If you’ve been on Instagram lately, or read any food blogs, you’ve probably noticed a lot of people talking and taking pictures of bread. Bread-making seems to be experiencing a resurgence, and one of the hot, crusty topics is how to make your own sourdough loaf at home. It’s a bit of a process, but the rewards are immense: delicious, crusty, deeply flavored bread that lasts much longer than most store-bought loaves. Here’s an introduction into what’s involved.

Start with the starter

While most homemade bread recipes call for instant, active-dry yeast, sourdough uses something called a sourdough starter instead. The starter consists of water and flour, and harnesses the power of wild yeast and bacteria in the flour (and many other places all around us). The mixture ferments, and is later added to bread dough to make the loaf ferment and rise.

Making a sourdough starter takes several days, but it’s not technically difficult. You simply mix equal parts flour and water on day one, and add more every day for four or five days, and watch as the wild yeast and bacteria activate. In a few days, bubbles form as the starter begins to smell sour and a stable culture forms. You need to refresh your starter over time, by adding flour and water, but it can last for a long, long time. Like, decades. Here’s a great guide from The Kitchn on creating your own sourdough starter.

Shaping the loaf

After you’ve successfully created a starter, you combine a small portion of it (you always keep some back for future loaves) with more flour and water to create a leaven, the starting point for your loaf. You make a separate dough mixture of flour and water, which is later added to your leaven, along with salt and water. The combined dough ferments, and you stretch and fold it a few times, let it rest, prod it again, shape it, and put it to sleep for a little while before baking it on high heat.

It sounds simple, but the detailed process and ingredient proportions are a bit complicated, and not easily explained in a short post such as this (or by an amateur such as myself). This post by The Perfect Loaf provides details on how to do it right.

Why make sourdough at home?

In addition to bread, you can use your sourdough starter to make many other baked goods including pancakes, biscuits and cakes. But there’s really nothing like sourdough bread. As I’ve said, it lasts for many days on the counter without spoiling or going stale. It has a rich, complex flavor due to the wild yeasts, plus, it’s vegan and contains no preservatives—just flour, water and a bit of salt.

Have you tried making your own sourdough bread at home? Share your experience in the comments!

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