Do you suffer from FOMO? Is it driving you nuts wondering what everyone else is doing while they are at home these days? I’m here to tell you: they’re baking bread. No, seriously. This is just one of a dozen activities you probably associate with your grandmother that is the hot new “it” thing.

Bread making has become so popular there are widespread shortages of both yeast and flour across the globe. It’s no surprise here, I was lucky enough to grow up with a father who made homemade bread regularly and I have missed it ever since.

It’s the Taste, Baby

Whether this started because there were shortages of sliced bread, or people were just bored, I don’t know. But here’s the thing, if you are used to the taste of sliced, grocery store bread and you take your first bite of hot, scrumptious, home-baked bread, you’ll never look back. It is SO much better! And the mother of all these delicious breads is sourdough.

The thing about sourdough is it will not only satisfy your taste buds and your soul, it will keep you busy because it can be a bit tricky, so I went to an expert for advice to get you started.

How to Make Sourdough: Tips for Beginners

Suzy Kaplan is co-owner of the Fat Sheep Farm in central Vermont. Fat sheep is a live, working farm with modern cabins for hosting guests (you will want to check them out when planning your next family vacation). In addition to farm duties, Suzy teaches sourdough bread baking workshops (and will soon offer cheesemaking workshops). She gave us the skinny on getting the best out of your bread.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

Kaplan’s top piece of advice is don’t worry if your first try isn’t successful. “Sourdough is very sensitive to its environment.  Therefore, baking sourdough bread in your kitchen in Miami, Florida is very different from making sourdough bread in my kitchen in Hartland, Vermont. Humidity, temperature, and bacteria populations can all have an effect on your bread.  Therefore, you need to experiment and get a feel for your environment before you are able to successfully bake a loaf of sourdough bread.  But, don’t get too frustrated and give up, because once you get a perfect loaf, it is totally worth it!”

Make Your Own Starter

You can buy a starter, or it can be fun to share a starter with a friend, and compare notes on how your bread turns out, but Kaplan recommends making your own if you are up to the challenge. “Knowing that your starter originated in your own kitchen, using your own unique bacteria and yeast is pretty neat in my opinion,” says Kaplan. You can find a super easy guide to that here.

If you are making your own starter, pay attention to when you feed it. “One of the most common mistakes I have noticed is that people don’t understand when or how to use their starter,” warns Kaplan. “ You must feed your starter 6-8 hours before you want to start mixing your dough.  My favorite trick is to put a rubber band at the level of the starter after you feed it.  Once your starter has doubled in size, then your starter is ready to use to mix your dough.”

Buy the Right Tools

Kaplan does recommend getting the right tools to get started. “It is definitely worth investing in a dutch oven if you do not already have one.  You don’t have to buy a fancy dutch oven, a simple Lodge cast iron dutch oven works great.  Make sure to preheat your dutch oven in your oven while you are preheating your oven to bake your loaf.  Also, baking your loaves on parchment paper in the dutch oven makes transferring your dough from the proofing basket to the dutch oven much easier.  Finally, it is also worth investing in a good proofing basket.  It will greatly improve the shape of your loaves.  I highly recommend the proofing baskets made of wood pulp.

Further Resources

If you’re wondering where the experts turn for advice, Kaplan recommends two of her favorite recipe books: “Tartine” by Chad Roberston and “Sourdough” by Sarah Owens.  “The Tartine country loaf recipe is amazing and the description for how to make the loaf is very easy to follow… “Sourdough” has a lot of really fun and simple sourdough bread recipes.  Some of my favorites include Butternut Squash Cherry Bread and a Honeyed Oat Spelt Bread,” says Kaplan.

So, what are you waiting for? Get baking!

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About Laura Keyes Ellsworth

Laura has been writing and editing for more than 25 years, a fact which more than a source of pride, sends her running to the wrinkle cream aisle of CVS. She has worked for CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg, The Economist Intelligence Unit, and CBS radio. She has three children, and you will either find her thoroughly enjoying their company or yelling at them to clean up after themselves and turn off the lights.

View all posts by Laura Keyes Ellsworth

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