Monday, February 22, 2010

Sourdough Starter and Bread - Nourishing Tradition Style

This is a sourdough recipe taken from Sally Fallon's Nourishing Tradition Cookbook. I've always wanted to know how to make sourdough bread. I love the flavor and especially love that you produce the bread from a starter you've made versus using a purchased yeast. Don't get me wrong, I love, love, love regular bread, it's just fun to know how to make bread the way people have been doing it for hundreds and thousands of years.

If you are interested in pursuing the art of making sourdough bread consider checking out this website, Sourdough Home. I should mention that the method I'll be showing you here is different then anything on Sourdough Home's website, so their rules of thumb don't apply to this sourdough, but they include a lot of helpful guidelines along with other sourdough recipes.

This recipe has taken a lot of trial and error to get it to a satisfactory loaf. Through the learning process I think I could have used some of my loafs of bread as bricks – they came out so dense and hard. At first I thought maybe that was how they were supposed to be, because Sally Fallon mentions that the recipe is for a dense loaf of bread. However, I kept messing around with how I made my starter and after many tries I've figured out a method that gives me the same results every time.

A good rule of thumb is when making a starter for bread you should think of it as a pet - one that needs food and water everyday. If you miss just one day, you'll kill your starter and have to start over. It's pretty disappointing and it's easy to do. Actually, I just did this a couple of weeks ago. I went ahead and tried making my bread anyways and the results weren't so good. The birds and squirrels received an extra treat and I was back in the kitchen remaking my starter.

Now, please don't let this stop you from trying this bread out. It's worth the little extra effort and the bread is absolutely delicious warmed with butter melted on it and a nice slather of raw honey! Although it doesn't make the best bread for the normal sandwiches because of it's density, it does make awesome toast and open-face sandwiches. Today, my son and I enjoyed open-face ham and cheese sandwiches with it. Just stick the sandwiches under the broiler for a couple of minutes and you have a truly delicious and healthy lunch with very little effort.

To begin making the starter, give yourself at least 7 days before you will actually produce any bread. Starter is made from two very simple ingredients, water and rye flour. You use rye because it ferments more easily then other flour types. Once you have made your starter you can then use the flour of your choice to make your bread. With this particular recipe, I would recommend using organic spelt flour. I tried both fresh ground spelt and hard winter wheat and had the best results with the spelt. I'm going to try again with wheat, but if you can get your hands on spelt, use it. I should also mention that I grind my own flour. I normally use the finest grind, supposedly the "pastry" grind. I don't know that the flour is as fine as store bought pastry flour, but the finer flour setting on a home grinder does seem to work better.

One final note, please read through the whole recipe before starting so you have a good idea of what is required to make this bread. I hope you have success and enjoy this recipe!!!!!

Sourdough Starter

What You'll Need

  • 8 cups rye flour - preferably freshly ground
  • Filtered water
  • Cheesecloth
  • Large rubber band to secure cheesecloth over bowl
  • 2 large bowls, they need to be able to hold 4+ quarts of liquid
  • Measuring cups
  • Mixing spoon

Getting Started

Mix 2 cups of rye flour with 2 cups of cool, filtered water. You should have a very soupy mixture. Cover bowl with 1 - 2 layers of cheesecloth secured with a rubber band. The next day or 24 hours later add an additional 1 cup of flour and enough water to make mixture soupy again. Pour your starter into a clean bowl and cover with cheesecloth again. You continue this process for seven days. After several days your starter should begin to have a distinct sour smell and this will tell you that your starter is progressing correctly. You will also notice some bubbles and froth.

Note: I found that adding one cup of flour and approximately 3/4 cup of water each day gave me the best results. Mixture was still soupy, but didn't require as much flour for making the bread at the end. Also, because I'm not worried about things or bugs getting into my starter in my kitchen during the winter, I often leave my starter uncovered for a good portion of the day and then cover it back up at night. I can't say whether or not it truly effects the results, but it certainly didn't hurt anything.
If you are wondering about why you should change the bowl each day, one answer is to avoid mold. I read about one woman who was extremely frustrated with trying to make a sourdough starter, because every time she did it she would get mold in her bowl. A simple solution is using a clean bowl everyday.

Sally Fallon talks about her starter going through a "bubbly, frothy stage and then subsiding." I did notice this the first couple of times making my starter, but recently my starter stays bubbly and frothy the whole time. This corresponds with other ways of making sourdough starter and because I'm having good results every time, I've not been concerned that the bubbles and froth have not subsided by day seven. Also, unlike other sourdough starter, this starter does not double in volume. So if you've made other types of starter before, don't be alarmed with the different results. Below is a picture of my starter the day I was going to use it. You can see that the surface has quite a few bubbles and froth on it.

Once you've made your starter measure out 2 quarts/8 cups of the starter and reserve for making your bread. Store the rest of your starter either in the fridge or freezer, or continue making more starter by adding more flour/water to it, like you've been doing. Making starter can be a continuous process. As of late, I've kept my starter continuously going because I'm trying to get some extra bread in my deep-freeze. I'm expecting baby number two in the next couple of weeks and I'm pretty sure making bread won't be high on my priority list for a while, but I still want to enjoy the taste and health benefits of a fermented product like sourdough.

Your Sourdough Bread

What You'll Need
- Makes 3 loafs of bread
  • 2 quarts/8 cups of sourdough starter
  • Approximately 13 cups of spelt or whole-wheat flour, preferably spelt and freshly ground
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons regular grind sea salt
  • Butter for greasing loaf pans
  • Olive oil
  • 1 large bowl, 3 quarts or larger
  • 1 mixing spoon
  • 3 loaf pans
  • Parchment paper
  • Sharp knife and/or dough scraper
  • Plastic wrap

Note: The original recipe from Nourishing Tradition calls for 2 1/2 tablespoons of course sea salt and an additional 1 1/2 cups of filtered water. I use a little different method and have had much better results. When I used the extra water, as suggested, I needed way too much flour, much more than the suggested 13 cups and was left with an overly-dense, brick-like, bread.

Getting Started

Pour your starter into a large bowl (3+ quarts) and then add 2 1/2 tablespoons sea salt and 1 cup of spelt/whole wheat flour. Stir mixture to incorporate salt and flour. Continue to add 1 cup of flour, stirring after each addition until you get to 8 - 10 cups of flour. By this point your dough is probably hard to stir with a spoon, so it's time to get those hands dirty and use them to incorporate the rest of the flour. If you are new to making bread only add a 1/2 cup of flour at a time now, so you don't accidentally add too much flour. Depending on the moisture content of your dough it might be easier to work the rest of the flour into your dough on your kneading surface instead of in the bowl. I've added anywhere from 11 cups to 14 cups of flour before I considered my dough ready for kneading and rising, so go carefully with how much flour you add at this point. I will say that practice does help here. The more you make bread the better feel you'll get for it and you'll begin to see what your dough should feel like before you know it's ready to knead and rise.

Some good rules of thumb. Don't add too much flour. This dough should be moist and just a bit sticky. If you begin kneading your dough and it sticks all over your hands, you know it needs a bit more flour, try kneading in a quarter cup more flour and see if this helps – who knows, you may need an additional couple of cups, it just depends. It's easy to think you've added enough flour and then you start kneading the dough and you realize it's still way to wet. Also, your dough will stick to your kneading surface some. As long as you keep the dough moving this shouldn't be a problem, but if you let it sit there for a minute or two, you'll have to scrape it off the kneading surface. Periodically through the kneading process, scrape excess dough of your working surface and dust with a bit of flour, this will help keep your dough from sticking too much.

Once you feel confident that you've added enough flour, it's time to start kneading to develop the gluten/elasticity of your dough. You'll be working with a lot of dough in this recipe and it does take a bit of upper arm strength to really knead this dough well. I would recommend kneading by hand and doing so for 10-15 minutes and probably closer to 15 minutes. It's important to have a smooth, elastic dough when you are done.

If you aren't familiar with how to knead, check out this website. It runs you through the basics.

Once you are done kneading, cut your dough into 3 equal portions and get your loaf pans ready.

The original Nourishing Tradition recipe says to just butter your loaf pans, but every time I just butter them my bread has stuck on the bottom and boy is it frustrating to try to get the bread out when it gets stuck. Often, you'll end up with bread crumbs instead of a pretty loaf. I'd highly recommend lining your pans with butter and parchment paper. With the parchment you know your bread will come out.

Gently shape each piece of dough into a loaf and place into your pan. Cut three to four slits about a half-inch deep on the top and then coat top with a little bit of olive oil (to keep the plastic wrap from sticking to the surface of the dough). Finally, loosely cover with plastic wrap and allow dough to rise in a warm place.

Now, rising this type of dough takes a while, anywhere from 4 - 12 hours, depending on how warm your room is. I prefer to turn my oven on for just a minute or two and get the temperature to around 80 - 90 degrees and then turn the heat off. Then I place my dough in there to rise with the door closed. When I do this it normally take 5-6 hours for the dough to finish rising, but it works just as well to let your dough rise on the counter too.

The above picture is my dough right before I'm ready to bake it. Normally I'd see it like this and think I've let it rise too much and the bread won't turn out, but after I've baked the dough it has a very nice consistency and not one that matches an over-risen bread. Use your best judgement during the rising process. I will say your dough should increase in volume, but not necessarily quite double. Nor will this bread necessarily get a pretty dome to it like other bread types.

When you think you are getting close to being ready to bake your bread, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. I'd do this at least a half hour before you want to actually bake your bread. Place your dough in the oven and bake for about 1 hour.

Note: Be very careful when you move your dough after it has risen, this dough deflates very easily, so set it down gently!

After the bread is finished baking remove from the pan and allow to cool some before slicing. You'll know it's done when you tap it and it sounds a bit hollow and has a hard exterior.

Enjoy! If you try this recipe please let me know of your results. I'm very curious to know if others will have success and what their overall thoughts are on this bread!


  1. Great recipe! I tried it with a mix of organic rye (3/4)/unbleached white flour (1/4) and it turned out almost as nice as in your picture (I don't have your experience). Thanks for sharing it! By the way your sourdough starter recipe is great too, thanks so much!

  2. What size is your loaf pan? Thanks!

  3. Hi, I usually use a glass dish that is 8.5 x 4.5 x 2.5" for this recipe

    I want to let you know that I don't use this recipe usually anymore now that I've figured out a much easier and actually more authentic version of sourdough that you can use all whole grains and all the flour is soaked and fermented overnight.

    How I made my starter can be found here:

    And one version of the sourdough bread I like to make most often can be found here (it's in grams, I'll be putting a post up soon that will have the ingredients measured out by volume too):

  4. Could you form this a a round loaf? Thanks :)

    1. No I don't believe so. This is a very dense bread that would do best in a container that helps it hold it's shape and create a bit of volume.


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