The Ultimate Sourdough Starter Guide

If you have read my previous posts on making Sourdough bread and wondered where the heck do I get the sourdough starter from, then wonder no more. This post will explain that mystery. We will make sourdough starter by fermenting flour and water to give birth to naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast.

That’s right, yeast comes from the air. It’s all around us everywhere we go. That’s how our ancients made bread and it doesn’t require any special yeasts from the shops to make. Just water and flour and some of that natural yeast around you.

Sure you could buy that highly processed yeast from the shops but then you aren’t making sourdough bread. Sourdough bread making process uses all natural ingredients which makes the sourdough bread a much healthier alternative than the stuff you buy in supermarkets that’s full of preservatives.

Sourdough is the process of using the yeast from the air around you to bake bread with the classic sour taste (lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli) and better inherent keeping qualities than breads made with baker’s yeast.

Prep

An ideal temperature for sourdough is 75F – 82F (25C – 28C). I have noticed that warmer days create a rave party in my sourdough starter. Pay careful attention to your kitchen temperature and close any windows to keep it nice and stable. A gust of cool air won’t help the growth process.

Store your sourdough starter inside a cupboard where the air is stable. Not on the fridge or in the open as other sites have you believe. Cold slows things down.

Ingredients

  • Flour — Use Whole grain flour (whole wheat or rye) to get the starter going. Whole grains contain more nutrients and sourdough-friendly microorganisms than all-purpose flour. I tried white flour in the past and it was a disaster.
  • Water — Use filtered water; not tap water. I have this Zero Water and always have clean 0 PMF tested water.

Utensils

Electric Scales — getting measurements right is key to making this work.Mason Jar — the vessel made out of glass. Make sure you have a loose fitting lid to put on top after prepping the mixture. Do not tighten it or it could explode when the gasses build up.

Optional is a Wooden Stirrer. I prefer it much more than a cold metal spoon. Personal preference here.

Time

~7 days

But it can take up to 2 weeks of trial and error if the temperature in your kitchen isn’t ideal. Once the starter gets going you will have a party in your mason jar every few hours. It’s fun to watch the feeding frenzy at full throttle.

Let’s begin

The idea is to daily mix flour and water together into your mason jar on a daily basis in a process called feeding. At start you’ll make small adjustments in volume of water but then once things get going keep the ratios pretty much consistent.

TIP: Make sure you mark the jar with the height of the starter using a dry eraser and loosely place the cap of the jar on top. This way you will spot activity (growth) over the next 24 hours.

What’s feeding?

Giving your yeast more flour and water to feed on. Just stick to 1 type of flour. I like to use whole-wheat for all the feeding. You can use white for making the bread but for feeding use the optimal flour type.

DayFeeding
1100 grams of flour
150 grams of warm water

Mix with wooden stirrer till it’s all blended together (no more than 30 seconds)

I like to have the mason jar on my electronic scales zero’ed out. So what I add into it I can see the weight increase. You can zero out the weight after having added flour. Then start with water.

Make sure the water is NOT hot. Just warm. If your finger can rest comfortably inside the water without getting burnt then it’s good enough. I like to use warm over cold water to speed up the reaction.
2Discard half of your starter leaving 50g behind. You can either discard half of your starter into the sink or use it to cook something. With the other 50g left in the mason jar, add and stir:

100 grams of flour
125 grams of warm water
3Discard (as above) then add and stir:

100 grams of flour
125 grams of warm water
4Discard (as above) then add and stir:

100 grams of flour
100 grams of warm water

By now you should have seen bubbles inside your jar — fermentation at work. If not then continue this process daily until you do.
7Does your starter look like this?



Note the bubbles from the activity. This starter is perfect and ready to be used in Sourdough bread baking.

If your starter isn’t there yet then make sure the temperature where you are storing your starter is warm enough.

Also note the green mark. That green mark was when I fed the starter last. This way I can see activity over the time horizon.

Starter Storage

If you aren’t going to be cooking bread daily then store the starter after feeding into the fridge. It will slow down the fermentation process and buy you about a week of not having to feed it.

