The Sourdough Mamas Group: Personal Stories of Bread Baking Journeys

by Heather

Leavenly interviewed members of the Sourdough Mamas Facebook Group, a community offering sourdough support, inspiration, and advice in an encouraging environment. We wanted to hear about their personal sourdough journeys, what challenges and advice they have for other new bakers, as well as what the online group has done for their baking. Their stories are below.

As someone who runs an internet blog on sourdough baking, I’m still not sure if the internet has made it easier or harder for people to get into sourdough baking. I talk to thousands of new sourdough bakers and all too often I hear how overly complicated information can be on sourdough and how it’s hard to know where to even start.

Worse still, the internet has created a level of sourdough perfection that often doesn’t exist in the real world. We’ve allowed the bar to be set too high and so many new bakers feel like they’re failing when in fact they’re on the right track. The truth is, the only perfect sourdough bread is the one you and your family find delicious.

There are many sourdough blogs out there, but few that are built around you. Everything we do at Leavenly is designed to uplift the sourdough home baker, support their journey, and aspire them to keep baking. That’s why our tagline is: Your ingredients, your kitchen, your life. This message was built based on what I needed to be successful as a busy mom of three, but the lesson has been applied to all walks of life and we are proud to work with all sorts of people (yes, women and men) around the world.

Launching a Facebook group to accompany the website’s message was a natural progression. It gave us a platform to let our audience help uplift, support, and inspire each other. And so, Sourdough Mamas was born. While the group encompasses our message of helping turn busy women into Sourdough Mamas, we are an inclusive group with lots of proud Sourdough Papas, Uncles, Nieces, Students, and more. We all live busy lives and we want sourdough to be fun and enjoyable, not troublesome and intimidating. And we certainly don’t want to let the noise of the internet bring us down like we see in so many other groups.

As one of our Sourdough Mamas says best, this group is a safe place where you can proudly share your baking achievements (no matter how the bakes look). A place where you can be appreciated for your advice. A place where you will get the support you deserve.

Let’s hear what the Sourdough Mamas (and Papas) have to say:


Shannon
Washington, USA

I’ve been playing with sourdough since early 2017. I developed an interest in sourdough when my biology class spent a week studying anaerobic respiration. Jane Dough and John Dough were conceived that weekend – one was a wild start and one was started with a yeast packet. I have come a long way since then! Jane and John were huge—they lived in lidded casserole dishes—and I always had hooch. I thought this was the way things were supposed to be. I think we baked one unmemorable loaf from each, then exiled them to quart-size Mason jars in the back of the refrigerator as we planned for our wedding, honeymoon, and a move. Our roommate finished the move while we were away, and Jane and John were lost. I’m sure the hooch-covered white blobs looked like a science experiment gone awry. Looking back, I can’t say I’m sorry they disappeared. We never did set up another starter.

Then last May a pen pal sent me a tablespoon’s worth of her dried starter. To her knowledge it originated in France and has been passed down for over 100 years. I tucked it into a cupboard for a couple of months and forgot about it, and then (I’m embarrassed to admit) the Covid sourdough trend that got me thinking about it again. I pulled the packet out of the cupboard, carefully followed my pal’s instructions, and soon Penny was on a twice-daily feeding schedule and getting stronger. With Covid on the loose and my entire household in the high-risk category, there has been plenty of time to read and research. I couldn’t wait to dive into baking! My pen pal recommended a certain sourdough book, and I bought it. I tried the basic sourdough formula which called for an overnight counter proof. I woke up the next morning eager to bake my first loaf of delicious wholesome goodness.

Or not.

I upended my proofing bowl onto my floured board with a plop and watched in dismay as my ball of dough settled rapidly into a huge pancake. I held the floppy thing up by one edge to show my wife. “I can’t bake this!” I said, and sadly dropped the limp object into the trash before heading for the computer to see if I could figure out what had happened.

That’s when I found Leavenly, and Sourdough Mamas. With the help of the Ultimate Beginner’s Guide, I learned that my dough was overfermented. I tried again, using Leavenly’s Simple Sourdough formula and an overnight cold proof in the refrigerator. The next morning, I had what I’d been imagining all along—a nicely rounded, golden-brown loaf with a beautiful crumb.

Since then, I have baked over 30 loaves. Some were boules, some had inclusions, and most were baked in my Pullman loaf pan for the traditional loaf shape. The most important thing I have learned so far is hydration and baker’s percentages, particularly when I realized that I was calculating my inclusions as 20% of the entire dough mass rather than as a percentage of the flour weight! (Really though, is it possible to add too much cheese?)

Lately I have been having trouble with scoring my boules; my dough keeps sagging, and my designs keep exploding. The Sourdough Mamas community has been helpful and supportive, and interacting with the other members has truly been a joy. I love answering questions and marveling over photos of loaves, scores, and ears. The members are actively engaged with one another’s posts, and I feel like Sourdough Mamas is a place where I can relax and laugh over my errors or share my tiniest triumphs without feeling embarrassed by them. With the help and support of the community, my loaves continue to improve and sometimes I even get a little ambitious.

