If you have been around this community for long, sourdough is not a new topic to you; however, I would be willing to bet that you will hear some ideas and methods in this episode that you have never heard before!
Anja grew up in Germany and learned everything she knows about sourdough from watching her mother bake as a constant part of their family’s routine. In my chat with Anja, we walked through some of the most common questions we receive from sourdough bakers, everything from starter maintenance to baking timelines to discard.
Whether you are new to sourdough or have been baking for years, I am confident this discussion will give you new ideas to shake up your sourdough experimentation.
In this episode, we cover:
- Tips for creating your first sourdough starter
- How many people are overcomplicating sourdough and how to get back to basics
- Navigating the many variables of sourdough and what to do with imperfect bread
- A surprising heritage method of creating and maintaining starter (passed down through Anja’s family!)
- Are hundreds-year-old sourdough starters really ideal?
- Practical examples of sourdough timelines
- A discussion of good bacteria and bad bacteria in foods
- Answering the most frequently asked sourdough questions
Thank you to our sponsors!
Toups and Co Organics uses nourishing, organic ingredients to create simple and safe skincare products. Toups and Co is offering my listeners 10% off any one purchase with the code FARMHOUSE. Visit ToupsandCo.com to order today. And check out my interview with the founder of Toups and Co, Emilie, to find out more about this amazing company and their products.
School of Traditional Skills is your shortcut to self-sufficiency, the simple way. Glean homesteading wisdom from a variety of instructors without ever leaving your home. Use my link bit.ly/FarmhouseSkills to take advantage of this amazing learning opportunity. Make sure you check out my class on lacto-fermenting vegetables!
Growing up in Germany, Anja, wife and mother of two adult sons, has always been interested and engaged in all things cooking, baking, sourdough, and homemaking. With her blog and Youtube channel Our Gabled Home (simple heritage homemaking) she is inspiring people how to take the “complicated” out of everything.
Join us in the Simple Farmhouse Life Facebook community!
Lisa Bass Welcome back to this Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. Today we’re going to be chatting sourdough. Now, just when you think you’ve heard everything there is to know about sourdough—if you follow along with the blog, my Instagram, I do talk about sourdough a lot because it is something that has brought a lot of joy and deliciousness to our kitchen. Anja from Our Gabled Home, she has a whole different take on it. She grew up in Germany. She grew up around sourdough; her mom, her grandma did it. She didn’t know there was any different way of doing it than the way that she did it, and it’s way different than all of us are doing it here in the modern day. So if you’ve had trouble with sourdough, you feel like you’ve never had success with a bubbly starter, maybe this will be something completely different that you can try out and see if you can have some success. So join me as Anya and I chat all things sourdough. My name is Lisa, mother of seven and creator of the blog and YouTube channel Farmhouse on Boone. Join me as I share with you my love for creating a handmade home, from-scratch cooking, and a little mom and entrepreneur life along the way.
Lisa Bass Well, thanks, Anja, for joining me again. I know I’ve had you here on the podcast before. At the moment I can’t remember— I think it was sourdough we talked about last time, wasn’t it?
Anja Eckert It was more like spring recipes.
Lisa Bass Okay.
Anja Eckert A little bit of sourdough. Yeah.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I knew it was something pertaining to food. Okay. Well, welcome back on the podcast. I am super excited to have you on to talk about sourdough. Now before people are like, “Oh, we’ve heard enough about sourdough,” Anja has some methods that might help you to make it a little bit more straightforward. And if sourdough has confused you—because I know at first, just the concept alone can be really confusing—we’re going to clear that up and hopefully make it to where you feel very confident. Especially in the winter, it’s a really good time to experiment when you’re in the house with sourdough baking. So Anja, let’s start off by you introducing yourself. Tell us about you, your blog, your YouTube channel or whatever else you want to share.
Anja Eckert Yeah, thank you. It’s always so fun to be here. It’s what we live for. At least, I do. So my name is Anja, and I like to say I’m the main peddler behind the blog, Our Gabled Home. Our Gabled Home. Sometimes I garble it up a little bit when I say too fast. And the YouTube channel with the same name, Our Gabled Home. And then social media is all the same. And I grew up in Germany, and I’ll talk about this a little bit because I basically cannot remember ever learning sourdough because it was always around me. And then since my mid-twenties or so, I have been in the United States. And I have taught a lot of people how to do sourdough, and they love it and I love it when they love it. So that actually makes my day when I hear people successfully baking breads and getting bubbles in their sourdough starter.
Lisa Bass Mm-hmm. Yeah. So you’ve been baking sourdough long before the 2020 craze of sourdough, and with that, you’ve probably encountered lots of questions. I get lots of questions in my DMs. I get pictures of sourdough starters. I get emails with people that have questions. What are some of the top mistakes that you see new sourdough bakers make?
Anja Eckert Well, I get so many questions, too, all the time in my comments and emails and blog comments and YouTube comments. So I think the first thing I want to tell people is don’t ever give up. And here’s a little secret that most people don’t talk about, is that if you have never made sourdough starter in your kitchen or you have never baked with sourdough, you may not have a lot of ambient wild yeasts in your kitchen, so your first sourdough starter may actually be the hardest. It’s almost like a hump you have to come over. And because at this point, I feel like I can do anything with my sourdough that I want. And I’ve only gotten mold in my sourdough once. And I can tell you exactly why, because I had an apple that was a little moldy on the underside and that was pretty close to my sourdough starter. So that can actually happen.
Lisa Bass Okay.
Anja Eckert So when people get mold on their sourdough starters and they ask me about it, I will tell them, “Make sure you don’t have anything moldy accidentally in the vicinity.”
Lisa Bass Nearby. Okay.
Anja Eckert And sourdough is really robust. So there’s a lot of other things that can go wrong if you have a very young, not very robust sourdough starter and you’re using city water that has been treated with chlorine. That can actually inhibit the proliferation of these lactobacillus, the good bacteria that we’re trying to cultivate. Same with bleached flowers. And I have this progression— so white unbleached flour, then the next best is organic white flour. I’m trying to think that I’m saying it right. And then organic whole wheat flour. And if you really want to get your sourdough starter steroids, you use organic whole grain rye flour. Wow, that was a lot. And what other mistake? Yeah, just not experimenting enough.
