Foolproof Homemade Sourdough
Updated: Aug 27
The Case for Sourdough
As a nutritionist I get asked about bread a lot. My clients just love bread. And so do I - I am German after all. Unfortunately bread does not equal bread. There are massive differences between the store-bought varieties and unfortunately many of them contain ingredients we would rather not have in our bodies like refined vegetable oils, lots of salt & sugar (or artificial sweeteners), colours, texturizers, stabilizers, or preservatives. This includes the ones labelled “healthy whole grain” or “gluten-free”.
So what is the best choice when you want to enjoy bread but avoid the nasties? Is there a healthy option that is easy and inexpensive to make yourself? I always preach that every one of us is different and has individual nutritional needs. But in general, for many people sourdough bread is easier to digest than other bread. To explain why that is let’s take a step back.
In normal bread phytic acid in the bran layer of wheat grains blocks the enzymes in your stomach that break down proteins and starch. As a result you might feel bloated and uncomfortable. Phytic acid also binds minerals, such as zinc, magnesium, calcium and iron, making them unavailable to us.
In Sourdough the wild yeast and bacteria (lactobacillus) that develop during the long slow fermentation neutralise and reduce phytic acid by up to 90%. In other words, the yeasts pre-digest the flour for you. The lactobacilli also improve the acidification thus making minerals such as magnesium and phosphorus more accessible for your body. Because it takes longer to digest Sourdough (especially if made with rye flour) it helps you to stabilise your blood sugar. And last but not least - with a focus on gut and skin health - Sourdough is a prebiotic. It feeds your good gut bacteria which have a direct influence on the health
of your gut wall and skin cells.
My Personal History of (Struggles with) Sourdough Making
Let me be honest with you, I used to feel intimidated by the idea of making my own sourdough. I thought it involved some mysterious magical kitchen skill gene that I might not have. Joining a class on gluten-free sourdough at the wonderful Bread Ahead baking school in London’s Borough market didn’t help. After numerous unsuccessful attempts I was about to throw in the tea towel. There is nothing more disheartening than the smell of old dirty nappies coming from the jar you’ve poured your soul into for a week. I cried to my Mama and Oma about it only to be told off for not having consulted them sooner. How could I forget! They’ve both been making and sharing sourdough for decades.
So here I want to share with you their very easy and rewarding recipe for home-made sourdough. And no, it does not require you to grow a hipster beard or a get a science degree first. All you need is a bit of patience. But it’s so worth it.
(A quick note on rye flour shortage: during lockdown I was struggling to get my hands on rye flour. The same recipe below also worked with spelt flour as well as with a 60:40 mix of buckwheat and white flour. For the healthiest option I would recommend to aim for organic locally milled stoneground varieties.)
MAKING YOUR OWN STARTER (DAYS 1-3)
150g rye flour
1/2 tsp honey
a pinch of cumin (optional)
Mix 50g of the flour with 50ml of water, the honey and cumin in a glass jar or bowl. Remember your dough will come alive so don’t make the container too small or you’ll end up with this problem:
I would also recommend giving your starter a name so you don’t forget to feed it and care for it. Place it in a warm/ sunny place (out of reach of toddlers and pets) and cover it with a tea towel.
DAYS 2 & 3
Feed your starter with 50g of the flour with 50ml of water both days and stir it properly. If there is dark liquid collecting on top you can just stir that in. The typical sour smell will start to develop and you will start to see bubbles. Take a minute to celebrate the fact that you’ve created life. If nothing is happening try another little honey boost (1/2tsp). You can keep feeding your starter for more days. The longer it matures the stronger the taste of your sourdough bread will be.
TURNING YOUR STARTER INTO DOUGH (DAY 4)
50g of your starter
500g rye flour
Mix 50g of your starter with the flour and water and leave it for one more day in its usual spot. The rest of your starter can be discarded, frozen or given to neighbours you’d like to impress/ win over/ make peace with.
TURNING YOUR DOUGH INTO BREAD (DAY 5)
500g rye flour
150g linseeds (or any other seeds you have available)
2tbsp spice mix (optional - I premix in a little container: 2 tbsp each of caraway, aniseed, fennel and coriander)
Put 50g of the day 4 mixture into the fridge (for the next bread) and mix the rest with the flour, water, salt, linseeds and spice mix. I like to use my hands for this step to make sure everything gets mixed through really well.
Leave the dough for another hour in the bowl.
Transfer it to baking forms, only filling them halfway. I like to use small silicone bread forms which usually give me 3 loafs with this recipe. Leave it again for an hour.
Heat the oven to 250°C/230°C (fan) [that’s 480°F/450°F (fan)] and put a little bowl with water into it. Bake the bread for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 200°C/180°C (fan) [that’s 390°F/360°F (fan)] and bake for 50 minutes.
One of the loafs we usually eat fresh within one or two days. The other two we slice, freeze and toast on demand. Enjoy!