#30. Basic Sourdough Bread – My Bread Bat Mitzvah

There is a right of passage in the Jewish religion known as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  When a young boy turns 13 he has a Bar Mitzvah and we say “Today you are a man.” For girls the age is 12 and it is called a Bat Mitzvah (we mature faster!).  I feel that making sourdough bread for the first time is a right of passage for a baker.  This was my virgin sourdough.  Although I have created 29 other breads in this challenge, not until I reached the Basic Sourdough did I feel that I had the right to declare myself a bread baker.  However, with my first sourdough under my belt, I am proud to shout, “Today I am a bread baker!”

If your bread knowledge is limited you may be wondering what all the fuss is about?    What exactly is sourdough bread is and what makes it so special?   As Peter Reinhart says, “What we call sourdough bread should more correctly be called wild-yeast breads as it is natural wild yeast that leavens the loaf and not all wild yeast breads taste sour.  By wild yeast we are referring not to commercial yeast that you buy in the supermarket, but a homemade starter, which begins with flour and water.  As this mixture sits at room temperature it picks up natural yeast spores from the air and the mixture begins to ferment and a wild yeast starter is formed.  A portion of this starter is used in the making of sourdough bread and this starter dough acts as the leavener in the dough so you do not have to use any commercial yeast. 

This is a very rudimentary explanation of what sourdough is.  If you are the type that needs a deeper scientific explanation (and you know who you are) check out this web page on the Bread Baker’s Forum.  This wild yeast starter takes about 6 days to make and then you can tuck it in the fridge and basically ignore it, except for a weekly feeding where you add more flour and water to it to refresh it.  When you’re ready to make sourdough bread, just scoop out some starter and go.  Starters can live and thrive for years.  In fact they get better with age (just like women!).  Many people even name their starters. 

 I have named mine Phyl, in honour of a fellow BBA baker.   With his guidance and detailed instructions, I made my own starter.  He has idiot proof instructions on his web site.  I followed the steps, day by day.  When I arrived at day 4, Phyl said to wait until the starter doubles in volume before proceeding.  He said it may take quite a while.  By the next day mine still had not doubled.  I was convinced it was no good and e-mailed Phyl for advice, asking him if I should chuck it out and start again.  He advised me to goose it with a tablespoon of rye flour and see what happens.  Sure enough it doubled within two hours.  Here is a picture of “Phyl”.  He is 4 months old now.

Be sure to use a large enough container to allow the starter to grow and thrive.  If you don’t you will end up with starter all over the inside walls of your fridge when it outgrows it’s home.

 To make the sourdough bread 2/3 of a cup of the starter are mixed with bread flour and water.  This is then left on the counter for several hours until it doubles.

Once it has doubled it, into the fridge it goes overnight to allow further good flavours to develop.  The next day,  this stage 2 starter is mixed with more flour (I used 1/3 whole wheat flour and 2/3 high gluten bread flour), salt and water.  You will notice that commercial yeast has not been added at any point.  Phyl (my wild yeast starter) is going to do all the heavy leavening.  This is a very sticky dough.

Since today is the day I have declared myself a bread baker, I decided to be even more authentic and knead by hand.  I figured out how to add video to my blog, so here is a short video of me kneading by hand.  Please ignore the  music in the background.  It is my son’s “Jazz and Jam” toy and it is the most annoying toy in the world.

Inspired by a sourdough bread I recently ate on my trip to Jerusalem, I added dried blueberries and toasted pecans to my bread.  Additions are best kneaded in during the last 2 minutes of kneading so that they do not get too crushed.


The dough is set aside to rise for about 2 hours until doubled.  Then it is divided in half and shaped into boules (balls) or batards (ovals).  The boules are placed into bannetons (special baskets) or a stainless steel bowl. lined with an oiled and well floured cloth, for their final proofing.  The batards are placed on a stiff cotton or canvas cloth with the sides built up around the dough so that the oval shape holds and does not flatten.  I made one boule and one batard.  After about 3 more hours the loaves had finished their final rise and were ready for the oven.

The loaves are baked on a baking stone in a hot (500 degree F) oven for about 20 minutes.

I had to slice into the bread before the recommended 45 minute cooling waiting period was up because someone was impatient.

The sliced bread was quite beautiful studded with pecans and blueberries.


The bread was even better the next day with butter for breakfast .

19 thoughts on “#30. Basic Sourdough Bread – My Bread Bat Mitzvah

  1. gaaarp

    What beautiful bread!! I would never have thought of blueberries and pecans. I’ll have to try that next time I make sourdough.

    I’m honored and humbled that you named your starter after me. And I’m so glad to hear the tutorial worked out well for you.

  2. Abby

    What a gorgeous bread! I *love* the comparison to a bat mitzvah . . . When I make my first sourdough (hopefully in the next month), I will also shout, “Today I am a breadbaker!” =) I hope my starter behaves as beautifully as yours!

  3. gaaarp

    I think all bakers have that “aha” moment when you realize, “Hey, I’m pretty good at this.” I think the first successful wild-yeast dough means that for a lot of people. For me, it was my first Polaine-style miche.

  4. Frieda

    Congratulations on the birh of Phyl….and the successful creation of a sourdough loaf. I may need you to hold my hand when I go through my sourdough birthing process…

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  8. misterrios

    Awesome idea on adding the fruit and nuts. I love fruit and nut bread. I wish there had been more in the book but never thought to add some myself! Great job on the bread and welcome to Sourdough!

  9. figsetc

    I’m so glad that I just stumbled upon your blog. I’ve attempted to make this bread twice now with my final “fail” last night. I cant figure out what I’m doing wrong… but I’m pretty sure it has to to with not knowing how to feed it. How much do I throw out? how much flour and water do I add? I dont have a scale like Peter talks about so I get stuck. I’m going to have to check out the link that you provided with details. Thanks!

    1. saltandserenity

      Please do check out that link. It is really well written and gives a great step by step process. As far as how much to throw out and how much to keep, it depends on the size of container you have. I usually keep about 250 grams of the starter, then mix it with 250 grams of warm water (about 90 degrees F) and 250 grams of fresh bread flour. I throw out the remainder of the starter, (after I take out 250 grams) wash out the container and put the mixed up new batch back into the container. A scale is a great investment and they can be bought at all price points. Failing that, just keep about 1 cup of starter, add 1 cup of water and 1 cup flour. That should work out okay as well. Good luck!

      1. Daniel

        Actually, that should be a half cup of water and a cup of flour. My brother-in-law did the one cup to one cup before realizing that a cup of water is roughly twice as heavy as a cup of water. 1 cup flour is roughly 120-130g, whereas a cup of water is 237g.

      2. saltandserenity

        Whoops, was just informed by Daniel (see below) that water weighs twice as much as flour! So keep a cup of starter and add 1/2 cup warm water and 1 cup bread flour to refresh your starter. But if you are serious about bread baking, buy a scale. It is a baker’s most useful tool! Good luck. Let me know how the next attempt goes.

      3. figsetc

        Thank you both! I’ve been told a couple times now that I need to buy a scale if I’m going to make bread on a regular basis so I’m going to look into it. I’m just starting on my cooking/baking adventures and dont have all the necessary tools. This might go to the top of my list.


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