Lisa Bass Do you find that the rye— are there more active yeast in that grain?
Anja Eckert You know, now you’re asking me something that I don’t really know the answer to.
Lisa Bass I just does. That’s fine, too.
Anja Eckert It just does. There’s a few things that I know that work, but I can’t tell you exactly why they work. But rye flour, even white rye flour is really conducive to a good sourdough starter. So if you’re trying for the first time— and then you can eventually switch over. That’s another thing I often get questions like, “Oh, can I switch from one grain to another?” It’s like, “Yeah, totally. You can switch back and forth and there’s a transition period.”
Lisa Bass Yeah, do it all the time.
Anja Eckert Yeah, exactly.
Lisa Bass And in what way would you say there’s a transition period? I always— I don’t know. I think it’s because I am working with a 12-year-old sourdough starter that it is so robust that I cannot mess it up. There’s just no way. Like, I can put it in the back of the fridge for months. Not that I have. I’m not one of those people who ever needs a break from starter. I always see people that are like, “Well, my life was really busy.” To me, it’s so easy to maintain that it’s definitely one of the last things to go when life is really busy. There’s a lot of other things that would go first, which do. But yeah, with feeding it different grains, I just throw in whatever and it always is just fine. It always just bubbles right up. It has the fuel it needs.
Anja Eckert Yeah, yeah. I find the same. I mean, I can not use my sourdough starter—and that’s partly because of my method—for weeks and weeks, and I can do whatever I want with it, and I never have any problems. I feel like my sourdough is, at this point, a well-trained pet. It does whatever I want.
Lisa Bass Yeah, right. Yeah. Yeah, that’s where you want it to be. In what ways do you feel that people overcomplicate sourdough starter? In fairness, I understand that it’s a very— it’s a simple concept when you’re first trying to understand it. Just understanding the science behind it’s really important because otherwise— it’s like whenever my kids, I’m teaching them math. You know, we homeschool. And they’re trying to memorize the formulas. I’m like, “No, no, no, stop. Think about why that is. Like, try to think back to right, why—if I was logically thinking about this math problem—would this totally make sense?” It’s the same way with sourdough starter in a way, because a lot of the questions I get, the questions are because somebody doesn’t understand what’s happening, and they just want all of the rules and the steps. And I’m like, “Wait, wait, wait. If we think about what sourdough starter is, what you’re trying to cultivate, what it does, then it actually is very intuitive.”
Anja Eckert That’s right.
Lisa Bass So what are some of the ways that you feel people overcomplicate it?
Anja Eckert So I mean the first thing to think about is that the way I learned sourdough was, you know, I was kind of tall enough to peek over the kitchen counter and watching my mom do it. So it was really natural. And then when I was older, I remember her saying, “Oh, I’m going to have to go here and there. If you can put the dough from the bread bowl into the loaf pan and—” or she would ask me, “I’m going to be out for so many hours, and when the bread has risen enough, can you put it in the oven and start the baking?” And so I naturally grew up. I had an idea of what the sourdough should look like and the sourdough starter.
Lisa Bass Right. And the timeline.
Anja Eckert Right. And now you have people who don’t have that and then you have instructions. And the instructions are— to me, they’re super complicated. And I never knew there was another sourdough method until maybe five years ago, because I always thought everybody does sourdough the way I do it.
Lisa Bass Same.
Anja Eckert Now people go off books, and in a book, they have to take out as much guesswork as possible. Or if you’re teaching it on your channel or on your blog. Right? And so then again, if you have a very humid house or depending on whether you use fresh-milled flour or store-bought flour, even if you use the exact measurements, there is a little bit of needing to feel for the sourdough and looking at what you have and understanding what consistency, like you said, with the math concept. It’s like, what are you trying to achieve? What is the sourdough starter consistency supposed to look like instead of like, oh, I measured 50 grams of this and 75 grams of that, and that’s the end of it. So that while there probably isn’t a better method other than showing it in the video what it’s supposed to look like, I feel like people who are new to sourdough, they should use whatever recipe they can find, a method that they resonate with that seems great to them, and then just get started and then just experiment. And if it doesn’t turn out, start over again. Ask more questions, feel it, but don’t ever give up.
Lisa Bass Yeah, and I always say French toast casserole, bread pudding, and croutons. There’s no reason to ever throw sourdough out for any reason whatsoever.
Anja Eckert Breadcrumbs.
Lisa Bass And like you said, with humidity levels, with the type of flour you’re using, there are so many variables. And I run into this a lot on my blog where somebody will give the recipe like a one star review and they’ll say, “This didn’t work at all.” And I’m like, “You really— it’s because you don’t know how to do this yet. I’m just saying, I’ve made this recipe like 100 times.” And I understand there’s a learning curve, but it is— like you need to know how to feel the dough. And it’s something I can’t go into your house and show you. You do just have to keep trying it until you have that feel for yourself. Another question I get, which is I feel like it’s not understanding the concept behind starter—and you can tell me if you get this question a lot, too—people say, “Well, why instead of discarding it”—when they’re starting a starter—”why not take that half and then feed it and make two sourdough starters?” And that’s where I’m like, “Oh, we need to go back to square one if that’s the question,” right? Do you get that question, too?
Anja Eckert Yeah. Yeah, totally. And the reason that bakers maybe 20, 30, maybe 50 years ago all switched to yeast was because yeast was dependable and sourdough wasn’t. And with sourdough, depending on the temperature and things you can control—the humidity and maybe your own mood and whatever, the kind of approach you take on that day—all affect your sourdough starter and your sourdough baking. But if you really want a dependable product, that’s where yeast comes in, and that’s when people switched to yeast because you could just be completely exact and the recipe would always come out the same, and not for sourdough.
