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Make your own sourdough (github.com/hendricius)
619 points by hendricius on April 28, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 204 comments

On the topic of bread for a moment: I recently started making my own bread. I bought a book on the topic by Ken Forkish "Flour water salt yeast", and I've fallen in love with the process.

The recipes are great, but the first few chapters that cover his journey to making bread, a bit of the science behind it and talking about the less scientific components of what almost sounds like "luck" (Really, just super detailed experimentation and careful repetition once you get the variables right) in the process of getting the perfect rise.

I've got to admit, i'm not a big reader, but there is something about the way Ken put this book together that I really enjoy. Maybe it's that he worked for IBM before becoming a baker and we both think like technical individuals? Maybe it's just good writing and I need to experience more of it? Whatever it is, I'd encourage you to buy the book...i've got no skin in the game, but bread making is great and his methods are slow but fun (My first bread took 18 hours to go through the whole process).

Second "Flour Water Salt Yeast". I've been baking bread for a few years now following his techniques with great success. He also has a 2nd book called "The Elements of Pizza" that I highly recommend.

I had a similar experience when starting. The process seemed time consuming and complicated, but now I can bake a couple loaves any day of the week with a small amount of planning and little effort/thought.

In both books he provides techniques and recipes for being able to start baking bread and pizzas with little or no upfront investment (some containers, a couple bannetons for bread and a peel + stone for pizzas). The best part of the process is experimenting with your own recipes. Here's a couple shots of some recent loaves and pizzas I've baked recently:





These look great!

The thing that blew my mind is that I've tried making various bread products before, with terrible outcomes...my first attempt to make something from the book was with a Poolish and it turned out astonishing; "That is the kind of thing hipsters would pay big bucks for!" - Amanda (my partner)

Thanks! I was intimidated by the poolish before I tried it, I commend you for going for it first! Now it's one of my go-tos because its timings are really convenient for my schedule (plus it tastes great). I personally like to make the poolish with 20% wheat.

Haha, funny because the first time I made it I did something a novice should never try and made it with 40% whole wheat (because i bought the wrong flour by accident...).

It's certainly a great bread to make in terms of timing, this conversation is going to make me get one started tonight!

I would suggest to score the bread in the middle before baking. That way you will have a higher rise in the oven.

I did an experiment here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BhERhlnDgdQ

Basically it's like cracks in the surface. At an angle the rise can be much higher.

Forkish suggests not scoring your bread. From what I understand it can be somewhat of a contentious issue in the bread-baking community.

I've experimented with scoring with mixed results, although I'll admit I don't have the right tool for it and my technique may not have been correct.

A community is basically defined as a group of people squabbling about something that outsiders find laughable.

He doesn’t suggest scoring because the creases in his recipe end up on the top of the dough, which does the same thing as scoring which controls the rise so it doesn’t blow out the side. Tartine and other recipes suggest scoring because the creases from the dough formation are on the bottom.

At the bakery i worked- we used forks - and only little punctures

Funny you say this. If you read the particular book we're talking about, he specifically talks about not scoring the bread.

The pizza looks great. Do you have a high temperature oven?

WOW dat pizza

Second his book. The best part of his book in comparison to other cooking books is...a schedule (instead of the duration). Start mixing flour and water at 9:30 AM and then do X at 10:30 AM, etc, etc, and you will get the bread at 5 PM for dinner. Simply following the schedule ensures sufficient time for the yeast to develop and the dough to rise. I have never failed with his schedule and friends think the bread is competitive with what's purposed.

Ken also has a YouTube channel with some helpful demonstrations for certain methods like turning and shaping, which are harder to convey in text and still photos.

For anyone using his book for the first time, there is an error in the amount of leaven he has you create in the leaven-only recipes. Just make the amount you need for that recipe plus some extra to keep the colony going, you don't need the huge amount it calls for.

^ 100% agree, that's the best book. It does a great job of explaining the exact reasons, science, and tradeoffs between the critical factors, and you come away with not just instructions, but a deeper understanding of bread and how it really works and why. It's a really great book.

Jeffrey Hamelman's "Bread" is also a great book. He really digs into the science of bread, and he also offers up an incredibly wide variety of techniques that will really expand your repertoire.

Unfortunately, I can't come up with the dough (ha ha) for Modernist Bread...

After reading Sloan's _Sourdough_, I ended up buying FWSY and have been making sourdough for about 6-9 months. I find the entire process remarkably fun, relaxing, and exciting. Unfortunately, I still can't get that real "sour" taste from my breads.

If you refrigerate your dough after shaping for the 2nd proofing, for 12+ hours, you’ll get those more sour flavors.

You can buy sourdough cultures that kickstart your starter. Basically it’s a culture that’s been cultivated for years and the starter gets frozen or condensed right before shipping and all you do is rehydrate it a bit and then maintain it.

> I bought a book on the topic by Ken Forkish "Flour water salt yeast", and I've fallen in love with the process.

Does this book actually have a process that makes a "fluffy" interior like the baguettes and boules I can get everywhere in France?

Normally, my bread excursions always come up what I term "artisanal"--nice flavor, but kinda "chewy". I have no idea what I need to change to fix that, and I can't seem to find anybody who does.

I would even be happy making "Ye Maligned Plain White Sandwich Bread" just to know the process as I could probably figure out what the differences are. But I can't seem to find anybody who can tell me how to do that either.

I've been searching for the same answers and from what I've found online, you want to make a higher hydration loaf.

I've been following recipes from a blog called The Perfect Loaf, going to try this one next: https://www.theperfectloaf.com/higher-hydration-sourdough-br...

Another good book is The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. If you're also into homemade pizza, his book American Pie is also great.

Just to throw in another title, Tartine Bread is excellent. The sourdough recipe from that book is the official recipe we used at the restaurant where I cooked in Park City, called Handle.


On this topic. I'm a terrible cook (and non-existent baker), but love fresh bread. I came across this 5 minute video [1] for a no knead Ciabatta and use it from time to time to make a loaf of fresh bread. Total time for my involvement runs under 10 minutes and I get fresh bread the next day. The only modification I make to it is to add a bit more salt for flavor and I skip the corn meal and shaping step. I pretty much just dump the ingredients in, stir, wait and then dump the dough out of the bowl onto the baking pan and shove it in the oven.