Otherwise put it into a cupboard away from the sun’s UV. UV is ionizing and will start breaking down the yeast (killing it).

Nursing your Starter

Keep an eye out for liquid formation on top of your starter or coloration. The former is a sign your starter is running out of food and needs feeding. The latter is mass suicide and the only way to save it is to remove that coloration and feed it pronto. Try not to get to that stage.

A quick smell of the starter is enough to give its health away.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How long will the starter live for?
A. As long as this starter culture is fed flour and water regularly it will remain active. A regular schedule is typically 12-36 hours. 24 hours is ideal. During hot days you will see a lot of activity in your starter within the first few hours of feeding.

Q. What does a feeding schedule look like?
A.
Discard half (say 50g) and add 100g whole-wheat flour and 100g of water. That’s it.

Q. How do I know when to feed the starter?
A. Use the 24 hour marker as a guide or once you gain enough experience you can visually work out when feeding is required. Visual queues include:
– you’ve noticed the starter growth (doubling in size) and then deflation
– liquid building up on top of the starter
– change in color on top of the starter (this is bad ie. death, so feed it asap)

Q. Do I have to feed the starter daily?
A. Yes if you keep it outside of the fridge. The fridge acts like a cryochamber for your starter and will slow the growth down without killing the starter. This is great for folks who intend to bake only on the weekends.

How did you starter turn out? Let me know.

Busy Bee’s Sourdough Bread Baking Guide

This post is a follow on to my previous titled The Ultimate Quarantine Sourdough Bread Baking Guide. This post is geared to all those busy bee mums & dads, entrepreneurs and software engineerings burning the midnight oil. The focus of this post is on “timing”. Something we all have little of but want to maximize the most of.

As you may have already learnt, baking Sourdough bread is a long process. Sometimes it can feel like it’s 2 days worth of work. Trying to bake bread during a weekday is next to impossible; even in quarantine (covid-19 era). However the tension and pressure of most busy bee’s responsibilities typically starts to ease up after 5pm. That’s the ideal time when you can transition into Sourdough baking. Even after a stressful day, baking Sourdough bread will give you the relaxation your brain needs. It is a perfect way to end the day and start the next day with a fresh warm loaf and a house full of fresh bread aromas. Tried and tested!

Ok, onwards and upwards!

Assumptions

You have all the Ingredients, Utensils, Kitchen Temp ready to go and you have the Stretch & Fold technique bedded down? If you said nah to one of those, then please go and read my previous guide on baking sourdough bread.

Don’t forget, we will use Baker’s Ratios:

  • Flour starts at 100% = 1000g — Strong/Bread Flour otherwise mix in Whole-Wheat into the White to give it a strong Protein (Gluten) structure
  • Water is 70-80% = 750g (my favorite ratio is 75%)
  • Starter is 15% = 150g (if you don’t have a starter then make one)
  • Salt is 2% = 20g

Let’s Start!

Day 1: Fuse the Ingredients

5pmMix 1000g of flour and 750g of filtered water into a giant bowl and mash it by hand till most of the water is absorbed and it looks like a shaggy mess.
Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let it rest for 1 hour.
timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 1 hour.”
6pmAdd Starter and Salt to the Dough then do the Stretch & Fold INSIDE the bowl.
timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 1 hour.”

Day 1: Stretch & Fold the Dough

This process is all about building a nice gluten structure in your dough. As the water is absorbed by the flour, the gluten will swell to form a continuous network of fine strands giving it that elastic and extensible nature.

7pmSpray your bench and hands with water. This will avoid the dough from sticking to the bench or your hands and make it easier to work with.

Now take the dough OUT of the bowl and onto the wet bench. You will Stretch and Fold the dough on a bench before putting it back into the bowl.

You will soon realize why this technique is better than doing it inside the bowl because: (a) less sticky all round and (b) more control for the stretch & fold to build gluten structure and ultimately yield that oven spring we all want from our sourdough bread.
Stretch & Fold. Use the Star Fish approach to Stretch & Fold.
timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 1 hour.”
8:15pmRepeat the same approach as at 7pm.
timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 1 hour.”
9:30pmRepeat the same approach as at 7pm.
timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 1 hour.”
10:15pmRepeat the same approach as at 7pm.
timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 1 hour.”

