That Time I Made Sourdough

A few weeks ago, I thought I'd try my hand at baking sourdough bread. This is not something I've attempted before (baking any bread, for that matter), but I knew I wanted the full experience—from sourdough starter to slicing into a perfectly crisp, still-warm loaf.

I decided to work from this guide to growing a starter, ultimately leading to this recipe for a three-day sourdough. I bought myself a nice jar, a bag of organic whole-grain rye flour, and dove into the project. 

Mixing equal parts rye flour and water with a dab of honey, Day 1 was off to a roaring start.

 sourdough starter

Bubbly, ferment-y things started happening on Day 2, after the feeding was repeated. 

 sourdough starter

Seeing those bubbles of activity was encouraging, a good sign that I must be doing something right; so naturally I began envisioning what my life would be like as a bakery owner. 

I repeated the feeding process for the next several days, following the guide as linked above. As I didn't really have "somewhere warmish" to store the starter, I took to running a bit of hot water over the outside of the jar after feedings in order to create a semi-warm environment (at least for a few minutes). I'm honestly not clear on whether this was a good, bad, or neutral idea, but it made me feel proactive about the whole thing.

After a week of caring for my starter as though it were a new pet, I was eager to begin the process of the three-day loaf. I did the ole 'drop a piece of starter in water and see if it floats' trick, and it didn't. Hmm. But it was bubbly and active and smelled nice, and the recipe said this should be sufficient for baking even if the starter does not float, so I decided to go for it.

The first step was to mix the dough, which I did using an organic 550 wheat flour. The dough was incredibly wet and sticky and didn't seem keen on rising, but I left it in the fridge overnight as instructed and figured I'd see what happened. 

Not a lot happened. The dough was still about the same size as when I left it the day before. And so sticky.

 sourdough

Right.

Nonetheless, I persisted. After a messy attempt to shape this sticky mass into something resembling a round loaf, I dumped the bulk of it into my prepared banneton for overnight proofing.  

The next day....

 sourdough banneton

...another unrisen, lazy pile of dough. But it was absolutely too late to back out now and there was no way I wasn't going to bake this thing. 

My baking vessel was a round dutch oven lined with parchment paper and wishful thinking. I baked the sourdough at 220°C (428°F) with the lid on for the first 30 minutes, then removed the lid and let it continue to do its thing for another 25ish minutes.  

The finished product? 

 sourdough rye

As predicted from the lack of rise, my loaf was flat. Fortunately, despite a tough crust, the interior was still surprisingly...bread-like? It didn't taste terrible, either. Dense and chewy, a nice wheat flavor with the classic tang of a sourdough. 

 sourdough rye

While it wasn't a total failure, I'll be tackling this again in the weeks to come to figure out where I went wrong. Should I have waited until my starter sample would float? Is type 550 too heavy of a flour in this case? Should I cancel the lease agreement on my new bakery space?