The first time I tasted my friend Lisa’s homemade sourdough bread, I was shocked. “This doesn’t taste sour!” I said in disbelief. I had tried on and off for years to bake my own sourdough, but I could never get a good, mild-flavored loaf.
Lisa’s secrets: a good, healthy, mild-flavored starter, and this bread recipe!
She was generous enough to share both with me and I’ve been successfully baking my own sourdough bread ever since.
This bread has been a life-saver for my husband who has an autoimmune disease called psoriatic arthritis. We learned a few years ago that wheat causes severe arthritis pain for him. But he eats this whole wheat sourdough every day without any joint pain.
What is Sourdough Bread?
Sourdough bread is a method more than a flavor. There are two main differences between making sourdough bread and “regular” bread.
Starter in Place of Yeast
First of all, in place of the commercial foil packets of dry yeast, you add a generous scoop of natural sourdough “starter”.
Sourdough starter is simply a mixture of flour and water, that left at room temperature will develop a natural population of probiotic yeast and bacteria that make it bubble and expand and “rise” the bread dough. Once this starter culture is established, you’ll use a portion of it over and over again in your bread-making, and feed the unused portion a roughly 60/40 ratio of flour and water to keep the starter culture thriving and happy.
Longer Rise Time
Second, sourdough requires a much longer fermentation and rise time, although not any extra hands on time. In fact, I think it takes less kneading (the hardest part), so I feel like I spend less time making sourdough bread than commercial yeast bread.
Tips for a Less Sour Starter
This bread recipe really is not very sour. This is partly because my sourdough starter is healthy and mild-flavored. But I think there is some magic in this recipe too, because the bulk of the flour doesn’t ferment for very long. (The downside is that this bread may not ferment long enough to be gluten free for those with Celiac’s or gluten intolerance.)
A couple of tips to keep your starter active, thriving, and mild-flavored:
- Feed your starter only with white flour. I prefer the nutritional benefits of whole grains too. And you can feed it with whole wheat or spelt or other whole grain flour of your choice, but I’ve found this makes mine more sour. I use only white in my starter, then add whole grain wheat or spelt flour in the bread recipe.
- Feed your starter often. If you store it at room temperature, you’ll want to feed it daily so it doesn’t get too sour.
- Keep your starter in the fridge if you don’t want to feed it as often. This is what I do. I make bread with mine once per week, and the recipe below includes feeding the starter as a part of the bread-making process, so mine gets fed weekly, or more often if I use it for other sourdough recipes in between.
Benefits of Sourdough
Sourdough bread is awesome for so many reasons. It’s the perfect compromise between whole-grain proponents and grain-free advocates because:
- It contains probiotic bacteria that predigest and neutralize many negative parts of the grains, and make the best parts of the grains more available for you.
- It can be made with whole grains, still containing fabulous fiber and nutrient content.
- It has much lower levels of phytic acid and other anti-nutrients that can prevent you from absorbing important minerals and even cause gut damage.
- It’s essentially gluten free if it ferments long enough (please note this recipe ferments for a shorter time and may not be good for those with gluten intolerance or Celiac’s Disease). Even when made with 100% whole grain, gluten-containing flours, the probiotic bacteria in the sourdough mixture break down the gluten enough to make it gluten free!
- It takes just as much hands-on time to make as any other home-made bread (maybe less). But you do have to start it the night before so don’t forget!
- It doesn’t necessarily have a “sour” taste depending on how often and what you feed your sourdough starter.
- Your sourdough starter can perpetuate itself forever as long as you feed it a little flour and water now and then. So once you have a good, established starter, you never have to buy commercial yeast again!
- No commercial yeast needed! The diverse collection of natural yeasts (and bacteria) in a sourdough starter are better tolerated by some people than the single strain of yeast cultivated in commercial baker’s yeast in those little foil packets from the store.
Check out this article for all the benefits of natural sourdough yeast starter.
I also cover where to buy sourdough bread in this article. But the safest option if you want to try sourdough bread, especially if you have a serious reaction to wheat or gluten, is to make it yourself.
Tips for Great Sourdough Bread
I know it can seem a little intimidating to bake your own bread, let alone sourdough bread with a starter. I’m no bread-baking expert nor food scientist, but I promise this recipe is easy and turns out great for me pretty much every time. I’ll share a bit of what I’ve learned making my own bread.
Kneading is my least favorite part of baking my own bread. But I’ve learned it doesn’t seem to matter if I knead this sourdough recipe a lot or a little. It turns out great either way.
I believe that the long fermentation and rise times help develop the gluten naturally without a lot of physical manipulation.
This is great because it means you don’t need a bread machine or Bosch mixer to knead the bread for you. It’s really not much extra effort to knead it yourself for a minute or two.
I used to employ the services of a Bosch mixer, but I started making 6 loaves a week, and couldn’t fit it all in the mixer I had, so now I make it by hand. It’s been fine. Really- and I’m a lazy cook. If I can do it by hand, so can you!
