All you need for bread is flour, water, salt, and yeast. You can do without the yeast by making your own sourdough starter from water and flour. Here’s how:
Long before the ready availability of powdered yeast and baking powder and baking soda, cooks made sourdough starters to get a rise out of their bread (“You knead me, and I rise like bread,” writes Anne Sexton; oh yes, yes,yes!). You can purchase a sourdough starter online from King Arthur Flour. They also sell a perfect, beautiful ceramic crock for your starter to live in—well worth purchasing. However, if you are an only slightly more adventurous sort (you know you are, don’t you?) you can make your own starter from scratch. Here’s how:
Ingredients for Starter
1 cup (8 oz) whole wheat or rye flour (regular unbleached all-purpose flour will do in a pinch, but it may take an additional day or so to get your starter started)
Water, H2O, the elixir of life
A big bag of all-purpose flour (King Arthur or Gold Medal)
Cheesecloth (or jar lid with little holes poked into it)
Ball jar (or equivalent)
Rubber band (or string)
A week and a half of patience
Stuff to do while your starter starts—make a quilt, beds, wishes, music, or whoopie.
A Star(ter) Is Born
NB: You do NOT have to be exact about the measurements here. They can be quite rough. You will still end up with a great starter.
You can easily make a starter by combining flour and water and letting it pick up naturally occurring yeast from the air. Starters made in this way in different places will have slightly different flavors because of the slightly different varieties of yeast that live in the air in various places. But they are all good. Good yeast. Good boy.
Combine 1 cup of flour (see above) with ½ cup (4 oz) cool water in a sterilized (boil it in some hot water), nonreactive1-quart container such as a glass Ball jar. Stir to mix thoroughly. Cover the container with cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Let this mixture stand in a warm place (about 70F-75F or 21C-24C) for a day (24 hours). After a day, discard half the starter and add 1 cup (8 oz) of medium-gluten unbleached all-purpose flour (King Arthur or Gold Medal) and 1 cup (8 oz) lukewarm water. Mix again, cover with cheesecloth, and let set for 24 hours.
For the next few days, feed your starter twice daily. Each time, pour off all but about ½ cup (4 oz) of the starter, add ½ cup (4 oz) all-purpose flour and an equal amount of lukewarm water. Mix and let stand at room temperature for about 12 hours before repeating. This doesn’t have to be a rigid schedule, but do feed the starter a couple times a day. Keep doing this until your starter is quite bubbly and excitable like that friend of yours from middle school and has a tangy, slightly acidic aroma. This will take 5 to 7 days.
Once your starter is sufficiently lively (it will be filled with bubbles), you can then start keeping him or her in your fridge in a covered Ball jar or in one of those beautiful King Arthur sourdough crocks. From then on, once a week, every week, pour off half the starter and feed him or her a cup of all-purpose flour and a cup of lukewarm water. Let the starter rest for half an hour outside the fridge. Then return him or her to the fridge. Do this on a particular day so that it becomes a habit. Or put a reminder in your iPhone, or assign this responsibility to a significant other. I had a starter that was 150 years old and still going strong until I went away for a few weeks and my son forgot the starter and killed him. RIP!!!! Hrothgar the Starter, we barely knew ye!!!! By the way, yeast are party animals. They eat the starch in the flour like crazy and excrete alcohol. So, by the end of the week, you will have a little alcohol on top of your starter. You can just pour that off or stir it into the starter. Makes no difference. If you forget and are a day or two late, don’t fear. You will have more alcohol on top, and that alcohol may look blackish. Just pour it off and feed as always. However, in the unlikely event that your starter turns pink or orange, it has been attacked by mold. You have to throw it out and start again.
When I am ready to use the starter to make bread, I take him or her out of the fridge, feed the starter, and leave him or her out on the counter for a couple hours or overnight. This ensures that the starter will be nice and active for your baking.
Your starter is a living thing and can last for HUNDREDS OF YEARS with proper feeding. Give him or her a name. I have two starters, Ethelred the Ready and Hermione (after the character in Women in Love, not the one in the Harry Potter novels by the transphobic mediocre but wildly popular writer J.K. Rowling). I hope you will be able to pass your starter on to your great, great, great, great-granddaughters and grandsons.
You can find lots and lots of great recipes for making sourdough bread online. The Youtube videos are particularly great because you can watch the process. here’s my basic, go-to recipe for sourdough bread: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/2020/11/17/bobs-basic-bread-most-recent-recipe/