It makes a beautiful simple loaf with a hard crust and a very simple body, which I usually cut up to go with meals or to use as the base for some simple bruschetta snacks or garlic bread. It makes lousy sandwich bread.

One day, I may throw some olives in and make an olive loaf, but meh.

1 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YX_6l2bmvQI

I'll have to checkout Ken Forkish's book, but, in the meantime, I feel the need to throw out a quick mention of Jennie Shapter's Bread Baker's Bible [1]. I'm not much of a bread eater, but it's one of my favorite cookbooks despite that fact. There is a fair bit of information on the science behind the recipes, and she doesn't take any shortcuts for convenience's sake. Her recipes for English muffins, pizza dough, and many other things have never left me wanting. Some of them take a lot of work to prepare, but they're absolutely worth it.

[1] - https://www.amazon.com/Bread-Bakers-Bible-Traditional-Recipe...

He followed that up with a book on pizza. I was happy to find out that you can make pretty close variations of NY or Neapolitan pizzas at home. Now our Sunday evenings are pizza experiments.

You may really enjoy the classic 'Tassajara Bread Book':


Recipe is fine for sure, and I was doing this for a long time, but some time ago I have learned superior way of keeping sourdough.

The oft cited recipe asks for feeding it every day and also keeping something like 100% hydration. Remembering to feed it every day is a major hassle for me.

My sourdough is a piece of bread dough that is enough to use for my next batch. Basically, after first rise and before I shape my bread, I will cut something between 50-200g of dough, put it in a glass container with a small hole for air circulation and store it in the fridge. I will not feed the starter. Next time I make bread I will take it out of the fridge and mix it with measured amount of warm water that is going to be used for the bread.


- no separate feeding, you cut a piece of bread, and you use it as part of next one,

- hydration and salt level matches your bread recipe which means you can add way more or less starter and the bread will still have the same hydration and salt level,

- the hydration and salt level makes it stable in a fridge for a very long time, I have tested up to 3 weeks with no ill effects and I decided not to stretch it any more. I was only able to keep the traditional 100% hydration no-salt starter for only about a week or risk it spoiling.

I also use a spreadsheet to aid calculations (I plan to make android app but I somehow never have time to finish it): https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1lSBl3kjAeitBUH75DEIR...

I’ve got a lazier option. Get some starter, add 70g of flour, 100g water and leave it overnight. Then stick it in the fridge and use it like you’d use a very slow working shop bought yeast (and maybe 20g at a time). Don’t feed it till it gets low. Treat it mean, any more effort on it is wasted. Mine’s coming up on 10 years old now and is just fine. I accidentally put it in the freezer and lost it for a month, I think it improved it.

I'm sure that in few million years the story of this suffering will become a foundation of their culture ;)

The week of freezeover, when observant yeast abstain from wheat.

Even lazier option - go ask for some starter from a bakery.

Laziest option - buy bread from the bakery.

For each loaf you make? That takes more effort than opening the fridge.

I have the same recipe here. Stick it in the fridge

For people attracted to this methodology, the term to google is "stiff starter".

This is actually the "right" way to do this, or at least the way sourdough bread has been made traditionally almost everywhere I've looked into. The same kind of process applies to yogurt. You make the starting batch of bacteria in a similar way but then you just use a portion of the previous batch.

>The same kind of process applies to yogurt.

Yes, lots of people in India make yogurt (called curd here) at home daily in that way - just add a spoonful or so of the previous curd to the warm milk of the next batch to be made. I doubt anyone adds any separate starter culture - the old curd plays that role.

I'm not sure if I'm cargo-culting here or just trying to figure out the point of Chesterton's fence, but I would be worried about the effects of significant amounts of salt in sourdough starter. Salt could theoretically inhibit yeast growth less (or more) than bacteria, potentially causing the ratio to move in an unhealthy, less flavorful, more sour, or less voluminous direction. If it works and tastes good though, this is a super clever and awesome idea.

Lactobacilli are among the most salt tolerant of common bacteria. In fact, when making wild ferments, the salt is what selects for them (if you make low salt wild ferments, they're less sour and have off flavors). Yeast do alright in high salinity, but they need oxygen to thrive.

Salt-containing starters will taste fine and be healthy as the short chain fatty acids produced by the lactobacilli are what give most of the flavor and health benefits. Your rise might be a little bit weak though. The best thing you can do is take it out frequently and fold it a few times to oxygenate the dough.

Awesome, thanks for the info!

Have you considered opening an issue/sending a pull request on the github page? ;)

Excellent point, don't know why I did not think about doing this. I will do it tomorrow, I have a long drive before me today with wife and 3 kids.

> - no separate feeding, you cut a piece of bread, and you use it as part of next one,

This is exactly what I do when making yogurt.

And my grandmother too. Old Finish culture. Is also done here in Sweden but for Fil.

I had a starter for several years that was descended from the one kept by Dick Proenekke [1]. He lived alone in a cabin that he built himself--by hand--deep in the Alaskan bush. He made sourdough pancakes daily and his original starter came from a friend of his back in town. Someone related to this person sells the starter (on a wooden spoon) that you can buy [2] and use to create your own descendant.

There's a fascinating PBS documentary on him that you can watch on YouTube, if you're interested: [3]

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Proenneke

[2] http://richardproenneke.com/heirloom_sourdough_starter_spoon

[3] https://youtu.be/iYJKd0rkKss

Correct me if I'm wrong but if you get sourdough made at some other place after couple of weeks your local culture will take over thus sourdough will loose that other place uniqueness so to speak. But I'm not an expert just something I remember when I was interested in sourdough and pizza making.

I think that's a feature, not a bug :)

The sourdough that comes from your kitchen is going to be unique to that place. Even moving across town can have a huge difference. It's a built-in thumbprint that makes sure that no one can ever really make grandmas pizza bottoms, or baguettes, quite the same...