Lisa Bass Right, exactly. And with that being said, I still find that everything ends up edible. I don’t think I’ve ever fully thrown something away, even whenever I have over fermented dough—which still happens to me because I’ll forget about something, it sits on the counter and then it turns into that sloppy mess when it over ferments—I will take that and make it into a flatbread or a fry bread or something. We don’t just throw it away. There’s always something you could do. You could spread that over fermented dough on top of like a beef and vegetable thing, maybe add some cheese.
Anja Eckert Yeah, or like I said dry it and turn it into breadcrumbs. Perfect use for it.
Lisa Bass Yeah.
Anja Eckert And then again, you know, I’m German, so we grow up with this very dense whole grain bread. So we are not shying away from dense breads that we actually need to use our teeth for. And if I experiment with a new recipe because I’m just like, okay, so let me try if I— you know, I actually did experiment a lot with a 100% rye, whole grain rye recipe. And my first one came out a little bit on the dense side. It was delicious. And then I just cut the slices a little thinner and then it’s not so bad. But yeah, like you, I don’t think I’ve ever thrown out a bread that didn’t turn out well.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Yeah. One of the most common misconceptions with sourdough is that you have to keep discarding. And this is sort of the topic of this conversation. You were telling me about your method. So tell us about your method that doesn’t require any discarding.
Anja Eckert Well, one of the reasons I can’t claim to have a 50-year-old starter is because even making my starter is so easy that if I don’t have it for a while or let’s say I moved from Germany to here or I moved and then I just like, oh, I can easily make a new starter. It’s so easy that I just don’t have an old starter. And I actually use buttermilk and a little bit of water and flour. And I don’t tell people exactly how much to use of each. I’m the queen of eyeballing. Just put a little in a bowl and this is the consistency that you want. I always tell them you’re going for a thick pancake batter. And then all you do is keep it in a nice warm spot, not hot, just warm enough. And even in the winter. I’ve tried making it in the winter just to replicate and see what it would do for me. I just keep it in a sunny windowsill, or if the kitchen is too cold because we don’t have heat in the kitchen, I may move it closer to a heat source and then just do it there. And then every so often, you stir it, like maybe every day, maybe every other day. But I don’t discard anything. And then in my house, I get a good sourdough starter after five or six days. I would assume that people who’ve never made a sourdough starter in their home and never had one, it may actually take up to ten days. And I recently had a lady emailing back and forth on Instagram and she’s like, “I’m so frustrated. I’m using your method.” And she signed up for my course and she just couldn’t get it right. And then she emailed me, she said, “Oh my gosh, all of a sudden, bubbles.” So that can happen. And then what I do is—once I have that starter—I bake with it, I bake with most of it. And even my breads are— like, I grab my grains and then I add whatever I have on hand and then I just watch my bread. If the bread doesn’t rise enough, then I’ll just let it rise longer. And I’ve never had— I mean, I start in the morning and I bake in the evening. I’ve never had to stay up late because my bread hadn’t risen enough. It’s more to the contrary where I’m like, “Oh my gosh, it’s 3:00, but I’m not ready to bake because I need to still do some things and I don’t have time to be here for an hour and a half and then take it out.” So I don’t have— I mean, on my blog, the recipes have measurements and everything. But then I take about a golf ball size or so and add a lot of flour to it. And when people ask me how much, I’m like, “A lot of flour.” And then when you think it’s too much, you pile some more flour on top and you stick it in the refrigerator and then you can keep it there. I have easily kept it for six weeks and taken it out the night before I bake and add water to it. So essentially the way I’m looking at it, I am separating the feeding into the dry and the water. So you’re feeding your sourdough starter with water and flour. And I’m feeding it with flour. And then when I’m ready to bake, I’m adding the water. And then the night before, I add the water, I stir it up, and then in the morning it’s ready to bake. And then the cycle continues. So it’s pretty much the only way I’ve ever done sourdough. I didn’t know that other people would do a different method. And when I talk to my mom in Germany these days, she and her very German way of talking about is like, “Hm, people really do that. Interesting.” She is still in disbelief that people actually feed and discard or discard and feed.
Lisa Bass Yeah. So whenever you’re starting the sourdough starter, how are you giving it consistent fuel? Are you just doing really tiny amounts that you can still give it more flour without having to discard when you’re starting?
Lisa Bass I don’t actually feed it. For some reason, with the buttermilk, it doesn’t need feedings. I guess the cultures in the buttermilk— and here is a question that I get a lot because of my method. People ask me, “Can I use the buttermilk that I make from lemon juice or vinegar and milk?” And that’s not the same. That is curdled. And we need the active cultures that are somehow doing it. And then I have another thing that I can’t tell you why it works— I add caraway seeds to my sourdough starter, and caraway seeds will absolutely— it’s another way to put steroids into your sourdough starter. It totally gets it going. And I’ve gotten a lot of comments on especially one of my sourdough videos where people have actually said, “Oh, yeah, my grandmother would take a little ball of sourdough starter and put it in the big bag of flour and just keep it there until the next baking.” And people say, “Oh, yeah, I remember my grandparents or some ancestors would do it very similar to what you’re doing.” So I guess maybe it’s a more of an old world type of method. I don’t know.
Lisa Bass Yeah. So what would be the difference between that and just keeping a really small amount of starter in— what purpose does the extra flour serve? Because I have been exploring this a lot more lately, the dry sourdough starter. I’m actually writing a blog post all about dry sourdough starter and doing it extremely non-hydrated, so very flour-dense starter, pulling a little bit out. But in my mind, I’m like, well, what’s the difference though in just keeping like a really small amount in a jar in the back of the fridge and just pulling a tiny amount out of that whenever you want to bake? What’s the difference there?
Anja Eckert Well, I guess my method is perfect for people who don’t want to bake when their sourdough starter is ready. They want to bake whenever they’re ready to bake. So I guess that’s the biggest difference.
Lisa Bass So you add the water and then it’s ready to bake just within minutes? But you still have to let it go for like four or five hours—right?—to get it active again.
Anja Eckert Yeah, so when I take it out the night before bake, it wouldn’t be ready to bake. I need to get it going. And I want to say that my sourdough starter is in a semi-dormant state when I pull it out of the refrigerator because the cold of the refrigerator slows it down and the lack of a lot of moisture slows it down, the lack of the water. So I’m adding the water the night before.
