A long and unpredictable journey to a sour dough bread

No.141

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This post is a diary of my 3 weeks journey to a fresh loaf of sour dough bread baked at my home. It was the longest and the most unpredictable project I have ever done to bake a loaf of bread and I am very happy it is now ended well and I have some knowledge and information to share with people.

I would like to dedicate this diary to those people  :
– who do not fear trials and errors.
– who like baking and want to try something challenging.
– who are patient and persistent.
– who are willing to invest 2-3 weeks of your time to bake a wonderful loaf of sour dough bread.
– who wonder what Rie is up to? 🙂

Sour dough bread has many fans all over the world. If you are one of them you know the characteristic tangy taste and the artisan-style hard crust. When you are in San Francisco, it is the food you need to taste. San Francisco is the mecca of sour dough bread. Sour dough bread is not just a bread there, it is their culture. Precisely, I recommend a bakery named Boudin at the Fishermen’s Wharf, there you can get  wonderful creamy clam chowder in a gorgeous sour dough bread bowl and you can’t miss it!

To bake a sour dough bread, you need water, flour, salt and something called “starter”. As we do not use any commercial yeast in sour dough bread, a healthy and active “Starter” is very important. It is homegrown yeasts and takes about 7 to 14 days to make, it requires a lot of patience but once you have created a good starter you will be able to keep it for a long time and it will lead you to many wonderful sour dough breads in the future.

Here goes my diary and it starts from the day when I made my own starter….

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Day 1 :  Making my own “starter” –  I got everything ready for this long journey, cleaned and sterilized containers and cups and polished my patience. I collected enough information and recipes for a sour dough starter on internet and printed them out. There are so many different methods and ingredients, for example some recipes use unsweetened pineapple or orange juice for the sake of creating balanced PH in the environment. I found 2 different recipes and, out of curiosity, I decided to try both separately.

The recipes are :

Recipe A … mix 1 cup of whole grain (or rye flour) with 1/2 cup of bottled non-chlorinated water, 2 feedings* a day, every 12 hours.

Recipe B … mix  1/4 cup of white flour with 1/4 cup of tap water boiled and cooled, 1 feeding a day, every 24 hours.

* What is “feeding”? …..   In the starter fermentation process is being taking place and bacteria and yeasts being created everyday. They need fresh water and flour and you need to periodically feed it every day. Just like your pet.

Both were kept in the same spot in my kitchen (21℃ room temperature).

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Day 2 : 
Recipe A … After 12 hours I opened the jar and stirred with a sterilized wooden spoon for a few minutes to get a lot of oxigen into the mixture. (The acid will react with metal utensils, so please use a wooden spoon)  Then I kept 1/2 cup of the starter and discarded the rest.
Added 1/2 cup white flour and 1/2 cup bottled non-chlorinated water. (starter:water:flour = 1:1:1) Stirred very well.
Repeated the same procedure once again 12 hours later.

Recipe B …  After 24 hours I opened the jar and stirred with a sterilized wooden spoon.
Kept all the starter, fed 1/4 cup white flour and 1/4 cup of tap water that had been boiled and cooled.

Both were kept in my kitchen (21℃ room temperature)
No major change was seen in neither of the starters.

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Day 3 : I repeated the same as Day 2. Recipe A got 2 feedings a day, Recipe B got 1 feeding a day. No change was seen.


Day 4
: I repeated the same as Day 3.
Recipe B … There were small bubbles! Oh!


Day 5, 6
: I repeated the same.
Recipe B … It got more bubbles. Oh! Oh!


Day 7
: I repeated the same. 1 week has passed.
Recipe A … It also got some foams on top. It smelled good.
Recipe B … No change


Day 8
: I repeated the same.
Recipe A … The container was getting dirty from pouring out, I transferred it to a new clean sterilized container.
Recipe B … More bubbles were there. As the jar was getting too small for Recipe B, I transferred it to a larger clean sterilized container. Recipe B looked like this below before I transferred it.

Day 8 Recipe B
Day 8 Recipe B


Day 9
: I repeated the same. No major change.


Day 10 : 

Recipe A … More bubbles were there. Looked very healthy. It smelled very nice.

Recipe B … About 14 hours after it was fed in the same manner, it suddenly started to smell like a nail polish remover. I decided to wait until the evening and see what happens. 6 hours later the smell was even stronger and I looked it up on internet and learned that the starter had been taken over by a wrong kind of bacteria microorganism and there was nothing to do to save it. I decided to discard it…. 😦

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Good bye Recipe B….


Day 11
: Now I have only 1 jar to take care of. In a way it felt much easier. Taking care of 2 jars at the same time with 2 different feeding times was maybe too complicated. I think a simple recipe is the best as far as sour dough starter is concerned. But at the same time if something should go wrong with Recipe A I would be left with nothing. You really don’t know what will happen with your starter next day, the biological development is out of your control and I felt it was very unpredictable.  The reason I thought why Recipe B died was the water I had been using in it. I think bottled water is more suitable for making “starter” because Chlorine does mess up the starter. Even if water was boiled first I think it was not distilled enough. The thickness of the starter was also very different in Recipe B as I kept all the mixture and just kept adding water and flour. Recipe A went well because I threw away almost a half of the mixture before I fed, this makes a new fresh environment for the yeasts and bacterias that had been created each time I fed.
Same procedure as before and I fed Recipe A twice.

Day 12, 13 : I repeated the same procedure.

Day 14 : I repeated the same procedure. Bubbles come back quicker after I stirred down. It looked like healthy growing in the starter but it was not mature enough to bake a break. I tried to make a sour dough pizza but found it needed to be matured more.

Day 15 : No change. 2 feedings a day.

Day 16 : When I woke up, I saw a major change. Many bubbles were there and I could see more activity going on in there. I decided to test.

16 days old Recipe A
16 days old Recipe A

Mixed a half a cup of whole grain flour, a half a cut of bottled water, a half a cup of starter. I wanted to know how much time they needed to be doubled in volume.
It took 15 hours.  It looked all fine but it was just the first trial and I decided to wait a couple of days to let it mature more.

Testing on Day 16
Testing on Day 16


Day 17, 18 :  
Same procedure. It looked fine and it smelled good.

Day 19 :   Wow wow wow
The starter has changed totally!! It was a beautiful sight and I was so glad to see it. A mature, healthy and very active starter was there! I fed twice as usual. All these bubbles came back after 3 minutes, wild yeasts are stable and very active in there.

19 days old Recipe A
19 days old Recipe A


Day 20
 :  Same procedure as usual. After the first feeding, I waited for 4 hours until it settled. I took 60cc of the starter and mixed with 520g flour, 400cc bottled water, 1.5 tea spoon of salt. No kneading, just mix everything with a sterilized wooden spoon. Let it ferment for 18 hours.

Day 21:
After 18 hours punch it down once and put it in a prepared mold. I used a iron cast pot. (Grease the inside of the pot with oil and put a piece of oven paper to cover the bottom of the pot)  Let it rest in there for 1 hour.  Put a lid on (change the knob if it is not oven-proof), bake at 230℃ for 30 minutes, at 200℃ without the lid for 30 minutes.
When it is done, cool it in a pot for 2-3 hours.

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Finally my sour dough bread was there and it was wonderful!!!

Now I am baking a sour dough bread regularly, as often as once a week, I gave a loaf to my friend last Sunday. He knows a lot about bread. I was so happy when he wrote on his Facebook that he got a wonderful loaf of sour dough bread.

Now my dear starter is in and out of my fridge. When I don’t have any plan to bake a bread, I put it in the fridge and feed only once a week. When I intend to bake a bread,
I take the starter out from the fridge on Wednesday and bring it to the room temperature. I feed it twice on Thursday. I mix with flour and water on Thursday evening before I go to bed and bake a bread on Friday morning. Sour dough bread last longer than a regular white flour bread and you can enjoy a fresh baked sour dough bread over the weekend.

I know these information is not perfect and there are so many different recipes for sour dough bread but I hope it would be of interest for someone. My method has worked here with me in Norway, a relatively colder climate, but maybe you live in a much warmer country.  The recipe I always referred to is here and I am still following these instructions.

King Arthur Flour’s blog
http://www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/2012/04/05/creating-your-own-sourdough-starter-the-path-to-great-bread/

Have fun and good luck for your sour dough project!

xxx Rie

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One thought on “A long and unpredictable journey to a sour dough bread

  1. I love, love, love sourdough bread! It’s something I look forward to every time I visit family in California. There is very little sourdough bread available here in Hawaii (sweet bread is more popular) and the brands that I can find are not really that flavorful. The process you detailed does seem like you’re embarking on quite a journey to start from scratch but I’m sure that delicious sourdough bread at the end is worth it! ^_^

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