Monday, June 17, 2024

Thanks for the memories! May 2010-March 2020

Get the local dirt in our northwest corner • Regrowing in 2023!

Sourdough Bread: The strength is in the starter

Jan 4th, 2016 | Category: Cooking

by Carol Frey

The rain is holding off for the moment, so the Varied Thrushes are hopping around my ancient apple tree, bobbing on spindly branches and pecking with a dainty ferocity at the remains of the apples I couldn’t reach. Down….Up-Peck! Down…Up-Peck! Every year I watch for the thrushes to come down from the mountains to feast in my tree. When they leave my apples and go back to their alpine home I will head outside to nurture my garden, but that’s still a few months off. In the meantime, I nurture my sourdough culture and bake bread.

Hazelnut-Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread. PHTOO BY CAROL FREY

Hazelnut-Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread. PHTOO BY CAROL FREY

Much like gardening, sourdough baking blends art and science with a small measure of the mystery inherent in living things. It is simple food. Flour and water are all you need to nurture a sourdough culture, and more of the same plus salt are all you need to craft the tastiest bread I’ve ever eaten. Sourdough’s long, slow rise brings out the flavor of grains in a way that nothing else can. Like gardening in our own soil compared to gardening by the book, baking with wild yeast requires us to pay close attention to the needs of our specific culture and our own dough, rather than blindly follow the recipe writer’s experience with their dough in their kitchen. Most important to understand is the strength of your starter culture. Sourdough starter culture is a constantly shifting community of wild yeast and beneficial bacteria. To know whether your culture is ready for making bread, look at the surface. Is it gently domed and peppered with bubbles? That suggests a healthy, active culture. Scoop up a small piece and drop it in a glass of water. If it floats, it is ready to use. If not, it either needs to be fed or needs more time to grow.

Dough rising times may be longer or shorter than called for in a recipe for a number of reasons. To gauge the level of a rise, poke the dough with a floured finger. If it springs back into shape quickly, it needs more time. If it springs back quite slowly or not at all, then it is ready to go on to the next step. Keep these in mind as you follow the bread recipes below.

But your culture is good for more than just breads! When you have extra starter culture, make sourdough pancakes or muffins. The sourdough adds flavor, complexity, and longer keeping qualities to your baked goods, even when it isn’t needed as a leavening agent.

Sourdough Rye-Currant Muffins. PHOTO BY CAROL FREY

Sourdough Rye-Currant Muffins. PHOTO BY CAROL FREY

Now the rain is back, the thrushes fled. I’m quite happy to be inside, writing. The recipes here are winter-hearty ones, so whether you’re planning outdoor work or adventures or a quiet evening inside the glow of your warm, dry home, I hope these will sustain you until the sun returns.


Carol Frey is teaching a sourdough class at the annual Country Living Expo on Saturday, Jan. 30. For more information, see


To grow your own Sourdough Culture

Tap water is fine, but for the first few days it is best to let the water sit out, uncovered for 12 hours in order to to let any chlorine dissipate.

1. Combine 1 cup whole wheat flour with one-half cup of water in nonreactive, preferably clear, container. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

2. Discard half the contents of the container and add 1 cup of whole wheat flour, one-half cup of water. Cover and let sit for 24 hours.

3. By now, you should start seeing some bubbles and expansion. Repeat the day 2 procedure, discarding half the contents and “feeding” 1 cup of flour, one-half cup of water. Cover and let sit for 24 hours.

4. Repeat this procedure until your culture starts to expand and contract noticeably. This will start to happen more quickly than 24 hours. When your culture is doubling its size in 6 -10 hours, it is ready to start baking.

5. To maintain your culture, you must at least double the culture by weight, in order to give the yeast community enough food to thrive.


Hazelnut-Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

Makes 2 loaves



Firm Starter Build:

2/3 cup active culture

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/8 to ¼ cup water


3 cups all-purpose flour

1  ½ cups bread flour or all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons salt

1 ¾ cups water

1 cup roasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped



Mix the culture, flour and water for the starter build. Cover and let ferment at room temperature until starter doubles in size. This will take approximately 4 hours. Refrigerate overnight.

If culture is cold, cut into pieces, cover and allow to warm for an hour before proceeding.

Stir together flour and salt in large mixing bowl. Add starter pieces and water until dough comes together. Knead on lightly floured counter until dough becomes smooth and springy (approx 12 minutes) or mix with dough hook on medium-low speed for approximately 6 minutes.

Oil a large bowl and put dough into bowl, turning to coat dough with oil. Cover bowl and allow to ferment for 3 to 4 hours, until dough is almost doubled in size and springs back only slowly when poked.

Gently transfer dough to lightly floured surface. Divide into 2 equal pieces. Pat gently into rectangle, fold in thirds (letter fold), sealing seam with heel of hand, then place in loaf pan and cover.  Refrigerate overnight. Allow to rise for 4 hours at room temperature before baking. (Rising time will be less if you do not refrigerate.)

To bake, preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Remove cover and spray or gently brush loaves with water.

Bake at 500 for 10 minutes, then rotate loaves in oven and reduce temperature to 450. Bake another 10 to 20 minutes until golden brown all over. Loaves will sound hollow when thumped on bottom. This bread’s flavor continues to develop for several hours after cooling.


Oat – Wheat Sourdough 

Makes 1 large or 2 small loaves




7 tablespoons whole wheat flour

1 ½ cups rolled oats

½ teaspoon salt

3/4 cup water

Stiff Whole Wheat Sourdough Culture:

1 cup active sourdough culture

1 ½ cup whole wheat

½ cup water


Mix together the ingredients for the pre-soak in one bowl. In another bowl, mix the ingredients for the whole wheat sourdough culture. Cover both bowls and let ferment for 12 hours.



All pre-soak ingredients

All whole wheat sourdough culture

7 tablespoons whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon corn meal

5/8 teaspoon salt

1 tablepoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon butter, melted



Mix all ingredients in large bowl until all ingredients are fully incorporated. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead until dough forms soft ball. Dough will be tacky but should not stick to your hands. Rest for 10 minutes, then knead again for 1 minute. Place dough ball in oiled bowl, turning dough to coat. Cover bowl.

Let rise 3 to 4 hours, until 1 ½ times original size and dough springs back slowly when poked.

Gently move dough to floured surface. Shape as desired in loaf pan or on parchment. Allow to rise at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, or until 1 ½ times original size.

At least 1 hour before baking, preheat oven to 500 degrees. If baking free form loaves, best rise will be obtained by heating a pizza stone or a roasting pan large enough to accommodate the loaves. To bake, slide parchment onto pizza stone or place loaves in roasting pan, then cover with pan lid. If baking in loaf pans, place pans on middle rack. Bake at 500 for 10 minutes, then rotate loaves, uncover roasting pan if using, and turn down to 450. Bake additional 20 to 30 minutes, until loaves are brown on all sides and sound hollow when thumped.


Sourdough Rye-Currant Muffins



¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 cup rye flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup  plus 1 tablespoon brown sugar

½ cup sourdough culture

¼ cup oil

¾ cup yogurt

2 eggs

heaping ½ cup currants



Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease muffin pan or line with paper cups.

Mix flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and brown sugar in one bowl. Stir well to distribute ingredients evenly.

Mix sourdough culture, oil, yogurt, and eggs in second bowl.

Make a well in center of the dry ingredients, pour wet ingredients into the well. Mix gently until moistened.

Fold in currants.

Fill muffin cups two-thirds full.

Bake 20-24 minutes, until cake tester inserted in muffin comes out clean.

After removing muffins from oven, wait 5 minutes, then place muffins on rack to cool.



Sourdough Pancakes



2 cups sourdough culture

1 tablespoon water

1 egg

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda



Combine culture, water, egg and oil in one bowl. Stir well to break up culture and combine thoroughly.

Combine salt, sugar and baking soda in second bowl, sprinkle over surface of wet ingredients.

Stir to combine. Cook on hot griddle, turning when outer edges turn dull.


Published in the January 2016 issue of Grow Northwest

Leave a Comment