Lisa Bass That’s the flour purpose there.
Anja Eckert Right. And so, I mean, it is nutrients, but it’s not making it super active.
Lisa Bass Right.
Anja Eckert And then the night before— and people ask me, “Does it have to be at 8:00 or can it be 11:00?” I’m like, “Whatever.” I mean, like overnight, eight hours is fine.
Lisa Bass Just when it’s bubbly.
Anja Eckert Yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly. And I always get something going the next morning. I mean, I never have it where I’m looking at my starter the next morning and I’m thinking, “Mm.” I may not get a sourdough starter that overflows the jars. And I think there is a bit of a— you know, in another life, I’m also a yoga teacher, and I always— and I’m going to come back to this in a second, but I want to just do this quick detour— you know, you see these super flexible women doing all these incredible poses. And I think it’s almost doing most people a disservice because they’re like, “I could never do that. I could never do yoga.” And I’m like, “It’s not about the poses.” And it’s so Instagram perfect. And these days, I feel like there is a lot of focus on getting the perfect starter—whatever people think that is—and the perfect loaf of bread. And interesting enough, I have that book, The Perfect Loaf. Yeah. And even though I’m trying to come away from that a little bit and thinking, “Don’t get so fixated on your crust and your crumb and the ear or your sourdough starter that flows out of the— you know, you measure it.” And I want to say my sourdough starter is functional. It may not always be Instagram perfect, but like I said, I’ve been baking with it for decades and so has my mom and so has my grandmother and my great grandmother and whoever else. And it’s functional. You always get a good bread and yeah, that’s something that— that’s my little pet peeve, and I got that out of my system.
Lisa Bass Yeah well I’m curious if you— do you continue to feed it with buttermilk? Or just when you’re first starting it, that jumpstarts it?
Anja Eckert Just to get that starter going. And then I add the water and the flour before I put it in the refrigerator and then the water when I’m ready to take it out.
Lisa Bass So when you first start it, you do the buttermilk, the flour, you just leave it on the counter, no feelings, and just wait till it bubbles in like five days.
Anja Eckert Yep. And I stir it because the air also helps getting the good bacteria going. And if I feel it’s a little sluggish or if it’s really cold, I may throw some caraway seeds in it. And I know that caraway is not everybody’s cup of tea. I am not a big fan of actually biting on a little caraway seed and getting that burst of caraway flavor. I have found that when I’m trying to make sourdough starter and I put it in at first, it actually quells up and you almost can taste it, but they’re pretty visible if you use white flour. I mean, if you’re really against the caraway seed taste, you can always stir around and take a spoon and try to fish out those seeds. But I’ve had a lot of people commented to me and say, “I’ve tried to get it going and it never did. And then I added the caraway seeds and—miracle—all of a sudden, it worked.”
Lisa Bass Yeah. I wonder if that works, too, with like a sluggish starter that isn’t started with buttermilk? Adding the caraway seeds.
Anja Eckert I would bet it would. Because I don’t think that the caraway seeds have to have a one method. I think there is something about it that promotes probably the proliferation of the really good bacteria, the lactobacillus.
Lisa Bass Yeah. I used to always say—for years, this was when I first started my starter and I made a YouTube video like five, six years ago about it—that you’re capturing the yeast that’s in the environment. And I was corrected by a lot of people that it’s actually the yeast that’s present on the flour. Is there truth to both? I still don’t even know exactly on that one because I know it bubbles and I know it changes based on environment, but is it mostly the flour or is it the air around that’s doing that?
Anja Eckert I would say it’s both. I would say it’s both. And I’ve even heard a method that somebody sent to me where people take water and flour, put it in a jar, stir it up, and then put a mesh over it. So not really airtight. And they put it under some trees. And I have to go back to that method. And there’s something in those trees that drops down. And so there’s definitely ambient wild yeasts in the air and in the flour. I’m pretty certain that it’s both.
Lisa Bass Yeah.
Lisa Bass Taking a break to tell you about today’s episode sponsor. You guessed it— I love them and share them all the time, Toups and Co Organics skincare. If you are looking for clean, simple ingredients in your skincare, which you should be because our skin is our body’s largest organ and what goes on the skin actually does make its way in. And so if you are picky about what you eat, you should also be picky about your skincare. I understand, though, that a lot of times organic and natural skincare, it just doesn’t work as well. Your skin is left feeling dry or if it does feel moist, it maybe feels oily. You want something that actually works. And the Toups and Co Organic products, like their tallow balm, it’s made obviously from an animal, from grass-fed tallow. Because of that, it actually does absorb in and do that intended purpose of moisturizing your skin. I also love their cleansers. I’m really loving their makeup. I find that the products are beautifully effective. So they are natural, they’re organic, but they also work really well and don’t leave me feeling like I have a bare face, which is not always a bad thing. I have that a lot too, but whenever I wear makeup I want it to feel like I’m wearing makeup. I want to cover all of the imperfections in my skin. And I have found that in the foundation from Toups and Co and the different bronzers and highlighters, I’m still getting better at figuring out how to actually apply makeup, because that is not something that— I’m not a beauty guru, but I do like to look nice. Toups and Co is made in the USA, based in the USA, a small family company. If that’s something you love to support like I do, make sure to go over to ToupsandCo.com. Use the code of FARMHOUSE for a discount. Again, ToupsandCo.com. Use the code FARMHOUSE.
Lisa Bass Okay. I have another question that people might be wondering. Have you ever kept— for many, many years, because you said you can start them just so easily that you don’t always keep one. But have you kept—for many years—one that was started with the buttermilk? And how do you ensure that the yeast that are present on the flour are the ones that are more prolific than the ones that were in the buttermilk? And does it keep long-term when it’s started that way?
Anja Eckert Yeah, it does, because I’ve actually had one that was maybe five or six years old. And it may get a little bit more pungent. So I do have a few books on sourdough because when I’m done recording videos about sourdough, I go to bed and I read about sourdough before I go to sleep. So, I mean, I could talk about this stuff all day.
