During the Covid pandemic, it seemed like everyone picked up a hobby, and sourdough baking was one of the big ones. Since then, sourdough has only increased in popularity, and these days sourdough bread can be found throughout Utah. I spoke to two Salt Lake-based bakeries to find out what makes sourdough different, and if it’s finally time to jump on the bandwagon. One such baker is Todd Bradley, owner and baker at Bread Riot in Salt Lake City.

According to Bradley, part of sourdough’s continued popularity has to do with its purported health benefits. “I think we make bread that tastes great, is beautiful but it is also one of the healthiest things you could eat.”

Bradley fell in love with baking sourdough bread about seven years ago and has been hooked ever since. At Bread Riot, Bradley uses 35-40% whole grains in all his breads, which gives them a higher nutritional content – including more fiber and more minerals. Then the fermentation process breaks down some of the gluten in the flour, making the finished bread easier to digest as well as imbuing it with beneficial microbes.

If you’re considering amateur bread baking, Bradley says to “pay attention to all the variables – temperature is an ingredient! It changes the balance of microbes, the texture, and the flavor of your bread”. Bread Riot sources flour from Utah-based Central Milling as well as a family-owned mill in Idaho – Hillside Grain. You can find Bread Riot at Liberty Heights Fresh and Caputo’s Market in Salt Lake City.

I also spoke with Alex Artigues, lead baker at Great Harvest in Taylorsville. Like Bradley, Artigues is quick to note the importance of not only the ingredients but also the process when making sourdough. For him “the largest difference [in flavor] comes from timing and feeding the starter”. Unlike Bread Riot, Great Harvest prefers using all-white flour for their sourdough loaves because of its high protein content and reliable bake.

Artigues also loves working with whole wheat flour, milling all Great Harvest’s whole wheat flour himself using a Meadows Mill stone mill. He’s also toying with the idea of including some of this hand-milled flour in a future Great Harvest sourdough loaf. Artigues wants amateur bakers to know that “sourdough starter is constantly changing and slowly becomes exactly where it’s being used” due to the incorporation of the yeast and microbes found in the air.

Now that you know some of the art & science that goes into local sourdough bread, it might be time to try your hand at your own. We’re including a recipe below to make your own starter.

Making your Own Sourdough Starter (adapted from King Arthur)

Ingredients: To begin your starter

  • 1 cup (113g) Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/2 cup (113g) water, cool

 To feed your starter: 

  • 1 cup (113g) All Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 cup (113g) water, cool

Day 1: Combine the whole wheat flour with the cool water in a non-reactive container (like a large mason jar or Tupperware). Make sure the container is large enough to hold your starter as it grows; at least 1-quart capacity. Cover the container loosely and let the mixture sit at warm room temperature (about 70°F) for 24 hours. I like to put a rubber band around the jar to mark the top of the starter so I can see when it starts expanding.

Day 2: You may see a bit of growth or bubbling in your starter, if you’ve used a rubber band see if the starter has risen at all. Discard half the starter (113 grams, about 1/2 cup), and add to the remainder a scant 1 cup (113 grams) of Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, and 1/2 cup (113 grams) cool water (if your house is warm); or lukewarm water (if it's cold). Mix and let rest for another 24 hours.

Day 3: By the third day, you’ll see evidence that your starter is alive – it will be bubbly and have some evidence that it has expanded. It’s now time to begin two feedings daily, as evenly spaced as your schedule allows. For each feeding, weigh out 113 grams starter; this will be a generous 1/2 cup, once it's thoroughly stirred down. Discard any remaining starter. Note: if you’re not seeing much activity, feed your starter with ½ whole wheat and ½ all purpose one before going back to all-purpose.

Day 4: Continue feeding your starter every 12 hours (once in the am and once in the pm) discarding half (113 grams) and then adding back in 113 grams of flour and 113 grams of water. Once the starter has doubled in size, it’s ready! (This is where that rubber band comes in handy!)

Now instead of discarding half, you’ll use it towards your bread recipe and add flour and water to the starter as usual. Let your starter sit at room temperature for a bit after feeding it and then you can put it in your fridge! You should feed it at least once a week using the same ratios, or if you’re using it and feeding it every day you can keep it at room temperature (out of the sun).

 Happy Baking!