Crash Course on Sourdough

Lime Poppy Seed Sourdough Bundt Cake

Hello, readers! I am Stephie, the face behind the food blog Eat Your Heart Out. On my site I write about a little bit of everything, though I love focusing on recipes that use fresh ingredients, and try to avoid as many unnecessary preservatives in my food as I can.

While you will find all kinds of recipes on my site, I like to say that baking is my first love. Some of my earliest memories are of helping my momma bake snickerdoodles.

Much of what I know about baking I learned from my mother, and it was at her elbow that I learned to bake cookies, pies, and breads of all kinds. Now that I have my own kitchen and the blog and have taught myself a few things, we often embark on baking and cooking adventures together (usually with delicious results).

Multigrain Sourdough Boule

About a year ago, we decided to embark on the adventure of baking with sourdough starter. Sourdough breads are different from other yeast breads in that sourdough contains naturally occurring yeasts (as opposed to the cultivated yeast that you buy at the grocery store) in combination with a Lactobacillus culture and requires a long fermentation process.

Whoa. That just got really scientific. Basically, we know that yeast is a living thing (more specifically, a fungus). It is the gases produced by yeast that make yeast breads rise. In the case of sourdough, the Lactobacillus (which is used to produce foods such as yogurt, cheese, and pickles, just to name a few) also produces lactic acid, which is what gives sourdough its unique (and delicious) flavor!

Buttery Sourdough Rolls

Understanding all of the science behind sourdough helps us understand why we need to begin with a starter when we bake our breads – the yeast and bacteria cultures live in the starter! I really love my sourdough starter recipe – it is much easier to get going than a lot of recipes, and is incredibly easy to maintain. Feed your starter once a week, and you’ll have a happy starter that could live for years – generations, even!

Of course, after taking care of and baking with my sourdough starter for about a year now, I have learned a few things. The first is really the most obvious: You really must feed your starter. It is a living thing, and it will die if you don’t feed it with a simple combo of flour and water. Once a week (or more often) is best; you can sometimes go about a week and a half, but get more than that and you’re likely to find mold growing on your dead starter. Whoops. Leave a post-it note on your fridge

(I leave a note on my whiteboard in my kitchen) if it will help you remember to feed your starter.

The second is this: Leave your starter on the counter overnight after feeding, but don’t forget to put it back in the fridge after that! Turns out, fruit flies like fermenting yeast as much as they like rotting fruit. Whoops again.

Roasted Strawberry Sourdough Muffins

When it comes to baking with sourdough, it really couldn’t be easier! There are a lot of recipes out there for you to choose from (and I’ll leave you with a few of my favorites at the end of this post). Some use a combination of starter and cultivated yeast – these recipes will take about the same amount of time to rise as conventional yeast bread. Other recipes just use the starter – these recipes will take a much longer time to rise (usually overnight, plus a chunk of the next day), but will give you a bread with a much more distinct sourdough flavor.

Vegan Sourdough Banana Bread (The best banana bread I’ve ever had!)

You can even add your starter to quick breads! To do this, replace 1 cup of the flour and ½ cup of the liquid called for in the original recipe with 1 heaping cup of starter.

Follow the rest of the recipe as directed, and you will have sourdough pancakes, muffins, cake…anything! The starter acts much like buttermilk would when used in this capacity.

I hope this crash course on sourdough has unveiled some of the mystery behind what I think is a great way to bake, and encouraged you to give sourdough a try!

Visit my site for more information behind the science of sourdough and yeast in general.

In addition to everything pictured (click on the picture to link to the recipe), here are some of my other favorite sourdough recipes to try:

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