Lisa Bass Yeah.
Anja Eckert But yeah, I mean, I heard or read in this one book that certain bakers will actually not proudly keep a sourdough starter for 150 years because they find that it gets too strong. So they actually make a new one every so often because they like them better when they’re mature, but let’s say middle aged, maybe not super old.
Lisa Bass I’ve been told this, too. People are like, “You shouldn’t be that proud of your old starter.” And I’m like, “But it’s so robust.” And if I really need to revive it, I just make pancakes or pizza crust, get it down to like next to nothing, feed it fresh, and it is the most bubbly, active starter again. So I’m like, I don’t see the point in going through the five, six day process, personally.
Anja Eckert Right.
Lisa Bass But I’ve never had any trouble keeping it alive.
Anja Eckert Right.
Lisa Bass To me, you could just reduce it down to this, throw it in the back of your fridge, and forget it for six months, and it’s still fine when it’s at that robust stage. So it’s really not that— it just doesn’t feel like a big burden.
Anja Eckert No. And I feel like that is when you’re so comfortable with your sourdough, you can do anything with it. And you also know what you’re looking for. And if you have kept your sourdough starter that long and then you drain it almost to next to nothing— which is interesting because somebody was telling me, “Oh, my ancestors”—you know, insert whatever they were—”they kept a jar and they scraped out the jar, but then they left a little bit in the jar dry. And when they were ready for the next bread, they would add flour and water to it and they would just get enough of the cultures from the sides of the jar that that was enough.”.
Lisa Bass Mm hmm. Yeah.
Anja Eckert My other thing is, you know, I am in California, so there’s this whole thing about the San Francisco sourdough starter. And apparently, this one bakery has a 150-year-old starter and they sell it online. You can get it on Etsy, but they have found that within like four or five feedings, the bacterial makeup has nothing to do with the original starter that you bought.
Lisa Bass Oh, okay. Interesting.
Anja Eckert So while it—
Lisa Bass It’s old. It’s not—
Anja Eckert It gets you a jumpstart.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Yeah. Huh. That is some interesting science behind that.
Anja Eckert Well, then it depends on— because there’s one guy and I have his book and I forget what his name is, but it’s a big… And he said he actually took a San Francisco sourdough starter and had it analyzed in a lab. And then he took it to the East Coast and he said, “Because of the flour that I’m using and the water that I’m using and the ambient yeasts that I have, within like four feedings or so, it had nothing to do with the original starter.” There was nothing left of the original bacterial count or the types of bacteria that were in it in the lab test, which I thought was highly interesting.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I can see the biggest benefit of keeping a sourdough starter going long-term is just it is very robust. You can’t mess it up. You don’t have to worry that it won’t make your next loaf of bread rise because it’s just so consistent.
Anja Eckert Right.
Lisa Bass Now one thing you were talking about was not having to wait till the middle of the night to bake your bread and various other timeline problems. I get that question a lot. What are some tips—and I have a few to share myself—but what are some tips that you have on sourdough timeline? Because that really blows people’s minds sometimes.
Anja Eckert So I have a super flexible timeline that is always the same structure. It may not be the same to the minute. And that is: I get up in the morning—that can be 7:00, sometimes it’s as late as 9:00 because I do something else beforehand—grind my grains and I make the dough and then I’ll let it sit for three or four hours, depending on when I do it and depending on when I get home or if I’m out and about and I get home. And then I transfer it into the loaf pan because— well, I have— this is my signature bread that I grew up on. And it’s a whole grain, very German style type of bread. And so that you can’t really do because it’s whole grain and the way the recipe works, you bake it in a loaf panel because otherwise you would just end up with this flat pancake that would be pretty hard.
Lisa Bass Right, right.
Anja Eckert Then I let it sit somewhere. So I look at it every so often when I walk by. And if it’s not doing much, if it’s not doming on top, I may move it to another spot. And then if it really isn’t doing much, I have also— you know, when I’ve started cooking dinner, I have kept it close to the stove. Or when I’m baking something, I put it on top of the stove because the heat from the oven will come up to the stove top and then I can put it there.
Lisa Bass Yes.
Anja Eckert I tell people, you know, if you have a pilot light in your oven, you can put it in there. That may put out enough heat. Or if you have an oven light, turn that on or turn your oven to the lowest setting. Let it go for five minutes and then turn it off and then put your bread in there. Close the door really fast. People have, I don’t know, put it on like a hot water bottle or a warming plate. I mean, once you start thinking about what your sourdough starter needs, you can get so creative. And I’ve even used the little step stool and put my bread right over—we have this forced air heating—over a heater vent. And then I just have to make sure that it doesn’t dry out on top. But I mean, yeah, you can get so creative in finding ways how to keep it warm. And I will say, a wetter dough will rise easier than a drier dough.
Lisa Bass Yeah. So what do you do if, say, it is like 10:00 at night and your dough hasn’t risen to your liking?
Anja Eckert That’s a tough question because it’s never happened to me.
Lisa Bass Yeah? Never happens to you?
Anja Eckert It’s never happened. I don’t know. I mean, I probably—
Lisa Bass Well, hint: I throw it in the fridge.
Anja Eckert Yeah, that’s a great idea. If that ever happened to me, maybe I should try it.
Lisa Bass Just throw it in the fridge.
Anja Eckert Yeah, yeah. It’s never happened to me.
Lisa Bass I’m just not that methodical as you. I start sourdough sometimes, and I’m like, “Oh, I should feed my starter,” and it’s noon and then it’s like bubbly at 9:00 or just whatever timeline. I’m never thinking about it, I always just start it. And then wherever it ends up, when I’m ready to do the next thing, I’ll throw it in the fridge or I’ll let it do a longer first rise. But like it doesn’t— it’s not something I think about too much. I don’t overly stress about it. I kind of just start something and then it always ends up fine.
Anja Eckert Yeah, yeah, yeah. And since I have my routine, I don’t— I mean, I’m a routine person.
