Learn how to make sourdough bread starter and bread – it only takes two ingredients! I’m going to walk you through the process, step by step, of making a loaf of bread from scratch. Bread making is at least as much of an art as a science, making it difficult as a novice to have success. With these tips, even beginner bread makers can craft artisanal loaves that are great for sandwiches and garlic bread.
Happy New Year! If one of your resolutions for 2020 is to cut back on ultra-processed foods, today’s article is for you. I am going to teach you how to make sourdough bread starter and bread using only whole-grain flour and water.
According to the NOVA classification system, whole-grain bread made with just flour and water is considered a minimally processed food. However, it can be challenging to find such breads in conventional grocery stores.
I was not able to find any two-ingredient breads in my local mainstream supermarkets, even in the bakery section. You may have better luck in health food stores, but not necessarily.
This recipe is not going to fit everyone’s schedule because it is authentic slow food. It takes about a week, starting with flour, to get a loaf of bread. This time cannot be shortened since the sourdough starter needs several days to become active.
However, this recipe may be worth a read even if sourdough bread making is not in your future. When I saw how much work was involved, the higher price tag on artisanal bakery bread made sense!
Practicing food safety is critical when fermenting foods
People have been using fermentation techniques as a safe method of food preservation for centuries. Starting with clean hands, clean work surfaces and clean food containers is one way to prevent unwanted microbes from contaminating your bread. However, following this guideline doesn’t mean that everything will always go according to plan.
I’ve attempted to make sourdough bread starter from scratch several times over the years, and until now, it has always been a flop. Two examples of issues that I’ve had include mold growth and starter that clearly smelled off. If you notice anything off (visual or olfactory), you need to throw the batch out, clean the holding vessel thoroughly, and start again.
Sourdough can rise because the starter contains wild yeasts from both the flour and the air. This prolonged fermentation process increases the risk of potential contamination compared to making a quick bread or a bread with instant yeast. Though there is a higher risk for failed batches, I feel that making the effort is worth it in terms of flavor.
The bread I make, with local wild yeasts, will not taste exactly like a sourdough made in another region. Making your own sourdough starter provides you with a local product that is unavailable elsewhere. It’s the epitome of delicious local food!
Follow these tips on how to make sourdough bread starter for the highest chance of success
Over the years, I’ve tried a variety of flours to make a sourdough starter. The one I finally had success with was OneDegree Organic Sprouted Spelt Flour. The sole reason I chose this product is that I wanted spelt flour, and this was the only option my supermarket had.
If you have an Ocean State Job Lot in your area, you can save a lot of money on grains. In my area, they typically carry Bob’s Red Mill Spelt Flour for less than other stores.
I recommend starting with an unbleached, whole grain, gluten-containing flour to make your starter, though other flours may work. I think it’s interesting that I was finally able to get this process to work with organic flour. I’ve heard it speculated that it might be easier to “catch” the wild yeasts needed for a bubbly starter when you begin with organic flour.
A huge downside to using an expensive flour is that a lot of flour is used and often discarded in the process of making a starter. I’m going to cover this topic more in the next section.
In short, choosing the most expensive flour is probably not the best idea. This is especially important if you are an amateur bread maker since you are more likely to have failed batches while learning.
On the other hand, you may want to give organic flour a try if other types of flour have failed you in the past. It worked for me!
Some say you should use filtered water for sourdough. I used our well water, straight from the tap for this recipe. If you happen to have a water filtration system, I see no reason not to use filtered water here.
Help prevent food waste by putting your sourdough starter discards to good use
You may notice that the recipe below has you discarding a lot of starter before each feeding. This helps prevent you from having to deal with a giant mass of starter at the end, but it creates a lot of food waste.
Luckily, the King Arthur website has some great recipes to use up your sourdough bread starter discards. What follows are a few recipes that I’ve had my eye on.
I’ve made this recipe several times now; I guess you can say that we are fans. I like that these crackers use all whole grains and contain no added sugar. I typically add rosemary for the optional herbs; the house smells amazing while they bake!
You need to start this recipe the night before, but it is worth it. My Belgian waffle maker uses ½ -cup of batter per waffle. This recipe typically makes 7-8 waffles in our waffle maker, enough for a couple of mornings for my family of 3.
I reheat leftover waffles on the heated rack of a 350F oven for 8 minutes. This method keeps the waffles far crispier on the outside than trying to heat them in the microwave. (Note: purists trying to avoid added sugar and refined grains altogether may want to skip this recipe.)
I have not tried this one yet, but it is on my list to try in the future. I’m thinking of using a whole grain flour instead of the white flour suggested here. I guess I’ll see how it works out!
Just make sure that you do not accidentally throw out too much starter
I have a little confession to make. My first successful loaf of bread was not much larger than a potato because I tossed too much starter. I didn’t feel like waiting even longer to make more starter, so I simply scaled the below recipe down.
When I put it in the oven, I secretly hoped it would rise into a regular-sized loaf, but that did not happen. Luckily, the tiny bread slices were utterly delicious anyway. We slathered them with a bit of butter.
I learned from my mistake and created a regular-sized loaf the next time. That is what is pictured at the very top of this article.
This recipe makes a dense loaf with small holes, great for sandwich bread. My loaf sliced nicely when I let it fully come to room temperature.
If you do want to try and make bread with larger holes at some point, you should start with a very moist dough. Wet bread doughs will generally result in loaves with large, airy holes. Sometimes the dough for these breads are so wet they must be kneaded with a mixer rather than by hand!
And now for the disclaimer...
All recipes on this website may or may not be appropriate for you, depending on your medical needs and personal preferences. Consult with a registered dietitian or your physician if you need help determining the dietary pattern that may be best for you.
