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My Adventures in Sourdough: Wranglin’ that Wild Yeast for the First Time!

By Tess Jacobson, Phase II Fellow

During Phase I, I would watch in awe from afar as some of the other Fellows undertook the long process of making sourdough bread, coming out with these gorgeous loaves on the other side. Back then, I was always too nervous about getting in the way to ever ask any of them to help teach me their ways! But the time had finally come, I wanted to learn to make sourdough bread!

It happened on a whim, a Thursday, at night. My housemate and fellow Fellow Kaila was talking about baking sourdough that upcoming Sunday, when she looked over and saw the eagerness on my face.

“You wanna bake sourdough this weekend?” Kaila smiled at me, not realizing what she was getting herself into.

And that is how it started! Kaila held my hand along the way to help teach me all about baking sourdough.

Before I truly begin in my explanation of how I baked my first sourdough bread, I just want it to be stated that Kaila and I followed the Tartine method. Now, here’s what we did:

The first step was to make myself a sourdough starter.

My Starter:

1 spoonful of Kaila’s starter

1/3 cup of All-Purpose Flour

1/3 cup of Whole-Wheat Flour

An unknown amount of warm water (enough to get to the consistency of a thick batter without lumps)

After mixing all of these together in a wide-mouthed mason jar, I put a paper towel and ring over the top of it and placed it on top of our refrigerator (you could put it in another warm non-drafty place, that’s just what worked for us).

On Friday, I did not touch my starter, although I did keep my eye on it and saw that it was workin’ hard; air bubbles seemed to be everywhere, and it had a beautiful consistency!

On Saturday morning, I fed my starter, so it could be prepared for the next day. I scooped out about 70% of my starter and composted it, before adding the same ratio of flours and water that I did for the original starter.

Feeding my starter.

On Saturday night, I made the leaven. Using a scale to measure, I combined 100 g of bread flour, 100 g of warm water, and 1 T of my starter. Then, I returned my leaven to the top of our fridge.

My gorgeous looking leaven!

On Sunday morning, we started the long but intriguing process of making sourdough!

First, we measured 700 g of warm water into a bowl.
Then, we added 200 g of the leaven to the warm water and squished it around.
After combining the leaven with the water, we added 1000 g of flour: 900 g of white bread flour and 100 g of whole-wheat flour.
What the dough looked like after mixing the water, leaven, and flour.

After combining, we left the dough to rest for about 40 minutes. I read that this rest can last between 25-40 minutes.

After the rest period, we added 20 g of salt to the dough.
Once the salt was added, we added 50 g of warm water.
Incorporating the salt and water into the dough.

Then, it was time for the bulk fermentation section of the sourdough making process!

During this process, I stretched my dough in its bowl every half hour for about 3 hours total. To stretch the dough, I first made sure my hand was wet (so the dough wouldn’t stick) and then I grabbed the underside of the dough while it was in the bowl, stretched the dough up, and then folded it over. I did this about four times in a clockwise rotation per session. The closer to the third-hour mark it became, the gentler I got with handling the dough.

Stretching the dough...
... and folding it over.

TIPS for the Bulk Fermentation Step:

- The dough should ideally be maintained between 78-82 degrees Fahrenheit for bulk fermentation to be completed between 3-4 hours. I kept my bowl of dough in our oven (not on) because it was warm and not drafty!

- You can tell the bulk fermentation is finishing up if the volume has increased by 20-30% and also if there are more air bubbles forming along the sides of the container.


After the bulk fermentation, I turned the dough out onto a clean counter space and split it into two different globs.

Splitting the dough into two separate globs.

The next steps in the process took me a bit to figure out and a lot of help and teaching from Kaila! This step is hard for me to explain, but basically, I shaped the dough by pulling the dough along the table surface to get tension, making the dough look smooth and taut. I did this to both pieces until they looked good (well, as good as they were gonna get)!

Shaping the dough for the first time!

After this initial shaping, I let the dough rest on the workspace for twenty minutes. Then, the final shaping took place. I lightly floured the top of the dough (the smoothest part) and turned it over onto the counter. Kaila showed me how to make a series of folds on the bottom of the dough, mostly to make sure the dough taut and ready to go to bake. I had an incredible amount of help trying to figure out how to properly make these folds, but I was told there is a lot of information on proper shaping on YouTube and in books – I’m looking into that now!

The now taut and almost ready to go dough ball, placed flour side/smooth side down in a bowl lined with a heavily floured towel (to prevent the dough from sticking).

Both bowls of dough needed to rise in their perspective bowls for about three hours. After this rise time, I tested my dough by pushing it with my finger to see how far it bounces back. When it bounces back halfway, then it is good to go!

During this time, I also preheated the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit with my Dutch oven inside of it to heat up. Once everything was nice and hot, I took the Dutch oven out and plopped my doughboy right into it. (I flipped the bowl right over, smooth/floured side up to get it in.) I cut an X into the top of the dough, put the lid back on and slid it into the oven. First, I baked the dough in the oven for 20 minutes at 500 degrees, then I lowered the oven to 450 for another 10-15 minutes, and finally, I took the lid off for the last 8-10 minutes.

The end products of my sourdough adventures! I got two beautiful (beautiful to me, at least) loaves of sourdough!

To Kaila: Thank you so incredibly much for putting up with me and my nerves, but mostly thank you for helping me learn a new skill that I had evaded for too long. You truly are the kindest, most patient soul out there. I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher to show me the way! I cannot wait to bake more sourdough bread with you!

Thank you for reading my rantings about making sourdough! I hope this can inspire someone else to get out there and make some sourdough, too! Look out world, here I come, making my own sourdough!

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