Lisa Bass Yeah.
Anja Eckert And then once I find that I have something in my routine, I don’t even have to think about it anymore. So this whole idea, it’s like, the day before I decide, okay, so we’re low on bread, I need to bake more bread. And then I just know. It’s almost like my body knows that I have to take the starter out of the fridge the night before. But then there are days when I’m like, oh, we’re doing something tomorrow and I won’t be able to bake bread. So that has happened. And then I just bake on another day. But I have also taken out the sourdough starter in the morning and then ground my grains at night and then let it rise overnight. And then I’ve baked it like midday the next day. So I just moved everything up a few hours, and I’ve done that too, but for some reason that felt a little bit like— you know when you’re always using your right hand, and using your left hand, it’s like, eh, feels weird.
Lisa Bass Right. Yep. Very unnatural.
Anja Eckert Very unnatural.
Lisa Bass That makes a lot of sense. Another rule that I break regularly—and this is just, you’re just not allowed to do this—I will take my starter out of the refrigerator and just use it in a recipe, and it works. I mean, not if it’s been like hibernating for six months, but if it’s been in the fridge for, say, a week or so and I haven’t had the chance to feed it yet, sometimes I’m just like, “Ah, I’ll take my chances,” and it does still rise the bread.
Anja Eckert Yeah. It’s almost like you have this relationship with your starter and your starter knows exactly what to do. Like it’s a well-trained pet. Yeah, I feel the same way. Like I said, we have no heat source in the kitchen, so in the winter, it gets really cold in the kitchen. It can be like 57 in there at night. And I still don’t have any trouble with my starter, even though ideally it should be between—
Lisa Bass Yeah. Like the next day, there might not be any bubbles or—
Anja Eckert Yeah, yeah. I don’t have— I never had any issues. The only time I’ve ever had an issue is when I actually did— and it wasn’t on a mature starter, it was on an einkorn starter, and I tried various other methods because people have also come to me and said, “I can’t find buttermilk,” because people from other countries, I guess buttermilk is not that common in stores or they can’t buy the cultures online or they have a dairy sensitivity or allergy. What can I use? So I have experimented with other active cultures such as yogurt and kefir. And then I thought, okay, so what’s a nondairy? And I have used plain kombucha, no flavors. And plain kombucha works just as well.
Lisa Bass Okay.
Anja Eckert People have asked me if they can use coconut yogurt or cashew yogurt. While I have not tried that myself, the principle seems to make sense. And I said, “Yeah, sure, try it. It should work. And if you do try it, circle back to me and let me know what you find.” And I think a few people have said that it worked.
Lisa Bass Yeah. It would make sense.
Anja Eckert So it was one of those experiments where I got mold on the starter because like I said, I did have a little bit of mold on an apple that I hadn’t seen. And then I got mold on the starter. I’m like, okay, so—
Lisa Bass This can happen.
Anja Eckert It happened to me too. Here is my little initiation. Yeah, I know.
Lisa Bass I haven’t had it happen. And so I get lots of questions and I’m like, I don’t know if this has happened to me. It’s just been very robust and easy. I mean, to be completely honest, it just has. I’ve had fruit flies in it and people are like, “Well, what do you do then?” And I’m like, “I scoop them out.” I’m just being completely honest. I’m not going to throw away my starter over a couple of fruit flies.
Anja Eckert Oh, I know. I mean, I hope I’m not freaking people out, but as long as you’re not eating in my kitchen, I think everything’s fine. But I’ve had so many people comment on stuff that goes on in my kitchen, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Lisa Bass Yeah, exactly.
Anja Eckert I have one video in which I’m actually teaching about how to make buttermilk, and one of the cats jumps up on the counter and somebody comment and says, “Ew, first she touches the cat”—because I put the cat back down—”and then she touches the food.” And then it was funny because people came and said, “Well, she wasn’t touching the food, it was in a jar.”
Lisa Bass Oh, people. You can’t gross me out, Anja. Trust me.
Anja Eckert I know.
Lisa Bass I’m just not one to waste stuff that fast.
Anja Eckert No. And I also don’t believe that— I mean, we are living in such a sanitary environment these days, and everything is germ-free and this and that.
Lisa Bass Yes.
Anja Eckert And first of all, I don’t think that people have lived that way, you know, a hundred years and then even prior to that. And secondly, I used to say about my kids— because I started them all clean in the morning and then midday they were all dirty and sticking their hands in the sandbox and then their mouth and I was never one of those moms that would run over there and Clorox wipe their hands. And I said, “My kids are dirty, but they’re happy.” And they had a very robust immune system.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Yeah. My mom wasn’t like that either. I mean, you know how kids are. If you’re going to get grossed out about like a cat jumping up on the counter, just look at— like even when you’re a very particular mom, your kids still, the second you turn your head this way, they’re doing something that’s like, oh, if they could survive that…
Anja Eckert I know. And I wasn’t going to drive myself crazy. And there’s one day, my oldest son, he’s like five or six and he’s like, “Mom, mom, mom, look.” And I look over there and he has his mouth wide open and he has a dog licking the inside of his mouth. Do I need that? Do I promote it? No, of course not. Was I freaked out by it? I’m like, “Pfff,” you know. And I think, well, I know that there’s studies that kids that grow up with pets are healthier than kids that don’t grow up with pets.
Lisa Bass Yeah, well, and just living on a farm, too. There’s so much about it that makes you be like, “Well, I guess that’s fine.” Like, no matter how much you clean a cow before getting the milk out of the cow, you are still squeezing the teats of a cow that just pooped. I mean, you just are. And that’s the same for everybody whether you’re getting your milk from the store or you’re not. You’re getting the eggs out of the coop. You might get them all sanitized, but before that, it came from a cow. So let’s just remember that there are some things that— yeah, we’ll go on some rants here.
Anja Eckert Yeah, actually these days, I’m a little bit more like, you know, I appreciate a little bit of dirt in my home, and I don’t need it all sanitary. It’s not like I’m a surgery room over here where that’s necessary.
Lisa Bass Right. Yeah.