Use Oil Not Flour!
This is very important for the gluten-intolerant! When you are kneading and shaping your bread, make sure you coat your hands and counter with coconut or olive oil, NOT flour! That way you are not adding flour to your final bread product that hasn’t been in contact with the starter culture for several hours to ferment.
So far I’ve made this recipe using white flour, whole wheat flour, and whole grain spelt flour. It turns out great with any of those. I assume you could try other gluten-containing flours… but I haven’t done it myself.
If you try a different flour, leave a comment and let us know how it goes!
Sourdough requires an overnight ferment, and then 3 rising times throughout the next day, totalling about 5 hours. So more rising time than bread made with commercial yeast.
One great thing about sourdough is you don’t have to be super strict with how long you let it rise. Depending on what I’m busy with, I may let it rise longer than the times listed on the recipe. You do want to be careful not to let it rise too much on the final rise in the bread pans though, otherwise it will overflow and make a mess!
Just remember, the warmer the room temperature, the more active your starter culture will be and the faster it will rise. The cooler the room, the slower the rise time.
Also be sure not to let your dough dry out while it’s rising. Keep it covered with a wet towel (make sure to re-wet it as needed through the day) or plastic wrap.
If You Have a Bad Reaction
If you have a serious gluten or wheat intolerance and find this bread STILL causes symptoms for you, don’t give up hope! The final flour added in this recipe is only in contact with the starter culture for about 5 hours. That may not be enough time to adequately break down the gluten.
Now obviously I don’t have the equipment to test gluten levels in my home, but the studies I’ve read that resulted in gluten-free levels in the sourdough bread probably used longer fermentation times.
So… here is my recommendation: find a recipe that adds ALL of the flour at the beginning to allow it to be in contact with the starter culture for 12-24 hours. The longer the better to give the natural yeasts and bacteria in the starter plenty of time to digest that gluten for you. Several studies have found sourdough bread to be gluten free, so don’t give up hope you can enjoy REAL gluten free wheat bread again some day.
I plan to experiment with such a recipe soon, and when I find a good one that works well for us, I will be sure to share it! If you have a great recipe, please share it in the comments!
Simple Sourdough Bread Recipe
Without further adieu, here is Lisa’s super simple sourdough bread recipe. This is an easy, delicious recipe to get your feet wet with sourdough baking and gain some confidence.
And if you feel good eating it, it may be the only sourdough bread recipe you’ll ever need!
Simple Sourdough Bread Recipe for Beginners
- 2 bread pans
The Night Before:
- 1 cup sourdough starter can be straight from fridge
- 2 1/2 cup white flour
- 2 cups hot water but not too hot
In the Morning:
- 1 1/2 cups hot water not too hot or you'll kill your starter
- 2 tbsp sugar, honey or sweetener of choice
- 2 tbsp coconut oil or melted butter
- 2 tsp salt
- 6 cups whole wheat or spelt flour
The Night Before:
- Mix white flour, starter and water in a large bowl. Stir together until there are no clumps of flour left. Cover with a wet towel or plastic and leave out at room temperature over night. (I've left it anywhere from 7-15 hours.)
In the Morning:
- VERY IMPORTANT: Remove 1 cup of starter mixture from the bowl and put it back in the fridge. (This is now freshly fed starter that won't need fed again until you make bread, or something else, in a week or two or three).
- Add the remaining hot water, sweetener, oil or butter, and salt. Stir to combine.
- Add the whole wheat or spelt flour, two cups at a time. Stir until it becomes too thick, then begin kneading to mix the flour in.
- Add flour until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl and is less sticky. A little sticky is okay. It will become less sticky as it rises. (Don't add too much flour or you will get a dense, heavy loaf. Error on the side of too little flour rather than too much.)
- Knead for about 5 minutes. Sometime I knead more, sometimes less. It doesn't seem to matter as much with this recipe.
- Cover the bowl with a wet towel or plastic wrap and leave in a warm, draft free room place to rise. Let rise about 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
- Punch the dough down, flip it, and punch 2 more times. Cover and let rise again for about 1 hour or until nearly doubled.
- Coat 2 bread loaf pans with oil. Coat your hands and counter with oil. (Don't use gluten-containing flour!) Punch down your dough and divide into 2 loaves. Shape them into rectangles a little smaller than your bread pans (they will rise up quite a bit and more than fill the pan). Place in the bread pans, cover with plastic or a wet towel, and let rise about 1 hour, or until 1/2 inch above your bread pan.
- Bake at 400 degrees F for 35-40 minutes until nicely browned on top.
- Spread butter over the tops of the hot loaves and let cool on the counter. I like to remove mine from the pan after they've cooled and let them sit on the counter upside down for a lit while to let moisture escape from the bottoms of the loaves before wrapping them in plastic. They will store at room temperature for at least a week. Or store in the freezer.
Did you try it? Leave a comment and let me know how it went! I’d love to hear!
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