Day 1: Pre/Shape the Dough

11:15pmPre-Shape. See Stage 2: Shaping & Proofing #3 for how this is done.
timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 1 hour.”
12:30amFinal-Shape. See Stage 2: Shaping & Proofing #5-#7 for how this is done.
12:45amFridge overnight the banneton baskets so they can finish proofing. I like to give this process around 8 hours.

Sleep.. rest up and dream about your Sourdough Bread

Day 2: Let’s Bake it!

8:45amPre-heat the Oven for 1 hour on 500F (260C). You can speed the preheating with the Broil setting. Also make sure your Dutch Oven is inside the oven as it’ preheating.
timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 1 hour.”
9:45amTake one of your proofed baskets with dough out of the fridge and onto baking/parchment paper. Scour the dough and pop it into the oven for 20 mins baking time.

The overnight fridge proofing will also give you dough more rigidity when you scour.
10:00amtimer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 20 mins.”
10:20amDial back the oven to 450F (232C) and quickly remove the lid off your Dutch oven letting the loaf gain some color, character and flavor for the next 40 mins.
timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 40 mins.”
11:00amDone. Take a peek to make sure the loaf has a nice splitting bursting lark full of color and texture. You can leave it in the oven for a tad longer if required.

Take the loaf out of the oven and let it cool off for at least 20-30 mins before cutting into it.
Bon Appétit!

I hope this was helpful and you’ll be baking delicious finger licking sourdough bread in no time.

PS. Follow me on Instagram. I post my Sourdough bread pictures on Instagram and would love to see yours too.

The Ultimate Quarantine Sourdough Bread Baking Guide

When Covid-19 started back in February 2020 they said buy enough food for 2 weeks of quarantine. So I followed like a sheep. Only to realize the irrationality of humanity. Shelves in grocery stores and Sunday farmers markets in Mountain View (where I live) were being emptied faster than I could blink. Chaos!

My favorite ACME bread was no longer to be found. People went bananas buying out every loaf of sourdough (my favorite) leaving scraps for me.

My philosophy has always been “Never ever give up.” — ref pictured frog. A constant reminder to never ever give up no matter what. I was going to learn how to make my own sourdough bread. And onwards I went.

Little did I realize it is a bloody art! Most instructions online are incongruent, everyone has their own way of doing it and many recipes are bloated with irrelevant rubbish. Only after trying a few recipes few times did I discover for myself what works at home (and not a fancy pants bakery). I bring to you The Ultimate Quarantine Sourdough Bread Baking Guide based on simple to follow bakers measurements/ratios without the bloatware in between.

“Sourdough bread is made by the fermentation of dough using naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast. Sourdough bread has a more sour taste and better inherent keeping qualities than breads made with baker’s yeast, due to the lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli.[1]”

Wikipedia

Assumptions

You have a Sourdough Starter. If not then start with my Ultimate Sourdough Starter Guide.

Required

Ingredients

  • Flour — Use strong/bread flour (which might be harder to acquire during covid-19 quarantine) otherwise I’ve found a mix of whole wheat with white all purpose works. Just white doesn’t give the loaf that spring (gluten structure not ideal).
  • Starter — Fed few hours ago and should be very active now.
  • Salt
  • Water — Use filtered water; not tap water. I have this Zero Water and always have clean 0 PMF tested water.

Utensils

  • Electric Scales
  • Big mixing bowl (metal or plastic ok)
  • 2 baskets for proofing, either those fancy ones or you can use lunch boxes
  • 2 towels that’ll go into proofing basket
  • dough scraper (I used a badge from a tech event — this little piece of plastic is a life saver to avoid a sticky situation)
  • Razor blade to scour the bread so it opens up nicely during cooking. Do not use a knife. It’s not sharp enough. I tried.
  • Dutch oven — I bought a Lodge 5qt because I could use it for other cooking activities. (Note; bread goes on pan and body over it to seal it and let steam help delay the crust formation until it has risen more — colossal fuk up for me during rookie times)
  • Plastic wrap
  • Baking paper — your dough will sit on it in the Dutch oven

Optional

  • Wooden bench > granite bench
  • Glass of water for you since you’ll be working out. That 000 water filter is great here.
  • Thermometer to measure room temperature

Prep your house

They say an ideal temperature for sourdough is 75F – 82F (25C – 28C). I’ve never checked mine but did find that when I closed windows (to stop cool drafts) both the Starter and Bread Baking went better. Correlation Causation?