You are correct. Your method of keeping the starter will over time select the culture that is best suited for your method of keeping, from available gene pool.

Reminds me of a story I heard of a beer brand (forgot which one) that opened a new factory which was heavily modernised, but decided to take the wooden roof from the old one and install it above the copper kettles in the new location to make sure the environmental bacterial cultures would remain the same to keep their "flavour identity"

Anecdotally, my experience has been that while yeast cultures are durable, you can also get some maladaptive selection going from time to time; eg, if you are too irregular in feeding your starter, you might end up with a slow-growing culture rather than the fast-growing culture you get from feeding your starter twice a day and want for a good rise. Your starter will still be alive, but not as useful until you start feeding it constantly again and get that fast-growing culture established again.

He does his own narration in the film ("Alone in the Wilderness") as well.

That's not him, the narrator is Bob Swerer Jr who reads from Dicks autobiography. There are recordings of Dick you can watch and he sounds nothing like the narrators voice in Alone in the wilderness.

Really interesting, thanks for the links. I would be curious to see how that starter behaves differently then mine.

I really need a good microscope to analyse the different doughs in detail.

I have a colleague who sequences the genomes of the yeast in her sourdough starter to characterize how it changes over time :)

That's amazing! What are here most important learnings? TLDR :D.

That is an absolutely incredible combination of food and history. How did you like the results?

The starter was great but it's just sourdough starter. My palette is not refined enough to taste the difference between various sourdough cultures. Use the instructions in OP's link and it will probably be just as good. I think it's neat to have a starter from a place that's special to you. You could make one in your hometown, or in a favorite vacation spot, a place famous for its sourdough (like San Francisco), etc.

Sourdough cultures are not only about how they produce taste directly but also about how the yeast and bacteria interact and how quickly they grow. For example, yeast that grows faster will produce different results than yeast that grows slower. It depends on you whether you want fast or slow rise times.

For example, I prefer slower rise times, my doughs frequently ferment at room temperature for 24 and even up to 48 hours in extreme cases and still produce nice bread.

I do this for aroma but also for convenience. I like to be able to shape the dough in the evening and don't worry about it and put it in the oven in the morning. It grows so slowly that it can easily accommodate few hours of change in schedule or 1 or 2 digrees shift in temperature.

Here in Germany many people trade starters across villages. It would be interesting to have a scientific study on the differences. Maybe there is different bacteria/yeast in the different villages?

The yeast isn't just different between villages, it's different from street to street.

Wild yeast is everywhere, and very different from place to place. To my understanding a little jar of one culture stands no chance against the evolutionary pressures outside it, so within a week or two an imported starter will return to whatever yeast exist in that specific area.

Trading across villages would be a really good way to keep 'new' flavours coming in :)

The type of flour and the temperature it’s kept at make the most difference imho. You can notice a change in the smell as seasons change.

That would be really interesting to have in the recipes as well. Did you conduct any A/B tests?

More or less - bulking up the starter and putting it in the fridge (7 degrees) but leaving some in a new batch of bread at 2o degrees. If you try bulking up a starter with high grade white flour you notice a difference pretty fast too.

He also contributed science with data taken from the field during his outings, when he wasn't busy being a badass

If you live in Denmark, the Meyers bakeries will give you free starter, just bring a container:


I believe this actually used to be written into law in the UK. I don't think it is technically law any more, but regardless my dad finds that bakeries are always very happy to hand over some live yeast.

Not sure if that is the same as a sourdough starter though...

Same everywhere where there's artisan bread-making. Just ask if they have some and they'll gladly gift it to you or tell you when to come back.

I started sour-doughing last fall (My wife liked it better than my brewing hobby since it took shorter chunks of time and she liked the final product).

My local bakery actually wouldn't give or sell me a starter because, and I quote, "I'd feel bad selling something like that, and it's too easy to start yourself".

He then gave me instructions for starting the starter myself.

It's been fun, and way less fussy than the internet likes to make it out to be. Except this page. Y'all seem to have the same abusive relationship to your starters as I do,.

That is truly amazing! How old is their starter culture, do you know?

I don't unfortunately know. Their Purpurhvedebrød [1] is very nice with walnuts and cranberries. It got me thinking I'd like to try making it. The recipe mentions 'young sourdough'.

[1] https://www.meyersmad.dk/lav-mad/opskrifter/purpurhvedebrod/

while this is an excellent introduction to creating a sourdough starter this doesnt cover oven temperatures, bulk ferment, shaping, or the obvious use of a banneton for final rise. There is every possibility you'll be able to create this starter and still end up with a pancake.

The final picture in the link is absurd. The crumb is too wet to do much more than gum up a bread knife and the crust is undefined. in the first picture, the crust is underdeveloped suggesting low oven temperatures or a cold kitchen.

Id like to clarify this recipe by adding the following:

80% hydration of the loaf if you're making a rustic/boule and to promote proper gas development in the gluten structure. 65% for sandwich sourdough loaves formed in a pan (and a prayer).

450F oven temp for 45 minutes.

12 hour rest after cooking to allow gluten to properly finalize.

1.8% salt in accordance with the EU health commission recommendations for salt content of artisan breads.

remember to subtract your preferment hydration from the total fermentation. that is, if you start with a 100% hydrated 200g starter, then 100g of water must be deleted from your 80% final hydration.

if you dont have the patience for sourdough --and frankly a commercial steam proofer-- then 1-2% yeast by weight is the general recommendation for white bread. If you've never baked before, sourdough is enough to turn you off to the idea of anything but store bought. it is not as easy as this post makes it seem.

Just to make sure we're clear on this, since I'm relatively new to breadmaking and have so far only followed exact recipes... 80% hydration refers to mass ratios, correct? 80% hydration = 100g flour to 80g water?


> If you've never baked before, sourdough is enough to turn you off to the idea of anything but store bought. it is not as easy as this post makes it seem.

totally disagree..

I've made bread exactly 1x, which was a week long white flour sourdough using similar techniques as described here, and it was pretty good. Not as good as a bakery, but still pretty good.

