the bread easier to digest and more flavorful. A banneton proofing basket helps the bread to keep it's shape and it outs very professional-looking ridges on the top of your loaves. And you don't want to get cheap banneton or it will start to flake. I got mine on amazon from Bread Bosses for about $20 and it work great. Bonus - it comes with a dough scraper, which is another tool I didn't know I needed until I had it.
3. Bowl Covers
Last year I made a commitment to eliminate as much plastic and disposable plastics items as I could from my kitchen. So instead of covering my bowls with plastic, I am using fabric covers. I found a set of 3 cute red-striped ones in various sizes from Earth Bunny for $30 and they work great. I also bought a set of silicone ones from Modfamily on Amazon for $15 that work great if I need to let something rise in a warm oven.
4. A Kitchen Scale
Many of the recipes are very exacting, especially for sourdough. And many of the recipes are in grams. In order to be that precise, I realized that I needed a kitchen scale. I bought the Escali Primo P115C Precision Kitchen Scale from Amazon. It was $25 and it works great.
5. A Dutch Oven
I did not have a proper dutch oven to use for making bread. After doing my research I shopped the sales at Christmas and got the enameled cast iron Staub 5.5QT Round Cocotte at Sur la Table. The cover is specially designs to baste as it cooks, so it helps to keep the crust of the bread moist. This prevents me from having to use a sheet pan full of boiling water in the bottom of the oven - which sounds like a disaster to me. Plus, having this beautiful pot in my kitchen makes me feel like Julia Child.
A more cost effective option is also a classic pyrex set of a bowl and cover. I found this one on Amazon for about $30.
Success with Yummy Yeasty Breads: French Style Country Bread and the Easiest Loaf You'll Ever Make from King Arthur Baking
As I mentioned in my earlier post, sourdough was testing my patience. And after all this work I really wanted something to show for it. So I decided to switch to yeast based baking for a bit.
I had some great success with two recipes form the King Arthur Baking site. The first was the French Style Country Bread. This was easy to follow, and delicious.
After this success, I decided to try another. This was the Easiest Loaf of Bread You'll Ever Bake. And it was. This recipe makes two loaves, and it was delicious. I highly recommend this as a recipe to get started with, maybe before you even try the sourdough. It was easy, and a crowd pleaser.
So in the Fall I finally decided to join the Sourdough craze that everyone else had been participating in at the beginning of the pandemic. I ordered my sourdough starter from Garnish and Gather (they supply organic meal prep dinners and groceries in Georgia using locally-sourced ingredients and organic groceries from all of my favorite farmers and vendors from the local farmer's market. To say I'm a fan is an understatement, but I'll tell you more about them in a later post.) They sell starter in a jar and with directions from Georgia Sourdough Co.
I was not a good keeper of my starter, and had to get a second one. As a result, I learned all about how they are little eco-systems and need to be fed. And I was determined to take good care of this one. I'll do a future post on starters and how to keep them alive.
In the meantime, I did a lot of research on sourdough recipes before getting started. I decided to start with the Beginner's Sourdough Bread Recipe from Little Spoon Farm. Their terrific website is full of great tips and tricks, and I thought their clear recipe would set me up for success. I did everything by the book. And while the final product was pretty to look at, it was so dense you could hardly cut it. I couldn't even make croutons out of it. So I did some more research and tried again.
This time, I took some advice from The Traditional Cooking School and added baking soda before shaping. This helped a little bit, but not much. It was still dense. We could only slice it when it was warm. Once it cooled it was as hard as a rock.
After reading a bit more, I determined that the problem was the temperature of my house. This time of year (November) it is a chilly 65 degrees Fahrenheit. And the starter needs it to be around 70 degrees F to thrive. Heating my house enough to warm up the starter was only going to make Georgia Power even richer, and not something my hubby would approve of.
I found the solution on Amazon (of course) in a product that is used to grow seedings, or to help ferment kombucha. It's the VivoSun Heat Mat. This has been a total game changer. Now my starters (I have three going now) are alive and bubbly. I'll do another post on keeping the starters going, but this ended up being the key to my future success.
In the meantime, I made a few yeast-based breads since I wanted to have something to show for all my efforts. Hence the next post on French Style Country Bread and the Easiest Loaf of Bread you'll Ever Make, both with recipes from King Arthur Baking.
A History Bonus:
As an aside, I learned that one of the reasons that the west coast is so famous for their sourdoughs is that the Pioneer Women would carry their sourdough starter in a jar and keep it close to their bodies to keep it warm. They had no access to yeast no traditional baking methods. This allowed them to be able to make bread anyway.
I learned that the missing link in my sourdough success was the temperature of my house. The starter needed it to be around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Well, we keep our house at around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and my hubby wouldn't be on board for heating the whole house just to make bread.
One alternative is to place the starter in the oven with the light on. While I found this to be very effective when letting yeast-based dough rise, it wasn't really feasible for ongoing sourdough starter care.
After some research I found the solution on Amazon (of course) in a product that is used to grow seedings, or to help ferment kombucha. It's the VivoSun Heat Mat. This has been a total game changer. Now my starters (I have three going now) are alive and bubbly.
I started another sourdough starter as insurance, and placed the jar adjacent to the jar with the mat wrapped around it. This turned out to be a very happy accident, and the glass acted as a conductor. Now this is the best jar of starter I've got going.
I also learned that by keeping my starter jars all touching, and in the corner of the kitchen with the coffee pot, that it created a nice and toasty environment. These happy starters ended up created the wonderfully successful sourdough that I'll share with you tomorrow. Yum!
Kris Delaney is a marketing executive, foodie, travel enthusiast, and book nerd based in Atlanta, GA.