Anja Eckert And I think that sourdough is bacteria. It’s just good bacteria. And I think that bacteria has such a bad rep. And just the word bacteria, you know, so you have to call it good bacteria. And even in the gut, you want to cultivate your good bacteria and make sure that the unbeneficial bad bacteria don’t overwhelm the good bacteria. But here’s an interesting anecdote. And some of you listening may have heard this. If not, it’s a really fun story and I hope I’m telling it right. Michael Pollan wrote a book and he talked about this nun on the East Coast that happened to be a biochemist. And she was making a certain type of cheese. She went to France, learned how to make it and made it. And then the FDA came and said, “Well, you can’t make that cheese in these wooden vats because that’s not sanitary,” and yada yada yada. So she said, “Fine, I’m going to run an experiment. We’re going to do the same cheese, everything, same recipes, and I’m going to do it in wooden vats, and I’m going to do another batch in absolutely sanitary stainless steel vats.” And they found that they actually did grow E.coli in the stainless steel vats because what happens is that in the little creases of the wooden vats, the good bacteria overwhelmed the bad bacteria. And those weren’t available in the stainless steel vats, so the FDA said, “Okay, fine, you can do whatever you’re doing.”
Lisa Bass Yeah. That just seems just like the milk “industry”, I guess you could say. That is how we do with milk when we kill every last bit of bacteria. There’s no line of defense. And if you actually do the research— I mean, I probably am going to butcher these statistics, so I won’t share statistics. But that’s a whole topic.
Anja Eckert We have been drinking raw milk for years. I love it. I love the taste. And I think it’s perfect the way it comes out. Why would I alter it? And I mean, I’ve read all sorts of studies as to how it has enzymes in it that actually helps digest the milk proteins and the lactose in it. And if you’re dairy sensitive, there’s a lot of people who actually do fine on raw milk because it hasn’t been altered. So anyway, so that’s a whole different topic. And yeah.
Lisa Bass It is, but it’s an important topic because I do find a lot of people are scared of sourdough, they’re scared of raw milk, they’re scared of fermenting vegetables because it’s so unfamiliar to grow bacteria that they want some kind of metric to know that it’s going to be okay when this is a very wild process. And there might not be anything giving you that conventional, sanitized down type of outcome that’s going to make you be like, “Yes, this has all the right bacteria in it.” In a way, you have to trust the process. And so I think that’s how this does tie into this conversation.
Anja Eckert Right. And I mean, ultimately, I feel like people need to do whatever they’re comfortable with. And if they’re just plain not comfortable with drinking, let’s say, raw milk, I respect that. And I’m like, fine. Right? But I also read a lot of research because I’m like, well, what is it and where does it fall? So first of all, I think that the whole pasteurization of milk came up because the cows were so far away from the people consuming the milk that the milk had to be transported. And so they had cows in industrial operations where they couldn’t guarantee the cleanliness and then they had to transport it and the milk would go bad on the way to the cities because people started living in more urban environments. And that’s where the pasteurization came in. But if you— I mean, I find that my raw milk stays good in the refrigerator for ten days, and it’s been chilled the whole time. And we don’t cook it. And I smell it and I drink it and it’s fine. We haven’t gotten sick. So yeah, but I know a lot of people who are like, “But it’s not pasteurized. Why does it not make you sick?” I’m like, “Well, I mean, it doesn’t.”
Lisa Bass There’s just defenses left there. There are good bacteria everywhere. And in sourdough, that they’re there, and you’re cultivating them. And they’re there in that milk and they’re there in vegetables. And that is what this whole thing is about. So, yeah, it makes a lot of sense when you really think about the science behind it.
Lisa Bass Taking another quick break to tell you about the School of Traditional Skills. I’ve told you about this on this podcast before, but I have had a chance to dive into some of the classes and they are so well done and so informational. They’re packed with what you need to preserve food, build a garden, dairy, homesteading, fermenting. All of the topics that a lot of you—if you listen to this podcast—are probably interested in. The School of Traditional Skills is the perfect way to continue to learn those skills because they are constantly adding new classes, all very well done. They have pressure canning, reclaiming pasture, pasture raising meat chickens, gardening, curing pork, a nourishing bone broth class with Sally Fallon Morell. You can get all of this by visiting bit.ly/FarmhouseSkills. Sign up for the School of Traditional Skills and continue to get their classes. Learn new things that you can implement in your home that will help you to be more self-sustaining, save you money. So much good information over there. I am looking forward to continuing to watch all of their classes as they put them out. Again, that’s bit.ly/FarmhouseSkills.
Lisa Bass What are some of your most frequently asked questions that you get when it comes to sourdough? We might have covered a few.
Anja Eckert Yeah. Oh, my gosh. I get so many questions, again, that’s just like—little plug—this is why I created my sourdough course because I got so many questions and I felt like, you know, I’m so busy answering them, so maybe I need to bundle them and wrap them up all nicely for people so that it’s all in one spot. I get everything from, “So when you take it out of the refrigerator, do you cover it or do you leave it uncovered?” Or “When you keep it in the refrigerator, do you have a tight lid on it or not?” And so just to answer that— in the refrigerator, I will actually put a tight lid on it. I have one of those—what do you call them?—the cork and jars from IKEA that have a rubber gasket and then this flip top. So it’s pretty airtight.
Lisa Bass Yes.
Anja Eckert Just because I have other ferments in my refrigerator and I don’t want any cross-contamination between either one of them. But then once I take it out, I may loosely cover it so I don’t get fruit flies in it or because we have cats who run around and they jump up on the counter and I don’t want cat hair in the sourdough starter. So that’s why I loosely cover it, but you don’t need to cover it very tightly. And then I get all sorts of questions like, “How much flour do you put in it?” And I don’t think I have a one question that people ask. I’m trying to think. I don’t think so. I mean, it just runs the gamut from everything from, “Can you use stainless utensils?” Yes, you can.
Lisa Bass Yes.
