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How to Make Sourdough Starter, and Making Sourdough Grandmother Bread

Posted By Suzanne McMinn On January 9, 2009 @ 1:05 am In Breads,Grandmother Bread,The Farmhouse Table | 78 Comments


Two loaves of whole wheat sourdough Italian herb & garlic bread cooling in my kitchen.


Who doesn’t love sourdough bread? You can make it at home easily–with Grandmother Bread. Most of us think of San Francisco-style sourdough when we hear the words sourdough bread, but sourdough is a type of riser, not a type of bread, which adds a distinctively tangy flavor to the end product. Any bread recipe can be converted to sourdough.

More about that later…. First we need to make the starter! Now if you want to really go crazy, catch some wild yeast. You need a horse and a lasso– Okay, not really. You need a big jar or bowl (non-metal), 1 1/2 cups of warm water and 2 cups of flour. Stir it up good then let it sit covered with only a mesh material (to allow air flow into the container) while you “catch” natural micro-organisms from the air.

If you’re like me and you have cats who will bother your container or you aren’t feeling frisky enough to lasso yourself some yeast from the wild, you can take a packet (or a tablespoon) of regular everyday “pre-captured” yeast from the store and go from there.


How to make Sourdough Starter:

1 tablespoon (1 packet) yeast (not rapid-rise)
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 more cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar or honey

In a large (non-metal) bowl, dissolve yeast in the 1/2 cup of water. Add flour, additional water, and the sugar or honey. Beat till blended. You can leave it in the bowl to ferment, or transfer it to a large jar.

This is a 2-quart jar. You have to use a large bowl or a large jar because the starter needs room to bubble up and expand.

Cover the top with cheesecloth. (That cheesecloth keeps the cat hair out, whew.)

I use a jar band to keep the cheesecloth on there good. Let stand at room temperature in a warm place while it ferments. I keep it on the kitchen counter as that’s the warmest room in the house most of the time. Depending on the temperature in your house, it will take 5-10 days to ferment. Stir the mixture 2 or 3 times a day. It should be kinda like pancake batter in consistency (after stirring). It may separate some and look goopy as it sits. Just keep stirring it up a couple times a day.

You see how much it expands. That’s why you need a large bowl or jar. I like to use this 2-quart jar because later it will transfer easily to the refrigerator. (A big bowl would take up too much of my fridge space.)

You’ll know it’s ready when you walk by it one day and think, Is there some beer in here? And you get all upset because you have teenage boys and they’d better not have any beer. Then you look around and realize it’s the starter.

Once the starter is ready, you can store it in the refrigerator. (Continue to cover with cheesecloth. You can use a rubberband, or a jar ring, etc, but do not seal it shut.) Stir it once a day.

After each use of the starter, replenish it by stirring in another 1/2 cup warm water, 1/2 cup flour, and another teaspoon of sugar or honey. Allow starter to sit out for a day to ferment before putting back in the refrigerator. Wait at least a couple days before using the starter again. If you don’t use the starter for 10 days, stir in a teaspoon of sugar or honey to keep it active and stick it back in the fridge.

Never take more than two uses of the starter at a time. Each use is 2/3 cup starter per one loaf recipe. You can take out double that (1 1/3 cups) if making two loaves, and in that case replenish double, but no more than that or you’ll wear your starter down pretty quickly. (If you need to make more sourdough bread than that at a time, you might want to run two pots.)

You can keep your starter going for a long time if you take care of it. If you don’t and if you screw it up, just start over. It’s just yeast, water, sugar, and flour. It’s okay. If your house is very cold, it will not work. I tried to get some starter going one winter at the old farmhouse and it just sat there. Then I set it in front of the gas fireplace and it fried. There was no winning for losing there. I keep my new farmhouse at 67 degrees in the winter and it takes about a week to get starter going here, so unless you live in a freezing, drafty old farmhouse, you can probably ferment starter any time of the year. If you do live in a freezing, drafty old farmhouse, may I just say, I feel your pain and wait till spring to make starter. (I loved that old house anyway!)

Note: Always bring your starter to room temperature before using it in a recipe.


How to use Sourdough Starter in Grandmother Bread recipes:

The standard recipe must be modifed only slightly to make up for the addition of sourdough starter.

One-loaf sourdough Grandmother Bread

2/3 cup starter
1 1/3 cups warm water
1 teaspoon yeast (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 cups flour*

Two-loaf sourdough Grandmother Bread

1 1/3 cup starter
2 2/3 cups warm water
1 tablespoon (1 packet) yeast (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
8 cups flour*

*Flour measure is approximate–you may need slightly more or less. Use what you need to get a good, pliable ball of dough.

Follow general instructions for making standard Grandmother Bread. See full standard Grandmother Bread recipe and instructions here. The starter goes in with the water/yeast mixture in the first step, and the baking soda is added along with the flour.

You can also add up to three tablespoons of homemade dough enhancer per loaf (particularly recommended if using whole grains).

Baking soda interacts with the starter, aiding the rise. And, in fact, you can eliminate the additional yeast in the recipe if desired–if you are feeling all frisky and everything, because the starter itself has yeast in it, remember. Your bread will rise without any additional yeast–if you’re willing to wait three to six or more hours. Sourdough starter is actually a frugal way to stretch yeast, and the longer rise will give you more of that tangy sourdough flavor. However, sometimes we can’t wait all day for bread to rise, so don’t feel bad about adding the extra yeast and getting on with dinner.

You can use sourdough starter in any Grandmother Bread recipe variation. Make cool San Francisco-lookin’ round or long loaves, or just make regular sandwich loaves. Make sourdough raisin bread. Sourdough dinner rolls. Sourdough cinnamon crispies. Sourdough cheesy garlic breadsticks. Sourdough anything!

Including sourdough pizza.

Pizza made with Sourdough Grandmother Bread.

Grandmother Bread makes great pizza, by the way. Each one-loaf recipe of Grandmother Bread will make two large thin pizzas. See the Sourdough Pizza recipe here.

Go sourdoughin’. It’s fun and nearly free. And hey, if you go out on a wild yeast safari, tell me about it!

See these recipes at Farm Bell Recipes and save them to your recipe box:
Sourdough Starter
Sourdough Grandmother Bread


See All My Recipes


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