Learning to make sourdough in Alaska has been an adventure all its own! But what better place to figure it out than the state that’s known for this tangy treat.
Sourdough. It’s an Alaska thing.
You hear that word a lot up here. It’s the name given to those who have been living in Alaska for a long time. It’s in the title of several companies and on the menu in some form at many restaurants. And it’s a large part of the rich history of the Last Frontier.
What is Sourdough?
I hesitated even writing this post because people have gone nuts for sourdough recently. There are countless websites to find information on sourdough and how to make a starter. But because I started my sourdough journey almost five years ago and it’s a popular Alaskan tradition, I thought I would share anyway.
Due to the pandemic, there were concerns about the supply chain. If bread became unavailable, you would need to make your own. Yeast started selling out at the stores so sourdough became the answer. More and more people are making homemade bread and learning how to use sourdough, which is a wonderful thing!
Sourdough, in a nutshell, is fermented flour and water. Wild yeast captured from the air and full of good bacteria. Then it is used to create rise in bread in place of commercial yeast. This makes it easier to digest and creates that tangy taste sourdough is known for.
When we moved here, my husband requested some sourdough bread. At the time, I had already switched to making bread for our family and no longer purchasing it. I had mastered several types of loaves but sourdough was something I didn’t know anything about. So I got an Alaskan sourdough cookbook and gave it a try.
How hard could it be? Pioneers had relied on sourdough and they did it without cookbooks or fancy kitchen equipment. But in our modern-day, it seems to be a bit of a struggle. I did a lot of research online and read some books but everything I found had a different way of making a sourdough starter. I didn’t know where to begin.
The best way to get a sourdough starter going is to acquire some established starter from a friend. I didn’t know anyone at the time who had a starter so I was on my own. I tried many times and each was a flop. Mold grew, the starter never came to life, the starter died, you name it. I settled on buying some sourdough bread for my husband from the local bakery. It was frustrating and discouraging.
But I eventually got it. Once I took a step back from all of the intimidating instructions I tried and took a more relaxed approach, I finally created my very own starter. And I still use it to this day every week. It’s a treasure in my kitchen and I imagine how important it was to those pioneers whenever I use it.
Making a Starter
There are so many tutorials, books, and videos on making a sourdough starter. They’re all similar but somewhat different. There are suggestions for how to measure, how to mix, how to feed, what type of water to use, what type of flour to use, and so on.
I’m not a professional by any means and my bread pales in comparison to those who are far more knowledgeable than I am on this subject. I’m just a homemaker wanting to make nutritious bread for my family and I’m thankful that I’ve been able to do just that.
I use water from our well (which does run through a filter) and good quality flour (I use Wheat Montana). I measure equal parts (1/4 cup) of both into a quart-size glass jar and stir them together. Twelve hours later, I pour half of it out and feed it again. I repeat this until I see those little bubbles that still amaze me.
Sourdough Starter Routine
Since I’ve had an established starter for several years, the two of us have our own routine. The day before I plan to make some bread, I pull my starter out of the fridge and feed it that morning. The amount I feed it depends on the recipe. For a simple loaf of bread, I usually need about a cup of starter so I will feed it a 1/2 each of flour and water.
Then I feed it again at night before I go to bed. By the next morning, it’s bubbly and ready to be turned into delicious bread.
Once I’ve poured out the starter that I need to bake with, I feed it one more time and tuck it back into the fridge where it will stay until the next baking day.
Sourdough Starter Tips
Here are a few rules I always follow with my starter:
- Always use glass to store and mix sourdough, not metal. Metal and sourdough don’t mix. I use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula whenever I stir it too.
- Don’t throw out the extra! Whenever the started is fed, a little bit of it needs to be poured out first. This should not go to waste. I keep a glass bowl to collect what I pour out and use this starter for tasty treats like pancakes, muffins, or chocolate cake. These don’t need the leavening power of an active starter but it will give them a delicious flavor.
- Store the starter in the fridge when not in use. You can leave it on the counter but then you’ll be feeding it regularly and this can use up a lot of expensive flour. Just be sure to pull it out a day before you want to use it.
- Don’t overthink it, enjoy it! This was my problem. I was so nervous and overwhelmed by all of the information out there that I kept failing and got discouraged. That’s no fun, and sourdough should be fun! Just mix some flour and water and give it a try, you can do it.
I have found a few sourdough resources that have worked for me. As I said before, there are countless places these days to get sourdough information and recipes. I continue to try new recipes and methods of sourdough baking but I find that I usually stick with our family’s favorite round loaf that I make time and again. Here are my favorites:
Learning to Make Sourdough in Alaska
I have learned so many new skills since moving here and sourdough is definitely near the top of my list. Making bread with just water, flour, air, and a little salt still amazes me and I love it. I have since passed some of my starter on to others and they have passed some on as well. Learning to make sourdough in Alaska has been a wonderful thing.