country-style sourdough bread


One baking threshold I have not crossed is sourdough. Peter Reinhart gives detailed instructions for developing a starter in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, but I’m intimidated by what seems like a detailed feeding schedule. Also, I’m put off by the idea of throwing away half the developing mixture several days in a row. Unfortunately, I’m getting the idea that there’s no getting around either of these issues. I scanned through the method in The King Arthur Flour’s Bakers Companion, and it was very similar to Reinhart’s.


Instead of following the seemingly complex no-yeast method for making sourdough starter, I tried a shortcut method that is essentially a dilute bread mixture, including commercial yeast. This is easy – just mix up the ingredients (I skipped the vitamin C) and leave it overnight. The longer you leave it, the more sourdoughy your bread will be.


The problem is that I never got a strong sourdough flavor from the bread I made with this mixture. I tried the recipe that goes with the starter, and it made some really tasty bread, but I had to use my imagination to taste any sourdough flavor. I tried it shortly after making the starter, and a few weeks later, and there was very little difference.


Trying to determine if the problem was the starter or the bread recipe, I also used my starter with Reinhart’s basic sourdough bread recipe. Same result – very little sourdough flavor, although otherwise a very nice loaf of bread. I’m visiting my mom next week and she usually keeps some sourdough starter in the fridge, which I’m almost sure is made with commercial yeast, so I might try to make a loaf of bread with that and see how sour it tastes. If it still has only very weak (if any) sourdough flavor, I’m going to have to admit that I need to do a real sourdough starter, without using commercial yeast.


Has anyone tried this? Is it easier than I’m making it out to be? I’m worried less about making the starter than I am about taking care of it afterwards. It sounds complicated and rigid, and I’m not sure I’m ready for the commitment. On the other hand, I want super tasty homemade sourdough bread!


One year ago: Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese. Possibly my favorite meal ever.  Except for sushi.

Proto-Dough (from Alton Brown for Bon Appétit)

Makes about 1 quart

1⅔ cups bread flour
1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
½ 500-mg vitamin C pill (not chewable), crushed
2 cups warm filtered or spring water (105°F to 115°F)

Sift first 4 ingredients into medium bowl. Place 2 cups warm water in large clean sealable container. Add dry ingredients; whisk vigorously to combine. Cover container with lid slightly ajar; let stand in warm draft-free area 24 hours.

Alton Brown’s tips for using proto-dough:
Afer 24 hours, you can use the proto-dough in a recipe. Or you can develop with flavor by adding a cup each of warm water and bread flour, letting it stand, uncovered, at room temperature until foamy (about 2 hours) and stashing it, covered, in the fridge for at least 3 weeks. An alcohol-rich liquid will rise to the surface every few days; just whisk it back in. “Feed” the proto-dough every time you take some to use in a recipe. For every cup taken add a cup each of water and bread flour, let foam, and return to the fridge. Proto-dough can last for years, as long as you keep taking and feeding. To use proto-dough in a regulr yeast recipe, replace the dry yeast and every cup of liquid (including dissolving liquid) with ½ cup of proto-dough, 5 ounces liquid, and ½ teaspoon instant yeast.

Country-Style Sourdough Bread (from Alton Brown for Bon Appétit)

AB note: The longer you wait to use the proto-dough, the tangier the bread will be.

Makes 2 loaves

1 cup warm filtered or spring water (105°F to 115°F)
¾ cup Proto-Dough
¼ cup buttermilk
¾ teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
3⅓ cups (or more) bread flour, divided
2 teaspoons salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray

Mix first 4 ingredients in bowl of heavy-duty mixer. Add 2 cups flour; stir to blend. Cover bowl with kitchen towel. Let rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1½ hours.

Using dough hook, mix in 1⅓ cups flour and salt at lowest setting. Increase speed slightly; knead dough 5 minutes, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough sticks to sides of bowl. Let dough rest 15 minutes. Knead on low 5 minutes. Scrape dough from hook into bowl. Remove bowl from stand. Coat rubber spatula with nonstick spray. Slide spatula under and around dough, coating dough lightly. Cover bowl with kitchen towel. Let dough rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Turn dough out onto floured surface and fold over on itself several times to flatten. Divide in half. Shape each half into 4×8-inch rectangle. Make 1 shallow lengthwise slash down each.

Sprinkle large rimmed baking sheet with cornmeal. Space loaves on sheet 3 inches apart. Dust tops with flour. Cover with plastic; let rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Place 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan on bottom of oven. Position rack at lowest level of oven; preheat to 500F. Place bread in oven. Quickly pour ½ cup water into metal pan; close oven door. Bake 5 minutes. Add ½ cup water to pan. Quickly close door; reduce oven temperature to 425F. Bake loaves until puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.