Thanks for adding pretty much the same things I wanted to say, but doing so better. Getting good at leavened sourdough takes time and practice, but it is absolutely worth the journey. There is a world of variety and frustration and joy and surprise in just flour+water+salt and whatever wild yeast is in your air.

You only read the sourdough starter page, there is more in the repo.

I find it funny that this is post is popular because the title includes “an engineers guide.” As a hobbyist bread and pizza maker there are so many amazing resources across pizzamaking.com, YouTube and reddit that have years of community input I’m almost insulted that this is more popular.

It's not a great "engineer's guide" though.

My main issue at a glance is it's too linear "Day 7 Add another round of ingredients. Day 8 You are done".

it doesn't work that predictably. You have to describe the outcome you're waiting for, it might happen on an earlier day or later. For SW engineers, it's a "while (!ready())" loop, not a "for (day in 1..8)" loop.

Maybe it worked that way once for the OP. But it will vary. For SW engineers, this is a "works on my machine" type issue.

Yes! I'd been baking all my own bread for years but had repeatedly failed to cultivate a sourdough starter despite following lots of guides to the letter. I finally got mine living nicely when I completely let go, stopped measuring and worrying, just learned to smell and watch. I pour flour in straight from the bag and splash water from a big container, as long as the consistency is somewhere between thin mud and thick mud it can work (I think heavily chlorinated water makes it very difficult though). I have no fridge in summer and little-to-no heating in winter, my starter just sits on a shelf at various temperatures... if I don't use/feed it for a while it needs a couple of days of feeding to get busy again. Even when it's not very lively I still make dough, it just takes longer to rise (and the taste/sourness might vary). I've not bought commercial yeast for a year now, all my bread is sourdough. Flour, water, salt, those are all my bread contains...well, those and billions of tiny fungi and bacteria.

I feel like once flour was invented sourdough was inevitable. Adding water to ground up grain is an obvious move as it binds it and makes it easier to work with. At some point a flour/water mix is going to be left standing and start bubbling, and when cooked it's going to get magically bigger. Boom, bread.

I enjoyed the post, always glad to see anything bread related. Baking bread has been a huge positive thing in my life, I'll never stop now (I was even without an oven for a year and learned to bake bread in a cast iron pot on a gas burner/hob). It's a rich sensory experience with all the smells and textures, and working dough is very grounding and 'real'. Every loaf is different and it's great fun waiting to see what's going to come out of the oven. I'd massively recommend getting into bread!

Well done. I have the same issue. I have to weekly commute to another city. I have a really small apartment there with a super tiny oven. It's a challenge to bake, but that won't stop me. You can bake bread everywhere.

> I was even without an oven for a year and learned to bake bread in a cast iron pot on a gas burner/hob

What was the results like? This post piqued my interest but I don't have an oven in my home. Only gas stove top and a tiny gas grill.

I would strongly recommend getting a digital kitchen scale (cost is under $30) and measuring water and flour in repeatable weights. A volume of flour is just not a consistent weight - it can be packed loose or tight.

That's very relevant for the bread-making process.

For starter feeding, though, I'm with the GP post: measuring all the time is a PIA, and totally unnecessary. The margin of error is massive, after a few measures you'll know the consistency to aim for, and if you're too stiff/wet it's dead simple to compensate when baking.

Feeding by texture lets you get to know your starter better, follow its rhythms, and makes daily feedings a very easy habit to maintain. We've been pulling this off for 5,000 years without a digital scale :)

I think one of the biggest culture divides in baking is the "I love baking, it is so scientific and exact" crowd versus the "Everything makes bread!" crowd.

I personally use the big measurements (flour, water, etc) as a rough guide so that I'm in the right ballpark on consistency and don't need to add too much one way or the other to get it right, and usually ignore the smaller measurements entirely (salt, baking soda, cinnamon, vanilla ...) and pour what looks like an appropriate amount in my hand before dumping it in the mix. Fewer dishes to wash that way :-)

> so that I'm in the right ballpark on consistency

You can get lack of consistency with an accurate scale, just always experiment, e.g. vary a weight. That way you know what you did also get _repeatability_ if you like the result.

> entirely (salt, baking soda, cinnamon, vanilla ...)

Sourdough bread famously has only 4 ingredients: flour, water, salt, yeast (starter). Though that's not the whole story, there is also seeds, and more than one kind of flour sometimes.

> pour what looks like an appropriate amount in my hand before dumping it in the mix. Fewer dishes to wash that way :-)

Measuring by weight is exactly the same, the mixing bowl is on the scale. pour in until the right weight is reached.

> For starter feeding, though, I'm with the GP post: measuring all the time is a PIA, and totally unnecessary.

If you use the same flour every time, and are aiming for the same consistency, then you will want roughly the same amount by weight of it each time. I get that you don't need to be that precise for the starter, but I don't find the weighing process at all hard.

I think it's a thing about how you like your life. Are you looking for an exact taste every time or do you want to be surprised now and then? What I have seen from Germans, they are very routine-bound and don't like it if it's out of sync. Swedes are a bit looser but still want the normal bland stuff, no exotic tastes. However this seems to change slowly thanks to lots of baking/cooking programs on the telly the last 30 years.

Haha that's true. The beauty and difficulty is that there is always a little bit of random in every recipe. We would need a docker machine as kitchen in which we bake to avoid any side effects. Every oven, every flour is different.

I like making sourdough because it's tasty, you can experiment, and unlike software it's entirely analogue and biological not digital. We're dealing with bugs not bugs.

Yes, their GitHub guide should probably include a deep learning classifier that implements the ready() function.

The MVP of that classifier is a few photos for a person to work from.

Also.. 450gr flour needed, but day 1: 100gr flour + 6*50gr makes 400gr in total. Off by 1 error?

Thanks :D. My bad.

I agree but I do like the fact that it's written in Markdown and hosted on GitHub. I don't know many recipe books that allow for issues to be raised and that accept pull requests ;)

Nor many that need to ;) FWSY is pretty flawless as a whole work, and much more depth than this.