Anja Eckert I wouldn’t necessarily keep it in there for long, but I use my— actually I have heirloom silver that we use for everyday and I use that to stir up my sourdough starter and it hasn’t hurt it at all. So I’m still trying to think if there is— while I’m talking, in the back of my head, I’m thinking if there’s any one question that stands out or is more common than any other. Well, the mold question. And I do tell people to make sure that they have a clean jar, and by that, I don’t necessarily mean sterilized like boiled in water for 10 minutes or chlorinated, but just clean because apparently soap residue can also hurt your sourdough starter if you’re making one that’s not robust.
Lisa Bass Right. That makes sense. That makes sense. Okay. What are your top five favorite sourdough recipes? I know that your wheat— is it that traditional German bread you’re making? Is that a wheat bread?
Anja Eckert The way my grandmother always made it and the way my mom is still making it, it’s wheat. But these days I’m like, oh, einkorn, oh, rye, spelt, whatever. And there were years when I had millet in there and amaranth and quinoa and all sorts of other interesting grains. And I mean, this is a recipe I feel like I can do anything with. So, yeah, I mean, I play with it all the time and just recently I found— oh yeah, because people sometimes ask me both ways, either, “I like this extra sour bread. How do I get my bread a little bit more sour?” Or people ask me, “I want the sourdough, but I don’t like the sour taste.” So then I ask them, “What’s your purpose of eating sourdough bread?” “Well, for health benefits.” I’m like, “Well, you do need to ferment it, but there are ways that you can increase and decrease the sourness.” And I find that adding right about 25% or so of oat to my whole grain sourdough bread makes it very mild. That’s a recipe I’ve been playing with lately.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Coming soon to the blog?
Anja Eckert Um, I feel like it’s just another variation.
Lisa Bass Maybe?
Anja Eckert Well, I have the 100% rye, because that is a different recipe in itself. And rye behaves a little bit— because it doesn’t have the gluten that wheat and spelt and einkorn does. I mean, in that order.
Lisa Bass Different.
Anja Eckert Yeah. Yeah. Well, I just feel like this recipe is so flexible, you can just throw anything in there you want.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Yeah, that makes it very intuitive and easy. All right, let our listeners know where they can best find you. Tell us about your sourdough course or any way that we can follow up with you.
Anja Eckert Yeah. Yeah. I would love for people to check me out on my blog, again OurGabledHome.com or on YouTube. Now that’s very easy, Our Gabled Home. I’m on Instagram. I’m officially on Twitter, but not very active there. I am on Pinterest and on Facebook. And then I do have the sourdough course. And I think you can just go ahead and type in a Google search and type in Super Simple Sourdough Online Course and you should be able to find it.
Lisa Bass Okay.
Anja Eckert It’s not a very long course, but it has all the little modules and it teaches you how to make the sourdough starter and pitfalls and troubleshooting. And I mean, even though I have some videos on my YouTube channel, I really go in depth in the course and talk about all sorts of things including recipes. And then you also get access to my private— I have a private Facebook group for the sourdough course where people can share and get support and get more of my attention because sometimes I get people who ask me this and that and I don’t know and I got this funny color. And it’s so difficult for me to remotely assess. “Funny color” can mean so many things. And in the private Facebook group, it would be really easy for people—or it is really easy for them—to share a photo or a video, which we can’t do on YouTube, for example.
Lisa Bass Right.
Anja Eckert So I can look on it and then just—
Lisa Bass Yes, the back and forth is very helpful.
Anja Eckert Yeah. And then just recently I’ve added the coaching because people have actually chastised me for— you know, “You’re teaching all this thing and then you’re leaving people alone.” I’m like, “Well.” So I’ve just recently launched a coaching service where people can get 20 minutes of my attention and we can Zoom and they can be in their kitchen, they can show me their sourdough starter, they can show me their setup, they can show me whatever they have, and they can ask me all their sourdough related questions so that they don’t feel like I leave them hanging.
Lisa Bass That’s cool. Yeah. I do feel like that’s missing sometimes. And people ask for it, but there’s only so much time in the day to take everybody’s individual sourdough question.
Anja Eckert Right, right. And again, that’s why I did the course, because I’m like, “I’m so busy answering all the YouTube comments,” and so often I will just steer people towards my course and say, “Hey, I think you would get so much out of this course and it answers all your questions. So you might want to consider that.” Yeah. Because you only have so many hours in the day.
Lisa Bass Right.
Anja Eckert And even though I wish I had more and I could respond to every comment that way, I just don’t.
Lisa Bass Yeah. No, it’s fair. It’s fair. All right. Well, thank you so very much. I really appreciate it. You had a lot of good insight for somebody who maybe has tried zero and still hasn’t found something that works for them, they’re discouraged, this is a whole new way to look at it and try it. So thank you so much for giving us that information.
Anja Eckert Yeah. And likewise. Thank you so much for having me here. I always love chatting with you whenever we do. And I may actually— I think I’ve made a commitment that I will try one of those sourdough starters and maybe I’ll just use your recipe where I feed it and I discard and I try one of those methods and see how I like it and if it’s any different.
Lisa Bass That old way.
Anja Eckert Yeah, yeah. Just venture out and try something— you know, what maybe 90% of the population in this country does so I have a better understanding of how that works. So thank you so much.
Lisa Bass It’s hard to want to switch up what you know. It really is. This works for you. It’s easy.
Anja Eckert Teaching an old dog new tricks.
Lisa Bass But worthwhile to try probably for your course students. A good way to get more— yeah, both experiences.
Anja Eckert Yeah. And then whatever I find, I may actually— if it’s worth it, I’ll always update the course and put that in there.
Lisa Bass Right. Awesome, awesome. Well, thanks again.
Anja Eckert Oh, yeah. You’re welcome. Thank you, Lisa.
Lisa Bass All right. Well, thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. I hope that you did learn something new about sourdough. I know I learned some things and I—I don’t know—I don’t know if I’ll change my method just because it works so well for me. But for any of you who maybe have tried and not had the best of luck with it, this gives you something else to try so that you can join the sourdough club and bake from scratch with wild yeast. I hope that it encouraged you. As always, thank you so much for listening and I’ll see you in the next episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast.