How Old is Sourdough?
Sourdough leavening is as old as the rocks. It has been around for over a millennium. How do you think it started? Maybe someone ages ago decided they didn't like the heavy rock bread. Was it an accident from dough left out too long? Probably. Food scientist don't know the exact time in history sourdough leavening was started, but it goes way back! Some say that airborn yeast got on some flour and water mixture that was just the right temperature and Ph level to make a home. It fell in Love with the wonderful environment and stayed. It might surprise you to know that natural yeast is everywhere. Natural yeast can be found on grains and when the flour is fresh milled it is also there in the flour in microscopic amounts. This yeast on grain is the main source of natural yeast for sourdough, even though airborne yeast is also “at play” in some smaller amounts.
Our Pastry Chef prefers sourdough starters made without commercial yeast, just the spores in the air and the natural yeasts present in flour and grain. It is a longer process to make the sourdough starter and bread, but the flavor is gorgeous. The longer the sourdough starter has been fed, used and kept, the more complex the flavor profile of your breads will become. Airborne Yeast is different everywhere too, so our Texas sourdough will never be San Francisco sourdough. Why? Because airborne yeast is different here. Not bad, just different. Our chef’s starter has been around our test kitchen for over 15 years, but there are some sourdough starters that are available for purchase online that have been around over 200 years.
How to Keep it Alive
Sourdough starter can be kept in the fridge and fed once a week, or if you make sourdough daily, it needs to be kept at room temperature and fed daily. Large artisan bakeries make this sourdough starter several gallons at a time! It is not unusual for some shops to make this base sourdough starter for hundreds of loaves a day. We will be adding our Commercial Bakery Formulation for large volume production in a follow-up post in the very near future.
Make Sourdough Starter at Home
you will need:
3 ¼ cups (1 lb) Panhandle Milling Organic All-Purpose Flour
2 cups (1 lb) non-chlorinated water (artisan or filtered water works best)
Directions: Combine the Panhandle Milling organic all-purpose flour and water in a half-gallon non-metal container and let stand uncovered (or covered with cheesecloth to keep bugs away) and out of a draft for several days until it bubbles (ours took about a week).
The temperature of the room is important. We call it the 85/90 rule. The room temperature should not be higher than 90 degrees for best flavor.
Stir the starter a couple of times a day during this initial growth process. This allows the yeast to find additional sources of sugar in the batter and grow better.
You can use commercial yeast. For faster growth using commercial yeast for sourdough instead, use 1/8 tsp yeast in the flour water mixture above. In this scenario, it takes 2-3 few days to get bubbly and perfect as everlasting sourdough yeast starter.
Sourdough Starter Care Instructions
Containing it. Keep sourdough starter in plastic or glass that is at least twice as big in volume as the start itself. For instance, if you have 2 cups of starter on hand, you will need to keep it in a quart sized plastic container with a lid or a one quart mason jar. Sourdough starter will have a nasty reaction to metal.
Keep it pure! Whenever you stir the starter, be sure it is done with clean utensils. Adding extra germs and chemicals to your starter can have a really bad effect on the yeast and has the potential to kill the good stuff.
Storage temperature is important! Sourdough starter may be kept in the fridge for years on end and will remain a viable source of leavening if fed periodically. Feed your starter regularly. Ours is a thick starter and should be fed about once a week if stored in the fridge. We suggest keeping the feeding day on the same day of the week so it is easy to remember. Ours gets fed on Fridays.
Freeze extra starter. We’d also suggest keeping a small portion of your starter in a freezer container up to a year. It will go into a deep sleep, but the yeast will be there should you somehow totally forget to feed the starter in the fridge or lose the starter somehow. We’ve been pretty thankful for the back-up in our freezer a few times when someone forgot to retain some to feed a new batch!
To feed our Recipe of Sourdough Starter:
1 ½ cup (8 oz) Panhandle Milling Organic All Purpose Flour
1 cup (8 oz) filtered water
1-2 Tbsp Sourdough Starter
Directions: In a 1-quart glass or plastic container, stir with a non-metal spoon until there are no dry spots of flour. Cover with a lid and return the mixture to the fridge. Allow the mixture to come to room temperature before using. When making bread, retain 1-2 Tbsp of the starter to keep alive in the fridge for your next baking project and feed using the feeding directions.