I really tried to skip all the mambojambo. Most recipes do not go into detail to answer the question of the why. It's almost like using any kind library when programming. You don't know the internals. My goal however is to really deep dive and actually go through the process of how the internals of that library work.

My bread method is the opposite - how many steps can I skip and get a great result. The answer for me has resulted in a loaf started just now (with a 10 year old starter). It’s evening now and I’ll cook it tomorrow at midday. Edit: I’m talking about a bread recipe, not a starter one, which is clearly an important difference.

Pizzamaking.com was one of my first communities and it was eye-opening to see how passionate people were about their craft even as hobbyists.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised it's still active given their tenacity and older audience.

Baking is a surprisingly geeky thing to do. While cooking is more about knowing your ingredients and tasting as you go, baking absolutely requires strict adherence to a recipe.

I can't actually remember why I started baking bread. But when I first started the product was horrible. I would let the dough rise in a warm place and "make it big" as quickly as possible. For me the rising was just about CO_2 so it made sense. It took me a long time to realise that time is a crucial ingredient. You want the rise to take more time, not less. The difference is astonishing.

I never had much luck with sourdough but I actually prefer the taste of "fresh" bread anyway in the French style. Sourdough is in fashion right now but don't think using cultured yeast gives an inferior product!

>baking absolutely requires strict adherence to a recipe

nonsense every recipe you know of started life as some cook mixing crap until "it seemed alright" before putting it in a an oven they gauged by hand, eye, or by how long it took to cook some sacrificial dough/food. then eyeballing the bread for when it was done.

Bread is especially forgiving, but this holds true for basically all baking too. Even as goddamned finicky as filo or puff pastry can be, they still come down to "yeah thats about right" far more than they do strict anything.

All that eyeballing and intuition comes from experience, though, which is experimentation and learning. That's a pretty geeky process in its own right. And if you're in a commercial bakery, the process is down to a science, with exact weights and temperatures and times. You can also do that at home, and if you do, the results do come out better (or at least more consistent).

Bread has this nice property of being both forgiving and playful, as well as highly optimizable with experimentation. Nice combo.

Yeah you can easily eyeball breadmaking and get something you can eat, not sure why it has this reputation. Making a cheese sauce is harder than making bread.

My bread has increased in quality so much by (a) mixing the ingredients (without the yeast, or with only a little bit of the sourdough starter) the night before (i.e. making a poolish), and (b) taking a full day to prepare: you knead a little, let it rest for a couple of hours, give it a few turns, rest, etc. As a result, the bread is much more flavorful, and the flavor is more delicate: not too sour, not too sweet, and you can chew it and feel the flavors develop.

My bread has much better flavor if I let the dough sit in the fridge for four days.

I've tried chilling dough but I've found the yeast never fully recovers and just won't give the rise I want in the oven. It's been a source of frustration because everyone else says it works!

Never had a problem with the rise even if I leave it in the fridge for 6 days. I also use much less yeast than the recipe calls for though.

Maybe your refrigerator is colder than most.

I do this also for time control. I can effectively bake whenever convenient if it's half dormant in the fridge.

Also, no need to knead with this method.

Good point. Mine gets stirred and warmed up in a bread maker for 45 minutes, then goes into the fridge. If I forget it sits there until I remember. Once risen it’s knocked back and put into a banneton to rise. Then into the oven. The move into the banneton is the only time I touch it before eating.

Oh? So you mix it and just stash it in the fridge for a while?

Yeah, I throw it in cold sometimes without much effort. I have some pales that I use to make a few loaves in bulk.

Better oven rise too, and over rise is the best kind.

> while cooking is more about knowing your ingredients and tasting as you go, baking absolutely requires strict adherence to a recipe.

I am not sure I agree (or maybe I don't understand).

It is fairly common to mix a dough and have a recipe step like "when it's smooth and doesn't stick" or "when the consistency is of a thick goo". Ambient humidity, what sort of surface you use for kneading, temperature of your leaving chamber or fridge, age of the yeast etc... all affect dosage and process, so you need the equivalent of "tasting" anyway, it's just that you check stuff with your hands rather than your mouth.

And the same ease applies to cooking: you can make an edible stew as easily as you can make an edible loaf of bread. It's just when you try to make harder/better stuff that you need to stick to a recipe (think: pate a bombe for tiramisù)

When presented with a selection of vegetables and other ingredients a good cook could make a nice meal by just making stuff up. Want a thicker sauce? Reduce it more, or maybe thicken with flour, it's up to you. You can just taste and adjust as you go.

You can't do that when baking. If you add too much liquid to a batter you can't just add flour to make it perfect again. You'll ruin the other ratios. You can't just bake it at any temperature in any sized pan for any amount of time. When it comes out will either be cooked or not. If you burnt the outside then it's ruined.

A good cook can consistently produce great meals without any recipes whatsoever. A baker cannot.

Ummm... contextually: this is incorrect for a bread baker.

You can totally bake bread without a recipe, and adjust while you go. You can check breads before they're done and let them bake longer. Maintain a rough 1:2:4 ratio of starter:water:flour, adjust hydration/process for the kinds of flour you use, and you can bake 'whatever' and have it be very tasty.

Bread making goes back stupid long in human history. 5,000 years of fermented breadmaking... Until very recently breadmaking was just a skill you learned from someone else who could do it, baked entirely by estimation, and transmitted that knowledge orally. Grandmas buns call for "enough" flour. The pros tell you to reserve flour/water until things look "right".

For other kinds of baking I don't really agree either... it's more about ratios and observation, though. If your batter is too thin you absolutely add more flour -- you just can't ignore the other agents in the bake. Temp and size will affect cooking times, but you can change those while baking. You check cakes to see if they're done before taking them out. You lower temps if you see edges darkening too quickly...

I mean, if you burn the outside of veggies they tend to be ruined too, and cooks use experience and trial & error to navigate the difference in the same way bakers do.

Excactly. You mentioned a good point. It's a different kind of taste simply. However you can replace the yeast in any regular recipe with sour dough.

I failed so many times. But usually there is a good explanation to why your baking failed. I love it, you really have to use your brain.

