A Beginner’s Guide to Sourdough

Reader Contribution by Sue Van Slooten
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Photo by Pixabay/Pexels

A lot of people have been asking me questions about sourdough breads, so I thought I’d devote this blog and at least the next one as well, to that subject. I’ve heard about, read about, and eaten, sourdough breads for years, but it’s only the last six months that I decided to personally get into this aspect of bread baking. Some of the breads I tried in the past I really didn’t like, and wonder now how they were made (as in how authentic). All that changed six months ago. For Christmas, I received some sour dough starter (only I would get such a present for Christmas). It had been ordered from the folks at King Arthur Flour (KAF) down in Vermont, and it came in a little jar, looking rather sickly. I downloaded their directions, and off we, the yeasts and I, went. I am very pleased to report that not only did it survive, but is thriving. Part of the gift included the beautiful crock that goes with it, providing a very handy ceramic container in which to keep my starter. This also started me on a mad dash to find recipes, because originally being a frugal Yankee, I couldn’t bear to throw out half of it during the process of feeding and caring for my starter that first day or two (at least with the KAF method). In the end, there were several containers all going. Some I gave away to my students, all got used. But at least not wasted. In the process, the family has enjoyed sour dough waffles, pancakes, biscuits, and breads. In short, just about sourdough everything.

You don’t have to buy a starter, you can also make your own from traditional yeast, say Fleischmann’s for example. I will give their recipe for that below. I will also give the recipe for an excellent loaf, which I actually made into a sandwich-style bread that came from the Fleischmann folks as well. Both these recipes came from their excellent paperback book, Fleischmann’s Yeast:  Best-Ever Breads (see credit below). KAF also has directions for the starter on their website (and cookbooks) here. A hint:  Sourdough can seem intimidating at first, but if you persevere, the results are well worth it, because once you have your starter, you can branch out to many lovely sourdough breads, including my Olive Oil Sourdough loaf, which will have to wait for the next blog. This one is a classic crunchy loaf, but don’t worry, that will come on the heels of getting you started with this blog. I would also like to talk about the Artisanal Bread in 5 Minutes a Day method, also in a future blog. It’s a fantastic bread. I will also give more tips on the care and feeding of your starter, among other hints on sourdough. So, with apologies to San Francisco (and yes, their sourdough is unique, but then every region’s sourdoughs are), here we go.

Fleischmann’s Sourdough Starter  


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 package or 8 grams Fleischmann’s Traditional Active Dry Yeast or Quick-Rise Instant Yeast 
  • 2 cups lukewarm water (105 to 115 degrees F or 40 to 45 degrees C) 


  1. In 2-quart container or larger plastic container with tight-fitting lid, combine flour and undissolved yeast. Gradually add water to the dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Cover loosely; let stand in warm place until bubbly and sour-smelling, about 2 to 4 days. Starter may darken, but if it changes to another color, discard and start over (no pink, says Sue). To store, cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to use. 
  2. To keep starter alive:  Once a week, stir in 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour and 1 tablespoon lukewarm water (105 to 115 degrees F or 40 to 45 degrees C). Beat until smooth. Cover loosely; let stand until bubbly, 12 to 24 hours. 
  3. To replenish starter:  For each 1-1/2 cups of starter used, add 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour and 1-1/2 cups lukewarm water. Beat until smooth. Cover loosely; let stand until bubbly, 12 to 24 hours. Store as above.   

Photo by Pixabay/fancycrave1

Fleischmann’s Sourdough Bread 

Makes 2 loaves. 


  • 1-1/2 cups sourdough starter (use Sourdough Starter recipe above or your own starter) 
  • 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour* 
  • 1 package or 8 grams Fleischmann’s Traditional Active Dry Yeast or Quick-Rise Yeast 
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 cup very warm water (120 to 130 degrees F or 50 to 55 degrees C) 
  • Cornmeal 


  1. Stir sourdough starter before measuring. Measure out 1-1/2 cups sourdough starter and bring to room temperature. 
  2. In large bowl, combine 1-1/2 cups flour, undissolved yeast, and salt. Gradually add water and starter to dry ingredients; beat 2 minutes at medium speed of electric mixer, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat 2 minutes at high speed (Sue’s note: I didn’t do this high speed mixing step). With spoon, stir in enough remaining flour to make soft dough. Knead on floured surface until smooth, about 8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover; let rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, 30 to 60 minutes. (With Quick-Rise Instant Yeast, cover kneaded dough and let rest on floured surface 10 minutes. Proceed with recipe.) 
  3. Punch dough down. Remove dough to floured surface; divide in half. Roll each half to 12 X 9-inch rectangle. Beginning at long end of each, roll up tightly as for jelly roll. Pinch seams and ends to seal. Taper ends by gently rolling back and forth. Place, seam sides down, on large greased baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover; let rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 30 to 45 minutes. 
  4. With sharp knife, make 4 or 5 diagonal slashes (1/4 inch deep) across top of each loaf. Bake at 400 degrees  F/200 degrees C for 30 to 35 minutes or until done. For crispy crust, spray loaves with water just before baking and every 5 minutes during the first 10 minutes of baking time. Remove from baking sheet; let cool on wire rack. 

*The amount of flour needed varies according to the consistency of the starter.  


“Fleischmann’s Yeast:  Best-Ever Breads.” Des Moines, Iowa:  Meredith Custom Publishing, 1996. 

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