Sourdough madness

October 26, 2011 at 3:27 pm 2 comments

For anyone questioning my sanity, I’m willing to offer you the final nail in the coffin, and that is undoubtedly my relationship to my sourdough starter. No, I’ve never baked sourdough successfully before. Yes, every time I’ve tried to cook with this starter (pancakes anyone?), the results have been pretty pathetic. And perhaps that’s why I’m so crazy about this starter – I’m good at baking! Really! So I should be able to keep a sourdough starter alive!

Well, this year I bought a packet of freeze-dried starter from Amazon, San Francisco variety, and started it off last week. It’s getting nice and cold in this part of the country, and heating the house via the oven sounds pretty good to me. Unfortunately, I’m apparently incapable of reading directions (I can follow them, but not read them in the first place. Go figure), and for almost a week was significantly underfeeding my starter.

Once I realized my mistake – the guilt! The pangs of conscience! My darling starter, you’re an innocent in this cruel world, and I can’t even feed you right! Bad enough that the house is cold, we keep odd hours, and sometimes we feed you too late…but I haven’t even been feeding you enough!

Seriously, I pay more attention to the starter than the cat. Poor Lydia. Proof in the pudding? Concerned that I had irreparably damaged the starter, I’ve been monitoring it every 4-6 hours. But I can’t be home every 4-6 hours every day, and Tuesday I’m out of the house from noon until 10pm. Oh noes! So? Yesterday Sourdough came to school with me. What, you didn’t get the memo that it was “Bring your Live Active Cultures to Work” day? I’m sure I saw someone with some kimchee…

Anyway, as if that were bad enough…now I’m mustering up the guts to actually bake with this starter. The last time I tried to bake with a sourdough starter it was awful, so I’m worried. Granted, that was a much different starter, but…

Baking with a sourdough takes time and planning. And I’m not super great at that. I like my recipes to come together at the 11th hour; my most common baking failing is trying to pry a cake out of a pan much too soon before it’s cool. Sourdough, on the other hand, requires days of preparation. You need to feed the starter over the course of a few days such that it grows to the proper proportions. It has a much longer rising/proofing period than your average yeast bread. How is a girl to keep track of it all, and know when she should start the process rolling?


I spent the afternoon learning how to use conditional expressions in Excel to make a spreadsheet that would take an input time (start time, middle-time, end time, etc.) and extrapolate the rest of the procedure. So, I could say that I want to put the bread in the oven at 8am on Sunday morning, and can get a timeline of what I need to be doing. In this case, I’d need to get started with the refrigerated starter at 8pm on Thursday. Or, if I have 1/2c fresh unrefrigerated starter (as I do), I can wait until 8am on Friday to start the doubling process.

Certainly there was an easier way than the nested =IF(…, then) commands I had to write, but heck, it works, and I know how and why. Want to make some sourdough? If you’re local I’ll share my starter, and I’ll even share my spreadsheet!

Sourdough baking timeline spreadsheet


Entry filed under: culinary.

T-shirt serger-y Back in the saddle…with cookies.

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rycrafty  |  October 26, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    Ooh, freeze-dried starter? I may need to buy some of that, I’ve always wanted to try making sourdough bread myself.

    And Excel sounds perfect! I love IF statements. 🙂

  • 2. markoschuetz  |  November 12, 2011 at 10:45 am

    I started baking rye sourdough about one and a half years ago and have been baking more than 2 loafs per week on average. I spoiled 2 loafs, not because I’m such a great baker, but because the process is very robust. Once, returning from a vacation, I didn’t reactivate the starter after thawing it. The other time I forgot the salt!

    I use the “Detmolder 3-Stufen Führung”, a 3-stage fermentation named after the German town where it was developed.

    I also use a spreadsheet to help with planning the times and amounts (that is why the amounts in the following seem so excessively precise). This is what I recently put together for a colleague who wanted to start baking (has been baking about a loaf/week since then):

    * required
    ** ingredients
    – 668 gr rye flour
    – 199 gr wheat flour
    – 5 gr rye starter
    – 17 gr salt
    – 530 ml water
    – some extra flour to cover dough when rising

    ** utensils
    – large heavy (cast-iron) pot
    – large bowl with loose-fitting lid
    – proofing basket or large plastic noodle colander w/kitchen towel

    * procedure
    ** ferment flour
    – 8:00am :: in a large bowl for which you have a loose-fitting lid stir 5 gr starter, 19
    gr of rye flour, and 28 ml of water, ferment loosely covered at 26C
    – 5:00pm :: add 71 gr rye flour and 42 ml water, stir, ferment loosely covered at 22-24C
    – 8:00am :: add 460 gr rye flour and 460 ml water, stir, ferment loosely covered at 30C
    – 4:00pm :: save 35 gr of the resulting ferment as starter for future breads

    ** prepare dough
    – 4:00pm :: add 17 gr salt, 134 gr rye flour, and 199 gr wheat flour to the ferment and
    knead well, rest dough loosely covered for 30-45 min
    – 5:00pm :: knead dough well (pushing away with the palms, folding back over with the
    fingers, occasionally tucking in the sides, and shifting the dough by a
    quarter turn) for about 10 minutes
    – 5:15pm :: set-up dough for rising either in well-floured proofing basket or in a
    large plastic noodle colander lined with a well-floured kitchen towel,
    flour well so it won’t stick to the towel, cover with the towel ends, let
    it rise for 2.5 to 3 hrs

    ** baking
    – 7:45pm :: place large cast-iron pot in stove and preheat together to 530F (or as high
    as the stove can go if it can’t go to this heat)
    – 8:00pm :: place dough in hot pot, cover, and bake for 10 min at 530F
    – 8:10pm :: reduce heat by 30F, continue baking
    – 8:20pm :: reduce heat by 30F, continue baking
    – 8:30pm :: reduce heat by 30F, remove lid, continue baking
    – 8:40pm :: reduce heat by 30F, continue baking
    – 8:50pm :: reduce heat by 30F, continue baking
    – 9:00pm :: remove bread from oven, let bread cool for several hours


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