Life with my sourdough starter was the best and worst. Yes, I brought it with me on trips and, when I couldn't, wrote detailed instructions inundated with underlining and capital letters for its stand-in parent. And, yes, I made some of the best bread with nothing more than a little mixing, kneading, and waiting.
The short story is my starter died, and now I need help rebuilding my sourdough confidence. So since everyone is sourdough-ing, now couldn't be a better time to start-up the starter again—and to turn to the professionals for help.
Whether you're a novice to the knead or popping out loaves like a boulangerie, here are four cookbooks for four levels of commitment to your sourdough starter. Because we all could use a little inspiration, guidance—and pep-talking.
Level 1: Why not?
Book: Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day by Peter Reinhart
Why it’s for you: Sourdough doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does take time. Here, Reinhart explains how to build your starter, starting with the “seed culture.” Which, he explains, is essentially a starter that makes a “mother starter” that goes into bread.
With detailed photos and day-to-day descriptions (“Seed Culture, Phase 1 (Day 1)”), Reinhart guides you through adding pineapple juice and water to flour—the acid neutralizes harmful bacteria that would halt fermentation—to form your seed culture and then, about a week later, converting this into a mother starter.
Once you’ve made your mother starter (which just involves some mixing, waiting, kneading, and more waiting), it’s ready to use in recipes like Pain Au Levain, San Francisco Sourdough Bread, and Sourdough Pizza Dough.
Reinhart also details how to refresh your mother starter once you’ve baked with it or if it’s been in the fridge too long and is a bit too old. And, hey, if all of this starter stuff gets overwhelming, many of the breads in Reinhart’s book give a recipe option with commercial yeast.
Level 2: Help, please.
Book: The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Why it’s for you: While Reinhart's sourdough starter instructions are more straightforward, Beranbaum really covers how to make sourdough. If you're an amateur baker looking to school yourself on sourdough, this book is for you.
The book includes the history of sourdough, proper pre-ferment temperature, starter success tips (use unchlorinated water!), an outline of "The 8 Basic Steps in Making Sourdough Bread from a Sourdough Seed Starter (Culture)," and the difference between yeasts. Then, there are recipes like Sourdough Rye and Sourdough Pumpernickel.
Level 3: I'm ready to take it to the next level.
Book: Local Breads by Daniel Leader
Why it’s for you: If you know sourdough, can successfully make a starter, and are looking to expand your sourdough horizons, Leader will take you there. Local Breads is all about sourdoughs from around Europe, like France's Auvergne Crown (a circular loaf with a hole in the center and a thick crust). All of the recipes in the book come with variations, too, whether that's flavor suggestions or time-saving alternatives.
Level 4: Fermentation is, like, my middle name.
Book: Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson
Why it’s for you: If you want in-depth stories on how Chad Robertson developed the bread at his renowned Tartine Bakery in San Francisco (hint: it involved a lot of home kitchen testers), then you'll get lost in the romance of this book's glossy pages. For bread obsessives, this book's insight into the artisanal bread world is about as inspiring as it gets.
The book relies of one bread recipe that begins with one starter, which then takes on many, many variations like Walnut, Flax and Sunflower, and Raisin and Coriander Breads. Then, there are recipes for what to do with leftover bread, like panzanella and white gazpacho.
Robertson's passion—as cliche as it may sound—can be felt through his stories and tedious bread-making process—the book's photos are further evidence.
Tell us: What's your favorite bread book?