I started making bread for the first time in the last two months. 20 years ago I tried a few times, and it didn't ever work.

This time round I've had consistently good bread, rising well, and tasting good. It takes me 2-3 hours to make, which is a reasonable way to occupy myself on a slow afternoon while my toddler is having a nap.

My only real annoyance is that I've no idea what I'm doing differently these days that makes it work. I'll pretend that since I've moved countries the temperature/humidity is the key, but I genuinely have no idea!

A couple left academia to pursue their passion for cultures and turned their treasures into a market:


Apparently they run into some sticky situations carrying dried yellowish brown powder around in aluminum foil. In Saudi Arabia they were detained at the airport for hours while authorities verified that the sketchy powder was in fact mostly harmless yeast.

Another misunderstanding - I know someone who had a baby sitter mistake the starter for yogurt and eat some. I’m sure that was an unpleasant surprise.


Presumably the remainder was harmless non-yeast.

Would this have appeared here is it wasn't hosted on github?

Don't get me wrong, I am quite interested in fermentation (I make my own sauerkraut for probiotics), but it seems strange for it to appear at number one on the front page of HN.

From the README:

>Learn how to master the art of baking the programmer way. If you love programming, you will also enjoy breaking some bread. A/B test, iterate and ultimately become a self taught baker. This repo is dedicated to becoming your bread manifesto with useful tricks and hacks. Furthermore the goal is to illustrate how easy making bread is and that you can get started today without expensive tools.

What's number one is always rapidly changing though, so it doesn't mean much.

Here's one secret to getting on News YCombinator.

I suggest starting with fresh ground rye flour as it has more yeast on the berries surface. If you can't grind it fresh yourself from rye berries, then purchase something reasonably fresh like Bob's Red Mill. I consistently get a new starter up and running in 4 days, after the fourth day I mix in other (wheat) flour.

Second suggestion is to start with a smaller amount (say 15 grams) and feed double whatever you have with each feeding (equal parts by weight flour and water). Throw out some starter when the feedings get too much (remember you're doubling each time).

The water should be left to dechlorinate in an open container overnight. I have a pitcher with a cloth over it that I keep on a shelf for feedings and making bread.

White flour and lower temperatures will slow down your starter activity (useful at times). Whole grain flours and warmer temps will speed up your starter activity.

I've been getting into baking bread lately, so it's very cool to see an article like this on HN.

That said, if you're new to baking, I wouldn't recommend this as a starting point unless you strongly prefer sourdough to other breads. Sourdough is trickier, and this recipe is quite minimalist: lots of ingredient ratios and timings should actually vary with your ingredients, equipment and supposedly even atmospheric conditions.

I'd recommend one of two loaves for fellow newbies: a bloomer or soda bread.

The bloomer requires more effort and time, and is a fun way to try out all the basics of baking: kneading, yeast, proving, shaping. It'll give you a loaf like the kind you're probably familiar with, albeit at a higher quality than supermarket bread.

Soda bread is very easy to get good results from and very fast to bake. It doesn't require kneading, and doesn't use yeast -- instead using bicarbonate of soda and buttermilk. You can substitute buttermilk with anything milky and acidic; I use soy milk mixed with lemon juice. This is a great way to get quality bread with minimal effort, and you can make it sweet or savoury according to your preferences.

I'll post some recipes later...

Edit: recipes in my reply to this comment.

These Paul Hollywood recipes are a pretty good starting point. They don't mention the buttermilk trick, but it's easy enough: squeeze half a lemon into your milk.

The nice thing with Hollywood's bloomer recipe is that lots of people have tried it, and share tips for debugging problems you may encounter.

Bloomer: https://www.bbc.com/food/recipes/paul_hollywoods_bloomer_846...

Soda bread: https://www.bbc.com/food/recipes/soda_bread_24837

Hey, how do I clone source code? All I get are some Markdown files :( I'd like to compile and execute it quickly as I am hungry! Thanks!

You can also speed up the process and have your bread ready in 1 hour. You just have to kneed the dough way more. When I have guests I use my machine to kneed the dough.

Where can I get a dough coprocessor? Can't see any on eBay :(

Carefull for what you wish, might get spaghetti!

My wife has kept a sourdough starter going for almost 3 years now, including us being gone for 3 weeks - Fridge slows down/temporarily stops the process.

The extra that gets taken out each night during a feeding is now used to make sourdough pancakes - Refrigerate then warm up when hungry.

I do not see baking temps mentioned, she uses cast iron dutch ovens with lids, something like 15 minutes at 500 degrees, lid on, 15 minutes at 450 degrees lid off, then another 30 or so minutes lid off at 400 degrees. Definitely scored.

She is not available right now to correct me, so be careful if using these steps. Many recipes vary, here is one that is close to what I vaguely remember: http://www.bakersandbest.com/2012/06/10/sourdough-so-simple-...

And she will use no other flour, just King Arthur Bread Flour. Although once in a while she does mix in other types of King Arthur flour, such as Whole Wheat or Rye.


Edit: She corrected me: 20 minutes at 500 degrees lid on, 10 minutes at 450 degrees lid on, 15 minutes at 450 degrees lid off. And she said the rising will break the bread unless scored (giving the rise a semi-controlled path).

When I see the biga being made, I know the next day is folding, and the following day the house is going to smell wonderful. :)

"As a baker it is your job to ensure that [the yeast and bacteria] feel happy and enjoy their home."

... until you impose hell upon them in the form of an oven. That is one awkward "light-hearted" sentence.

As a German, I appreciate this. I don't like the idea of nations, but in cultural terms, bread is one of the best innovations in this country. I always miss high quality bread when going to the US.

It seems like places like the US and UK have swung between extremes: first a long period when beer was nothing but bland macrobrew: Bud light, Heineken etc, and then a growing counter-movement of artisanal craft beer.

Same with bread, Artisanal Craft Sourdough bread is a thing now.

Your doing down your beer and desserts.

"If you don't feed your mother dough it will starve eventually as it has no more food." I read this out of context with hilarious interpretation.

Being a programmer who recently started making sourdough, this is nice to see. But I have to admit that I clicked because I saw Github + sourdough and thought that someone had coded an app to help you track weights and timing!

My mom's been baking sourdough bread once a week since I can remember. We've been a family of 6 killing at least a whole leaf a day. The awesome thing about sourdough bread compared to yeast or yeast/sourdough based mixtures is the ability to stay fresh for way longer. The neighbors would show up and ask for a piece of the mother dough for their occasional bread-baking experiments. While studying I really missed 'proper' bread - especially during my time living abroad. I've been baking my own bread ever since, too :)

I started making sourdough out of law school back in the late 90's when I got Nancy Silverton's book on the topic (La Brea Bakery Founder). I baked bread back then, but found it too exacting and inconsistent. I began again years later after starting a family and almost every weekend we make the amazing sourdough pancakes and waffles in Silverton's book. We maintain a starter that's 60% water and 40% flour by weight. It stays in the fridge during the week. We pull it out Friday morning, feed it midday and night and it's ready to go in the morning a repeat for Sunday. Then it gets a small feeding and goes back in the fridge. It can stay there for up to a few weeks. The pancakes are excellent and light I believe because the yeast digests much of the flour. You don't have that heavy feeling after eating them. The waffles are the best I've had anywhere. I have a one-page spreadsheet that has the feeding recipe and schedule for various batch sizes and the recipes for the waffles and pancakes if anyone is interested. We also make kefir soda from water kefir grains, which is really good. Naturally carbonated soda that's not too sweet and is probiotic.

Nice guide.

I have tried a couple of sourdoughs but mine nearly always end up with a lot of alcohol (acetone smell, bitter liquid). As OA says, you can just scrape the liquid off the top and feed the sourdough to refresh it, but then the bread I bake has a slight acetoney taste.

Suggestion: add a description of the sourdough after each day so people have a rough idea if their sourdough is growing. The photo helps - you get a lot of bubbles after around day 3 or 4 and the volume doubles.

Fermentation goes through four phases, roughly paraphrased into: wheatey, champagne, alcohol, vomit.

You're describing a starter that is too 'old'. Very 'young' starters have little flavour, and then get sweet and honey-like before getting souuuuuur. Personally I'd recommend just leaving it on the counter and going to a 24 hour or 12 hour feeding schedule.

Flavour: you can absolutely scrape the bad stuff off the top and feed the starter to keep it alive. But if you're going to bake, remember that you're blending out the original product... If you start with some 'alcohol' or 'vomit' and mix out half, bread made the next day will be 33% bad-stuff. You want to mix out for say a week or so to get back to mostly tastey happy stuff.

Also: not sure if this applies, but in general making a mature starter is a 5 week process from scratch. Bubbles in the first few days are generally bad bacteria dying in the container you're using... You can still bake with it, but keep going for a week and a half and see what kind of lovely smells start coming :)

> If you start with some 'alcohol' or 'vomit'

I've always heard it called 'hooch', which I find really charming for some reason.

Been through all four, not too much on the vomit stage though.

Must have another bash at it soon, thanks.

Thanks for the suggestion.

I think what you describe is natural. Don't worry. As you feed the mother dough from time to time that taste will diminish.

> Learn how to master the art of baking the programmer way. If you love programming, you will also enjoy breaking some bread.

As a hobbyist sourdough baker and professional software engineer I definitely think there is some truth to this.

For me bread baking is a great complementary pursuit to programming. It is entirely manual and rooted in the physical world, which makes it a great way to "unplug" and decompress. But it also requires a similar type of analytical skills and problem solving mindset that developers tend to have.

If you are interested in getting into baking sourdough I would highly recommend this blog as a resource:


The tutorials and recipes are very beginner-friendly and have tons of hi-res photos. I own about 6 books on bread baking but would say this site is probably a better overall resource for a beginner. Interestingly, the author of the site is himself also a software engineer. It definitely shows through in the precision of his recipes :)

Off on a tangent here but if your ever in Toronto, Canada and you like bread, visit Dimpflmeier http://www.dimpflmeierbakery.com/ or Future Bakery https://www.futurebakery.com/ down the street. Both are Factory Bakeries open to the public and make some of the best Sourdough Rye and bread I've ever had.

Wish we had something like this in TX...

I'm surprised no one mentioned Alton Brown:


If anyone is looking for frugal yet meaningful gifts for Christmas, etc, I found great success by making gifts of my sourdough starter to some close friends and family. Some time beforehand, I started to split up and increase the amount of starter I was growing, then printed little laminated labels with instructions for feeding the starter (and an example recommended bread recipe that was easy to make), and attached it to the mason jars in which I was storing the starter.

I love this geek / hobbist way to approach cooking. Do you know any other books / websites / youtube channels with the same format?

I enjoy watching French Guy Cooking [1] (he even has a video series about making your own bread which is quite good) but never found other sources with the same format.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/user/FrenchGuyCooking/featured

Look into food science and biotech journals and other industrial literature. Heston Blumenthal's cookbooks also read more like lab manuals than most, and he takes advantage of common scientific instrumentation to create precise and reproducible recipes. Just learning basic lab methods is enough to make you a significantly more insightful cook.

If you're mostly interested in bread, I found Daniel Leader's books to be excellent guides. "Local Breads" in particular goes into the many different levain and biga/sponge methods and the regional sourdoughs that use them.

The modernist cuisine books might be up your street then.


He has now also written books about bread! https://www.amazon.co.uk/Modernist-Bread-Art-Science-Cuisine...

I am afraid your sourdough in the pictures is a bit unconventional. It did not raise as much I expected. Did you use a Dutch oven?

Also some useful links:



Get some starter for the price of a stamp: http://carlsfriends.net/source.html

Or choose from many others for sale: http://www.sourdo.com/our-sourdough-cultures-2/

You can also go to many local bakeries. Here in Germany the are happy to give you some starter for free. But I still think making your own one is so easy, it's 14 minutes of time over a week.

100% agree. Among my favorite things was growing a starter from scratch.