The calorie information is an estimate provided as a courtesy. It will differ depending on the specific brands and ingredients that you use. Calorie information on food labels may be wildly inaccurate, so please don’t sweat the numbers too much.
For more information on how the three recipe levels may help with a weight management goal, refer to my overnight oats with yogurt post. Let’s get cooking!
How to Make Sourdough Bread Starter and Bread
Make the sourdough starter:
- Start this process in the morning. Combine 1 cup of spelt flour with ½ cup of lukewarm water in a large food holding container that you won't need for a few days. I used a casserole dish. Cover the container with a paper towel or clean dish towel and leave it at room temperature (70°F/21°C) for 24 hours. Don't use an airtight lid on your container.
- My house tends to be a little chillier than 70°F (21°C) at this time of the year, so I nestled the casserole dish up to a heating pad set on low. This is a good way to keep your starter warm enough if you don't want to crank up the heat in the house.
- The next morning (day 2), measure out ½ cup of your starter and discard the rest. (Pro tip: do not miss my article above for ideas to use your starter discards!) Mix the reserved starter with 1 cup of spelt flour with ½ cup of lukewarm water. Cover your holding dish again with a towel and let it rest at approximately 70°F (21°C) for another 24 hours.
- On the third morning, check your starter. It should be bubbly and have that characteristic sourdough smell. Starting today, you are going to begin feeding your starter twice per day (12 hours apart), once in the morning and once at night.
- For each feeding, you are going to mix ½ cup of the starter with 1 cup of flour and ½ cup of lukewarm water. Then you should cover the holding container loosely and let it rest at 70°F (21°C) until the next feeding. Repeat these morning and evening feedings on days four and five.
- You are going to end up with starter to discard with each feeding since you will always start with more than the ½ cup you need. It can add up to a lot of food waste if you don't use it!
- On the morning of day six, check your starter again. It should be nice and bubbly, have doubled in volume, and smell like sourdough. If it is not as active as described, continue feeding it for another couple of days before continuing on. When the starter looks and smells like it is ready, give it one more feeding of 1 cup of flour with ½ cup of water. Do not discard any starter this time! Let it rest at 70°F (21°C) for 6 more hours (this will be the evening of day six if it did not need extra feedings).
- After the 6-hour rest, measure out and set aside 1½ cups of your active starter. This is what you'll need to make bread now (instructions below). Put an additional ½ cup of starter in a glass canning jar or crock; you'll be keeping this long-term for when you want to make more bread. Any additional starter that you have can be discarded.
- Feed the ½ cup of reserved starter 1 cup of flour and ½ cup of lukewarm water. Let it sit at room temperature for 3-4 hours until it gets nice and bubbly, and then pop it in the fridge. Don't cover the canning jar or crock tightly.
Caring for your refrigerated starter:
- At least once per week, remove your starter from the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Remove ½ cup of starter and discard the rest. Mix this reserved starter with 1 cup of flour and ½ cup of water. Let it sit at room temperature for 3-4 hours until it gets nice and bubbly, and then pop it back in the fridge. Don't cover the canning jar or crock tightly.
Using your refrigerated starter to make bread:
- A day or two before you want to make bread, remove the starter from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Measure out ½ cup of starter. Feed the starter it with 1 cup of flour and ½ cup of water and then let it rest at room temperature (70°F/21°C).
- Continue feeding it every 12 hours until you are ready to use the starter in your recipe. You should have fed the starter at least 3 times before you use it in your recipe. This gives your starter plenty of time to become bubbly and active, so your bread will rise well.
To make a loaf of sourdough bread with starter that is active:
- Mix 1½ cups of sourdough starter with 2¼ cups of spelt flour and a generous pinch of salt. Stir in ⅔-1 cup of water as needed to make a moist dough. This dough will be wetter than a typical pizza dough but you'll still be able to pick it up with your hands.
- Knead the dough with clean hands for at least 20 minutes, 30 is better. Your hands will get messy and your arms may get tired! Don't skimp on kneading for the best results. When you are finished kneading, you should be able to stretch the dough thin enough to see light through it.
- Shape the dough into a loaf and place in a loaf pan. I used a 9-inch x 5-inch (23 cm x 13 cm) glass loaf pan that was lightly misted with cooking oil spray.
- Cover the top surface of the loaf with lightly oiled plastic wrap to prevent drying out during the next step. If you don't want plastic touching your food, you may be able to use waxed fabric sheets as a substitute. I haven't tried this yet but I plan on giving it a go in the near future.
- Let the covered loaf of dough sit at room temperature (70°F/21°C) to proof for anywhere from 5-10 hours. (I tend to stick to the lower end of this range, 5 hours.)
- If you've accidentally let your bread rise for too long, no worries. Just knead it for a couple of minutes and reshape it into a loaf. Cover the loaf and let it proof again, but for a shorter time period. Approximately 4-5 hours may work.
- After proofing, remove the plastic wrap from the surface of the bread. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Slice a cross in the top of your bread loaf so that it does not split while baking.
- Bake the loaf for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the loaf cool completely before slicing.
- Enjoy! You definitely deserve it if you made it to this point!
This is a level 3 recipe (weight maintenance and active lifestyles). Many find bread and other baked goods made with flour to be extremely easy to overeat. As such, I’m placing this item at level 3. This recipe may not be the best option for some people. This includes those who are trying to follow a low-carb diet and those who have identified bread as a personal trigger food. (A trigger food is a food that someone has a great deal of trouble *not* overeating.) I am not saying that everyone who wishes to lose body fat must skip bread. However, it is important to be especially mindful of the portion size on this one. This small-ish loaf provides 16 (delicious!) slices, if cut fairly thin.
What are your best tips on how to make sourdough bread starter and bread? Is there a specific brand and type of flour that you prefer? As always, I’d love to hear about it if you try this recipe and enjoy the new year!