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You know a great sourdough bread when you bite into one: It’s crispy on the outside, soft and airy inside, and it has that signature tangy flavor. That unique taste comes from how this particular bread is made—with a starter, essentially a flour and water concoction (we’ll explain more about this), versus yeast. Sure, the process for sourdough is a bit more involved than your typical bread, but learning how to make sourdough bread yourself means you can reap all the rewards…in the form of more sourdough, of course.

Wait, so what is a sourdough bread starter?

You can’t make sourdough bread without a starter—it’s not only what gives sourdough that tang, but it’s what makes the bread rise in the oven instead of a package of yeast. To make a starter, you basically mix together flour, leave it out a few days to build naturally occurring bacteria called lactobacilli. These (good) bacteria release lactic acid and carbon dioxide into your dough, which adds to the flavor, shape and rise of the bread. (It’s also what makes sourdough bread pretty healthy for you, too.)

But the coolest thing about sourdough starter? It can last for a really long time and can even be passed down generation to generation, as long as you keep feeding it. That “feeding” step (scraping off the top layer and adding more flour and water) keeps the bacteria alive and your starter usable.

How to make your own sourdough bread

Making sourdough is a commitment that you have to plan out days in advance, but you got this! First, you gotta make that starter—one that’s been fermenting for a week. Below are tips and tricks for making a starter from food blogger Alanna Taylor-Tobin, as well as her recipe for sourdough bread from her site, The Bojon Gourmet.

This recipe makes one loaf (12 servings) and has 142 calories, 231mg sodium, 28g carbs, 2g fiber, 1g sugar and 5g protein per serving.

Starter Ingredients:

  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup water

Directions (by day):

Day 1: Mix ingredients in a jar with a spoon. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm spot like inside an off oven with its light turned on, about 75°F to 80°F, for 24 hours.

Day 2: Check your starter for bubbles—even a couple will do! If you see a thin layer of dark liquid sitting on the top of your starter, skim it off. This is the “hooch,” and it’s not what we want in our bread. Cover it again and leave it be for another 24 hours.

Day 3: On the third day, your starter needs to be fed. Remove the top half of the starter from the jar and throw it out. Add ½ cup flour and ¼ cup water to the jar and mix it with the remaining starter with a fork. Cover and store in a warm place again for another 24 hours.

Days 4 – 6: On days four, five and six, you’re going to repeat the steps from the third day. Don’t forget to skim and discard the hooch every time.

Day 7: Your starter should be double the size it was the last time you checked on it, bubbly and the texture of a roasted marshmallow—nice and gooey. If not, you have to spend a few days more on the feeding process. Be patient, it’s worth it!

At this point, you’ve birthed a starter that you can take from and feed for years to come. Literally years. To test it and make sure it’s ready to use, drop a teeny dollop into a glass of water. Is it floating? Great, you’re ready to bake. You can store your remaining starter in the fridge where it will only need to be fed once per week to remain usable or—for more avid sourdough bakers—leave it out on the counter where it will need to be fed and maintained twice daily.

Sourdough Bread Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces sourdough starter—active, bubbly and ready to go (about 1½ cups stirred down, or 3 cups at full froth)
  • 8 ounces room-temperature or lukewarm water
  • 1 ounce wheat germ
  • 5 ounces whole wheat bread flour
  • 8 - 10 ounces white bread flour
  • 1/4 ounces sea salt

Directions:

1. Stir all ingredients together in a large bowl until a rough dough forms. Add more bread flour if your dough is very wet.

2. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Invert the empty bowl over the dough and let it rest for 20 minutes.

3. Remove the bowl and knead the dough vigorously for about 10 minutes—adding as little flour as possible to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands and the surface—until it feels smooth, springy and elastic.

4. Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow it to rise until doubled, 3 to 4 hours. The warmer the spot you choose, the faster it will rise, the ideal temperature being 75°F to 85°F.

5. The dough should now be doubled in size. Gently turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Tuck the edges underneath and then gingerly rotate the dough on the surface to form a taut outer layer of dough. It’s called a boule, and Alanna has a video for this step here.

6. Place the boule directly on a peel or board dusted with flour, then slip the whole thing into a large plastic bag. Close the bag with a twist tie or clip while trying to preserve as much air inside the bag as possible. Let the bread rise until doubled, about 1½ to 2 hours.

7. While the bread is rising, place a baking stone or a cast iron pot on the oven rack and place a metal pan that you don’t care about sacrificing (it will get rusty) on the floor of the oven. Crank the oven up to 500°F.

8. Poke the dough with your finger and see if the indentation holds. If so, you’re ready to bake! Gently turn it out onto a peel dusted with flour. Fill a cup with ice cubes. Quickly slip the boule off the peel and onto the stone or cast iron pot and toss the cubes onto the hot pan on the floor of the oven. This will steam the outside of the loaf, allowing it to expand as it bakes.

9. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 450°F and bake another 20 minutes or so, until the bread is a deep golden-brown. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle should read 210°F, the temperature at which the dough is set.

10. Let cool completely on a wire rack, 1 to 2 hours, before enjoying.

Bread is best fresh but will keep in a paper bag at room temperature for up to three days. You can also cut up the bread into slices, wrap each tightly in plastic and place them in a freezer bag.

RELATED: Is Sourdough Bread Good for You? We Asked a Nutritionist

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