If you're looking for some more guidance on how to bake the loaf itself, I've been making bread in the following way several times a week for most of the last seven years, and it is easily adapted to sourdough: http://mackerron.com/bread

Nice article, thanks. Losing your starter can be painful as it takes at least a week to build a new one. So it's good to have a backup; build a bit extra then freeze it. Should you lose your starter, you can defrost the backup and carry on right away. Especially handy if you go on holiday or can't bake for a few weeks.

It's worth noting you don't even have to freeze it. Spread it out onto a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper or something, let it dry, crumble it into flakes and store somewhere dry and a temp-stable. I've reconstituted starter from flakes like this at least 6 months out and I'd be willing to bet it'd work at much longer timescales.

Wouldn't freezing kill the bacteria and yeast?

It's pretty hardy and goes dormant. You only need a few alive to grow a healthy starter back when you need it again, so every now and then I make an extra amount, mix in a little more flour than normal, spread it in blobs on an aluminium foil-covered baking tray and stick the whole thing in the freezer. After a few hours I come back, pop them off the foil and into a freezer bag.

When reviving, I try to use two blobs from two separate bags just in case one has died. I put them in tepid water for a bit, then add flour and mix and I'm back in business.

My starter was given to me by Dan Lepard[1] (the end-boss of breadmaking) during a sourdough masterclass that I was given as a present. I thoroughly recommend this as a present if you have a friend or loved one who is interested in making bread btw. It's fantastic and you get payback in tasty loaves for many years.


If it's just a few weeks, I've found the fridge to be fine. It will take a couple of feeds over 48h to re-activate completely, but it's otherwise ok.

If you start from scratch, you can get going in 3/4 days if you're willing to throw in a bit of honey or maple syrup at first (1tsp). Without it, it does seem to take a week.

Mine lives in the fridge and works just fine. A month or two in the freezer once by accident was fine too.

Freezing doesn't kill bacteria, it's actually how biologists preserve their samples. Most yeast you buy in a store (e.g. Fleischmann's) are better if you freeze it after opening for best quality.

To be fair, when freezing bacteria in a lab, you usually add glycerol to help avoid ice crystals (which is the thing that would kill the bacteria in the first place). That's not something you'd necessarily do here. However, so long as the dough mixture isn't too wet, I wouldn't see why it couldn't be frozen as-is

Interesting. Do you have a source for this?

Source for which? Both are google-able, bacteria/yeast freezing.

At one point in the past, I dried mine out and put it in an envelope in a drawer. I was able to reconstitute it from this at a later point. The starter I have came from here: http://carlsfriends.net, for anyone interested in sourcing their own.

Also really interesting. I would be curious to know whether both yeast and bacteria survived in this dried setup.

I tried it based on stories I'd heard about old timers using it as the mortar in log cabins between the logs, and later reconstituted. Don't know if anything really survives or not, but I was able to get it to rise and make bread so...

You can buy packs of frozen yeast from most bakeries.

You can order dry starter online, which can be a nice way to start up and works as a distributed backup plan ;)

How about that 122 year old sour dough starter mentioned in the recipe! The starter has been passed between multiple families and across generations.

Is anyone familiar with starter? Would a unique flavor or anything like that carry with the bread all those years?

I'm still trying to figure out how did something edible grabbed such attention on HN??

Have to mention http://www.sourdo.com

You can get cultures from all over the world.

But it’s also worth trying to start your own from scratch. As a complete noob I had some great success.

Anyone that’s interested in this and looking for a good short fiction read, pick up Sourdough by Robin Sloan. It’s a fun little tale set in the Bay Area about someone who picks up bread making as a hobby and things get weird.

Excellent article!

We've been baking sourdough bread at home for about a year now. When the starter is done, baking bread is a lot less work than when using yeast. The work is spread over a few days but there are no laborious processes involved.

Exactly. This strategy has been used by people since we first invented bread. I always think we should use it, it's ready for the taking.

I make this often to make żurek--a Polish soup.

Basically, instead of putting it into bread you add it to a broth with sausages, bring it to a boil for two minutes or until it gets dense, and it's ready.

One of my favorite.

My brain seems to recall you want to keep your sourdough for 2 weeks before using it, to make sure there are no harmful strains left in your culture. But I cannot find the resource atm.

Wait, wait... there's no salt in the sourdough?

Can’t be done. Bread is water, flour and salt. If any of those are missing it doesn’t work. This is a starter though, don’t salt that!

No mention of salt in whole page. That is a huge omission. It's not even bread without salt. If you follow this recipe it will taste awful. Use salt if you want your bread to be like bakery bread. And there is no "salt to taste" in baking. 10g per 500g of flour is a good start but the point you add it is important so check a proper recipe.

No salt at all in the sour dough. When baking you will add salt. I like around 2%. But in the mother sour dough you do not want any salt. This link is only about how to get your actual mother sour dough, not baking! That's still TODO and will follow up later.


2% of the flour's weight in salt. Let's say you bake 700 grams of flour (500 grams flour, 200 grams sour dough) then you would add 14 grams of salt. Note please that this is my personal preference. It could be you prefer more or less salt.

2% bp not total weight. Should probably clarify since this isn't a baking audience

> 2% bp not total weight.

Where bp stands for... what?

> Should probably clarify since this isn't a baking audience.

Yes please.


Considering where it's hosted maybe it's time for a fork, no pun intended.

Why would there be? You'd put salt in the mother dough, not the sourdough.

Been thinking about an automatic machine to make bread this way. Everything you need is flour, water and power if you have the machine.

Yes, but it is really to to have one machine to rule them all. It also depends on each flour you are using. The machine would work better in some countries than others.

Cooking/Making bread is fun like coding, except that its tastier and will still bake if you make tiny mistakes.

For those in the US which flour do you typically use?

Anyone had any success with whole wheat sourdough, and is so with which flour?

Nicely done, excellent pictures.

Thanks. I usually do the baking, my fiancee does the pictures :D. I love to bake and a/b test the different doughs.

Good Amount of Alcohol - What Quantity are we talking about here?

Tempted to file a bug report that simply reads, “Bacteria”.

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