What is sourdough? We can all associate it with that wonderfully, tart, tangy bread with
which we are familiar, but where does it come from?
Well, sourdough is a liquid form of yeast. It was once kept in every household, and watched
over very carefully. There was a time when, without a sourdough starter, your only choice for
bread would be of the unleavened variety. Sourdough was used in a time when our lives did not
rely on "fast acting" everything to survive. The active dry yeasts on which we are so
dependent now for the successes of our breads, was once much less available. Not to mention,
those who used (and still use) sourdough starters for their thriftiness.
The yeast in sourdough comes from the air. Basically, you combine flour and a liquid,
making a medium upon which the yeast will land, and take root. That is why you leave the
sourdough starter out on your cabinet, either uncovered or loosely covered, for several days
before you can use it. If you choose a starter that uses active dry yeast in the recipe to
begin fermentation, you can cover it with a tight-fitting lid.
There are many different kinds of yeast floating in the air, and it is quite possible that
an undesirable one will find your starter. If this is the case, the smell will become
objectionable, and you should throw that batch out and start again. If you are unsure about
making your own sourdough starter, there are commercial, dry "starters" available in most
gourmet shops. However, don't run out and buy those until you have at least given your own
starter a try.
Here are a few things to remember when working with sourdough:
- It needs to be kept a constant temperature during the fermentation stage.
- Always use non-reactive utensils when working with sourdough. Keep it in a glass or
plastic container, and stir it with a plastic or wooden spoon. Stainless steel is also
non-reactive, but generally not recommended for storing sourdough.
- Stir it daily.
- Always replace what you have removed from the starter with equal amounts of liquid and
flour which total the amount you used in your recipe.
- Let your new starter sit on the kitchen counter for a few days, stirring twice daily before
- Once "soured," your starter can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator. To use, take it
out of the refrigerator and let it set at room temperature for at least 8 hours prior to
- Don't limit yourself to loaves of sourdough bread, either. And, keep in mind, that
leftover sourdough is a delicious addition to stuffing and breakfast casseroles.
Basic Sourdough Starter
1 c. all purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. active dry yeast
1 c. milk, room temperature
1 c. warm water
Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients, and mix well. This starter is ready to use in
2-3 days, but will become more sour over time. To replenish this starter, use the following:
After first use:
1/2 white flour
After second use:
1/2 whole wheat flour
3 1/2 c. unbleached white flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tbsp. honey
1/3 c. shortening *
Mix all ingredients together until the mixture resembles corn meal. Add 2 c. sourdough
starter. Knead on a floured surface for 1 minute (no longer). Roll out dough on floured
surface, to 1/2-in. thickness; cut into circles with a biscuit cutter or a glass. Place 2
inches apart on a greased cookie sheet; cover lightly. Let rest for 30 minutes. Brush tops
with melted butter, and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
* The original recipe calls for lard instead of shortening. Lard is supposed to provide a
more tender biscuit.
1/2 c. sourdough starter
1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 c. water
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. oil
Prior to retiring for the evening, combine the first 3 ingredients. Mix well and
refrigerate, covering loosely. In the morning, allow the refrigerated mixture to room
temperature along with the eggs (about 1 1/2 hours). In a large bowl, combine the starter,
eggs, sugar, oil, and salt. Mix well to combine. Cook on oiled griddle until done.
Amish Friendship Bread
1 c. sourdough starter
2/3 c. butter, melted
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. all purpose flour
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. apples, chopped
Combine all ingredients in the order given, stirring by hand. Don't overmix. Grease and
sugar 2 9x5-in. loaf pans, and divide batter between the two. Bake 40-50 minutes at 350
Variation: Leave out apples and add 3/4 c. rolled oats and 1 can crushed pineapple, drained.
Bread Machine Sourdough
1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. sourdough starter
2 tbsp. warm water, if needed when you watch it start kneading
Combine all in your bread machine and bake on medium cycle.
Reprinted with permission.
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