Creating Homemade Sourdough Bread From a Starter Mix

Lynn Keiley discusses the difference in quality you find when baking homemade sourdough bread from a starter mix.

| October/November 2002

Learn how to make sourdough bread from a starter mix.

Until the Industrial Revolution, nearly all breads were made from sourdough cultures fermented by air- borne bacteria and yeast, which create most these breads' flavor. Bake bread in this ancient tradition, with natural, homemade sourdough starter instead of commercial yeast, and discover rich texture and fabulous flavor.

Sourdough breads have been around for centuries. At some time in human history, people figured out they could ferment grain and use it to make bread. Perhaps, as Ed Wood speculates in his book Classic Sourdoughs: A Home Baker's Handbook (see MOTHER'S Bookshelf, page 103 in this issue), cakes of cereal left sitting out on warm days inadvertently collected wild yeasts. Eventually, someone baked the cake and discovered bread; later on, people learned to use pieces of old bread to make subsequent batches rise. It wasn't until 1857 that Louis Pasteur discovered the secret beasts that give bread its boost: yeast.

But yeast is not the only factor involved in making sourdough bread. Although yeast is responsible for raising the dough, bacteria, primarily lactobacilli, are an essential part of the process. They thrive in the acidic environment of sourdough's active yeast culture and produce a multitude of flavors for which sourdoughs are known.

Besides the intricate workings of yeasts and bacteria, time is the primary component that separates sourdoughs from commercial yeast breads. It takes many hours for the wild yeasts and bacteria in sourdoughs to do their work when making sourdough bread from a starter mix.

Unlike sourdough starters, which are inhabited by many different species of wild yeast, baker's yeast is made from a single hyperactive species that produces a uniform product in a relatively short period of time. The two hours required to make a loaf of fluffy white bread also do not give bacteria adequate time to complete their job, so most people consider the flavor far less complex and interesting. And a cake of baker's yeast produces only a single batch of bread, while a carefully tended sourdough culture can conceivably be passed down through generations.

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