  1. It looks like awesome bread, that sucks about the sourdough not being so sour. 🙁 Hopefully you’ll have better luck next time. I use the King Arthur recipe and it worked out pretty well for me. Still not as good as the bakeries we love in SF though. 🙁

  2. If you’re put off by tossing a lot of the developing liquid sourdough starter, you might consider making Maggie Glezer’s firm (stiff) sourdough starter in her award-winning second book “A Blessing of Bread.” It is a great starter, takes about 2 weeks or less to make, takes up much less space in the fridge than a batter-type starter, is less wasteful, and very reliable (it will even come back after a year’s neglect!).

    Her instructions are beautifully detailed but very easy. I’ve had mine going since 2001.

    She also gives instructions on how to convert the firm starter into a liquid starter, which is called for in many recipes.

  3. nikkigladd says:

    I love your photos of this bread!

  4. I also really love that sour taste in sourdough breads, and am feeling not yet ready for the commitment of growing my own. Your bread looks marvelous, sour or not. The photos are so tempting that I’m gonna have to give it a try.

  5. I love sourdough! I can’t believe you made your own, it looks great!

  6. I’ve been keeping the proto dough for over a year. It’s still not very sour but the bread I make has a delicious complex flavor now. I notice that I get a better flavor if I can work out a slow rise using it (toss the bread dough in the refrigerator for a couple of days).

    You can feed the sourdough without tossing any of it. I keep mine in the fridge and feed it a half cup flour and a half cup water to get it active when I need to bake. I usually use what I need, feed it again and then pop it into cold storage after it has a chance to really feed on that last feeding.

    Some people mix in the “hooch” that develops when the starter sits. I usually pour mine off when it is feeding time. I’m not sure if that has any effect on the flavor or not. If you mix in the hooch you might get a more sour flavor? I hear that the flavor comes from bacteria (lactobacillis) not the yeast.

    Great country bread that you made! It looks beautiful with all of the holes!

  7. I believe the reason the C vitamin was needed to create what is known as a cofactor for enzymes to react int he mixture – this could accound for the lack of the “sourdough” flavour you were seeking

  8. (cont’d.)
    I am not a chef as yet but start school in January 2009 have been on a path of self study since April 2007

    In reference to the hooch I would suggest mixing it back in before taking out any to use to bake I beleive you will then get the “sourdough” taste you are looking for – I have a starter that is almost a year and a half old and I am getting the flavour- and I mix the hooch in with the layer of flour when feeding the starter or else the water/flour ration will be offset

  9. Maxx – I do mix the hooch back in. As far as the vitamin C, I guess I was thinking that it was mostly to jumpstart the process. I might have added a little vinegar to increase the acidity; I can’t remember anymore. I wish I could have added it, but my husband had our supply of vitamin C powder at work with him. 🙂

    Thank you for the insight. Good luck with school!

  10. nbmandel says:

    Joe Pastry’s excellent, scientific and amusing baking blog has a series of posts on sourdough starter:

    and more on leavening techniques, including microbial He says that the taste (sourness) of sourdough depends on the native yeasts and bacteria, and that San Franciscans happen to be very fortunate in both. There, “your starter will very likely culture a very different and interesting yeast by the name of Candida humilis (formerly called Candida milleri, formerly called Saccharomyces exiguus) which is notable in that it doesn’t consume maltose, one of the primary products of enzymatic activity. And that leaves the door wide open to a unique bacterium that lives in the Bay Area and goes by the name of Lactobacillus sanfrancisco. L. sanfranciso, as you might expect, is a prodigious producer of acid (lactic acid as well as acetic acid, which is what gives vinegar its sour tang).”

    Check out Joe’s blog, it’s all fascinating.

  11. Athterath says:

    Why not just buy a bit of some established sourdough culture, if capturing your own wild yeast and lactobacillus seems like too much work? One (a New England style, I think) is available in King Arthur Flour’s baker’s catalogue (, and Sourdoughs International ( offers a wide selection, from different parts of the world and with different characteristics.

    As for the labor-intensive process of keeping a culture alive. . .it really isn’t. A fully-established, healthy culture will go dormant if you leave it in the fridge, and remain–sluggish, but alive–for quite a while. (I’ve gone as much as three months, but there was VERY little activity by then. I think I almost left it too long. A month, however, is no problem.) You have to revive it before you can use it, but that usually just means feeding it, allowing it plenty of time to consume that feeding, then feeding it again. You needn’t throw anything away, either, if you’re willing to bake extra bread. Just put what you take out into a bowl and feed it, too. Vóila! Double the culture, all ready to go.

  12. Athterath – I guess I sort of assumed that professionals could buy sourdough cultures, but I didn’t realize that they were available to the average consumer. Thanks for the insight!

    And thanks for the tips on keeping a culture alive. I just got back from visiting my mom and I did try out some of her culture, with this bread recipe. It had a lot more sourdough flavor than mine did. She gave me some of her starter, but then I wasn’t sure how to take care of it. Plus, I still have my culture in the fridge, which I’ve been ignoring for quite a while. I think I’m going to go feed it right now.

  13. Simeon says:

    You want a more pronounce sour flavour add yogurt or kefir into the dough.
    Let the bread ferment over night, this help the starter to leaven the dough and impart the sour taste you desire.
    Hint: When forming your bread be extremely careful not to deflate the dough.