Let’s begin

Bakers ratios are the best because it’s made to scale + easy to mentally consume. The following measurements will yield you 2 bread loafs.

  • Flour starts at 100% = 1000g — I used 700g of white & 300g of whole-wheat
  • Water is 70-80% = 750g (my favorite ratio)
  • Starter is 15% = 150g
  • Salt is 2% = 20g

Stage 1: Mixing, Autolyse & Bulk Rise

Total time: 8-13 hours
  1. Mix 1000g of flour and 750g of filtered water into a giant bowl and mash it by hand. Use your hand damnit! Old school bread making here. Scoop around the dough so it forms a Shaggy dooby doo structure and all flour is mixed in with water.
  2. Autolyse. Put a plastic wrap over the giant bowl (and a towel) and leave it sitting on your bench for 5-7 hours so the flour and water can mix together.
  3. timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 7 hours.”
    [TIP] Use Siri/Google Home/Amazon Echo to not mess up timing. I did once and lost a whole colony. That was a sad day.
  4. Add Starter and Salt to the Dough. 150g of starter in the middle and sprinkle 20g of kosher salt all over the top.
  5. Stretch and Fold. Spray your hands with water to avoid dough sticking to your hands and gently slide your hand behind the dough following the curve of the bowl. Lift, shake and stretch the dough over the top to the other side. Do this all around to essentially cover and work the starter into the dough.
  6. timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 30 mins.”
  7. Stretch and Fold. Spray your hands with water, the. uncover the large bowl with your mixture and “Stretch and Fold”. I find tilting the bowl on 45 degree here helps. Stretch a corner, shake it to give it air then fold over to the other side. Not the fold creases where you started the stretch. Grab the right crease and stretch and fold until you have done this all around. Cover with plastic wrap.
  8. timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 30 mins.”
    Repeat this stretch and fold process 5 times (total 2.5 hours). The gluten in your dough will toughen up and you’ll feel more tightness in your dough.
  9. timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 2-5 hours.”
    Bulk Rise. On warm day you can shorten the process. The flavors will develop during this time and dough will raise 30-50%.

Stage 2: Shaping & Proofing

Total time: 2.5-18 hours
  1. Sprinkle your wooden bench with flour and tip out the dough from the giant bowl.
  2. Using the dough scraper, cut the dough into 2 halves (eye it out is ok).
  3. Pre Shape. For each piece, stretch and fold (phase 1). Grab one corner and stretch it then fold it over to the middle. Be gentle and careful not to deflate the dough. Then go clockwise grabbing the crease, stretching and folding inwards. One hand should be holding all these folds in the middle. You should end up with what a sea star would look if it wrapped all its lets inwards. Now grab your dough scraper with the other hand and flip your dough over. It should look like a nice plump ball. Then Bench Rest it.

    I call this the “Star Fish Approach” to Stretch & Fold.
  4. timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 30 mins.”
  5. Prep Baskets. Grab 2 x banneton basket. It can also be a plastic, glass or wood food container. You will make a bed for your doughs… ahhh how cute! Find 2 clean towels and bath them in flour. I found that placing flour on bench and rubbing the towel into flour most effective. You want flower in between fibers to stop the bread melting into the fibers else it’ll be a pain to remove the dough for baking.
  6. Final Shaping. Phase 2 of the stretch & fold is different. Think baby swaddle. Sprinkle flower on the bench and using your scraper flip the dough over. Stretch and fold one side then zig zag down the dough folding each side crease. When you reach the end fold the end of the dough a tad in and then tuck it in rolling it on itself. Take care not to deflate the dough. You should end up with a puffy nugget with a mouth and bum on each side.
  7. Proofing. Using your dough scraper, lift the dough and place it bottom up into your proofing baskets (as shown below). I like to put one in the fridge for next day cooking. If you do make sure the towel covers the dough fully and put it into a plastic bag into the fridge overnight. The other piece give it 2-3 hours of rest in its basket on your table before baking.
  8. timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 3 hours.”
    — or come back to it tomorrow.

Stage 3: Baking

Total time: 1 hour.
  1. Put your Dutch oven into your home oven and Preheat your Home Oven for 1 hour on 500F (260C). Industrial ovens are better so let’s get the heat going and into our Dutch oven. Check what temps your Dutch oven can stand before going to 500F.
  2. timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 1 hr.”
  3. Place a sheet of baking/parchment paper on top of your dough while it’s still in its proofing basket and flip it over releasing the dough from basket onto the paper. The towel might stick to it so go gentle on this process. Note the bottom of the dough is now sitting on the paper.
  4. Scour (cut into) the dough’s top end to end and a bit off-center on a 45 degree. This is where the bread will open up like a flower giving it that fluffy crackled look. Use a sharp blade!
  5. Cook it. Lift the dough by the paper it’s sitting on and pop it into your hot Dutch oven. Remember pan if you are using the same Dutch oven as I. Close the lid of the Dutch oven with the bread and paper inside. Let it cook. Don’t expect any smells at this phase. And do not open the oven.
  6. timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 20 mins.”
  7. After 20 mins, dial back the oven temperature to 450F (232C) and quickly remove the lid off your Dutch oven. Your bread should have risen while still looking light in color. The next process (without the lid) will give it color, texture and flavor.
  8. timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 30 mins.”
    [TIP]: You can stretch this phase to 40 mins if the color of the bread isn’t developed yet. Remember, not all ovens are created equal. You will now smell the fresh bread aromas floating around the house. Kids love this part but keep them away from opening the oven door 😉
  9. After the 30-40 mins timer goes off, turn the oven off and slightly ajar the oven to let the flavors develop even further.
  10. timer “Hey Siri, set a timer for 10 mins.”
  11. Done. Take the bread out and let it cool off for 30 mins before consuming it.

I now have a new appreciation for bakers.

It is a very time consuming process to make sourdough bread; however it is also a very rewarding experience. It all balances out nicely.

Enjoy!

PS. Follow me on Instagram. I post my Sourdough bread pictures on Instagram and would love to see yours too.

I turned Josh’s old bed into a Pirate Ship

The seas were wild and the sky was pitch black my friends! The Rain pounded the ocean to the howling sounds of the wind, like a pack of wolfs ready for a big feast.

Joshio the Pirate was helming the ship through these dangerous Tatio waters of the 7 Mamio Zones. The night was long my friends, but Joshio the Pirate managed to steer the ship through the colossal waves avoiding the Kraken Zachioctopus… lurking and watching for someone to wrap his tentacles around!

A Short Story from the Imagination

Josh, my oldest son has been bugging me for a pirate ship since we came back from Sydney Australia. In Sydney we celebrated his 6th Birthday and Uncle Randy and I made a Batman Piñata filled with candy for the kids at Josh’s birthday to have a blast.

“Dad you promised me a pirate ship for my birthday.”. “Yes I did son.” I said, “Yes I did. But your birthday was in Sydney and bringing back a pirate ship to Silicon Valley would be challenging.”. Well, the pirate ship I had in my mind would be a challenge. Now that we are back in Silicon Valley and Quarantine has started, the stars were aligned. It’s time to build a pirate ship.

Sure I could have purchased a Pirate Ship on Amazon; but that’s easy. The act of building a Pirate Ship engaged the boys creativity and demonstrated to them the power of creating vs consuming.
Plus we got to spend some valuable time together. Win on all sides!

Being a father

If you want to see projects for younger kids then I highly encourage you visit Sensory Lifestyle. Sensory Lifestyle is dedicated to sharing evidence based play ideas & parenting resources that will help you feel confident in your parenting and boost your child’s development. It’s aimed at Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers.

Tools you will need

  • An old bed frame or some wood from Lowe’s
  • Olson saw (fun method) or Jigsaw (lazy method). It’s more fun doing it by hand especially if you want your kids involved. Opt in for an Olson saw (a non electric version requiring elbow and grease)
  • Pirate nails (long black ones) and few shorter nails
  • Hammer
  • Hot glue gun with plenty of glue
  • Paddle pop sticks
  • An old shirt that we will use for the sails. If you live in Silicon Valley you probably have a pile of swag. Stop hoarding it, and deploy it to good use.

Time to build this

2-1 days.

Take your time and get your kids involved.

Be ok with making mistakes and scrapping your first prototype. Remember it’s ok to make mistakes. Your goal should be to teach your kids this basic life fundamental.

Without mistakes there are no learnings. Mistakes is how we learn. If we don’t make mistakes then we aren’t learning.

Ernest Semerda

Let’s begin…

1. Research

I started with researching what Pirate Ships look like. Don’t rely on your memory of you’ll end up with something weird. You’d be surprised how hard it is to even draw a bicycle from memory. You have been warned.

An example of what happens when you try to draw something more complex from memory.

Research with your child / children.

Listen to what they want and make few suggestions like: let’s add a black Pirate flag with bones etc… take note of these pieces since attention to detail matter.

2. Supplies

Look around your home for opportunities to convert something from one state to another. Like something that’s gathering dust. Or maybe an old bed frame (as was in my case) which now became a useful commodity.

Whatever you do not have access to, buy from a hardware shop. We ended up going to Lowes hardware.

Finding additional parts at Lowes hardware.

Keep track of your expenses

Keep track of the project’s expenses. You want to demonstrate to your child that you are frugal with money. Spending money is easy. But being thoughtful and calculated requires executive function thinking.

We used Veryfi Expenses app to snap photos of receipts and have it instantly translated into an expense with all data extraction done for me automatically. Easy peasy.

Identify pirate ship parts

  • Wooden dowels for the ship’s masts. The mast’s purpose is carrying sails, spars, and derricks, and giving necessary height to a navigation light, look-out position, signal yard, control position, radio aerial or signal lamp.
  • Crow’s nest would be sitting on one of these masts. We use an old medicine vial cut in half for that.
  • Jumbo craft sticks. Half of one would serve as a pirate ship plank and the rest for decoration.
  • Ropes and lines would run between masts and ship. Needed something that looks thicker than a basic string.

3. Build

There are no right instructions how to build a Pirate Ship. Just start piece by piece and improvise.

Ask your kids how they think you should start the pirate ship. Then move onto the why questions. Really get them engaged in the thinking and tinkering process.

You can run this like a software development project. Start small, piece by piece and work your way up. Assign work to your team (kids). Work together to nut out the complex parts of the task.

Josh’s old bed frame

If you have spare wood around the house then use it. We used Josh’s old bed frame to build the body of the ship.

Josh’s old bed. We pulled it apart for parts.

Most of all, get your kids involved !!

Brotherly support!
Kids working hard on breaking apart the last screws holding the bed frames together.
Coming together… note the crows nest 😉
Don’t forget the little detail. It’s all adds up.

Final Masterpiece!

Spin off projects

Once you have a Pirate Ship you can continue building endlessly. Here are a few additional inspiration spin-off projects you can consider.

  • Build more detail to the ship. Extend the cabin crew with chairs, table and some pirate accessories. You can also add a life boat to the side of the ship.
  • Extend the ship with motorized/electronics like lanterns that light up at night (based on room ambience) and act as a night light for the kids room.
  • Build a lighthouse so the ship won’t run aground when sailing the dangerous seas. To give it more ambience, the lighthouse could feature a rotating light on top. And for playtime you can bring some dry ice and create fog with the lighthouse in the middle of it.

The spin off projects are endless and will provide endless play opportunity for your kids and spark creativity at every corner.

In a world of over consumption and instant gratification, a project like this breaks that mould and teaches young kids that creativity is endless when you put your mind to it, things worth doing take time and building is fun!

Let me know below how your Pirate Ship turned out.