For the beginning sourdough scientist, I would offer these tips:

  1. Bake it anyway! You don’t really know what you need to change unless you bake it, and sourdough is more forgiving than you think.
  2. Write it down. I haven’t been and wish I had. I’m going to start with today’s loaf.
  3. Have fun!

My only regret is that I never baked that first puddle of dough.


Kim
New Jersey, USA


My name is Kim Wilson and I am Head Chef of Thy Kingdom Crumb Food-truck.  We are a non profit organization owned by Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz! 

My sourdough journey started in the fall of 2020! I had seen some posts about sourdough and it peaked my interest. I love trying new things! I think everyone around that time was looking for things to fill their time. I spent some time reading, studying and watching videos on sourdough and decided I wanted to give it a try. To be honest all this research did nothing but confuse me. I was really nervous to start. I spoke to a friend who is a baker at a local Whole Foods and she basically told me that I was overthinking it! She gave me a starter that was about 8 years old from California! That was exciting to me. I’ve spent years in the kitchen cooking and creating but this made me nervous! So on December 12, 2020 I went for it! My first loaf looked like a giant sugar cookie. I actually wrote in my notes TOTAL FAIL!!! 

My biggest breakthrough was when I finally got it right!! It took me so long to even try again because I was so scared. Once I felt like I finally got a grasp on what I was doing I felt a bit more free to try other things! One of my biggest challenges and probably always will be is finding the time it takes to produce the goodness of sourdough bread! I’ve been baking every weekend since I’ve started! I think when you true my enjoy something you just want to do it all the time! 


The Sourdough Mamas group has made sourdough so much easier to understand. When I first started and failed miserably, all I had to do was reach out to the group and within 10 minutes I had 15 helpful answers! They are all always willing to lend a hand and a second away from a compliment on your beautiful loaves. They make baking easier and enjoyable! I love that everyone does things differently, it’s nice to read through all the posts and see where everyone is in their journeys. 


My advice to someone new would be to dive right in! Ask questions and interact with this group because they are all so helpful! No question is a silly question; chances are, someone else had the same question once! Bake on!! 


Dan
Colorado, USA

I started making sourdough bread about five or six years ago. I always liked homemade bread. Every good meal should have bread. It’s like a movie. Bread isn’t the star of the meal, its like the best supporting actor. My success rate I would say was about 25%. A lot came out flat, however it tasted great after I baked it. I struggled at first but like everything else it’s a learning experience or curve. I only baked about 2 or 3 times a month. Then I had to stop baking due to family matters. After two years I started making sourdough bread this year and found Leavenly.


My biggest challenge, and it will always be a challenge, is keeping my work area very clean. My wife has wheat allergies. She had this for about 15 years. Any dust of flour can set it off. I tried to make a gluten-free sourdough bread with little results. Will try later this year. This is why I want to try the Einkorn Flour, it has less gluten. She might try it or not. She still wants me to make sourdough bread because it’s better for me.

My biggest advice to a new sourdough bakers is to never give up. Even at a dozen attempts at this, as an example, sooner or later it will happen. Take notes and photos of your sourdough bread. It might not at first look good but it will taste 1000x better than the bread that you buy at the store. Just take your time.

The FDA can allow around 35 ingredients and it will still be called bread. Historically this is wrong. Sourdough bread contains only wheat, water, and salt. People have been doing this for about 5,000 years. As a side note if you have Netflix watch the documentary Cooked with Michael Pollan. The episode is called “Air”.


Aileen
British Columbia, Canada

I started my sourdough journey around March last year. It was when lockdown first happened and much to my dismay (like a lot of bakers) yeast was no where to be found and most flour was scarce. So when my commercial yeast ran out, I figured it’s as good a time as any to try making sourdough. I love eating sourdough bread but making it has always been a tad intimidating for me. After much reading and a lot of YouTube videos I finally took the leap and made a starter. I remember asking friends for advice, some cheering me on and following my journey – made an Instagram page (doughie.kenobi) and trying to connect with other bakers to sometimes ask advice but mainly drool at all the yummy and beautiful loaves they make!

One of my first breakthroughs was when I got my starter to a healthy state. When it started to have consistent and predictable rise/fall times after feeding, I knew I was ready for my first bake. I believe I used the 123 formula (1 part starter, 2 parts water, 3 parts flour, 2% salt). My other proud moment was when I finally achieved a “proper ear”. There was much dancing in the kitchen!

As for challenges, I’m still working on my timing and how to incorporate sourdough loaf making around my schedule. I still get proofing times wrong sometimes because as a mom of two, life happens! I’m always learning with each new bake and eating my mistakes. I also want to branch out and try laminating extras with my dough and working on my scoring. Can’t forget about patience (it’s a constant battle).

I love the Sourdough Mamas group! It’s such a positive space for beginner and seasoned bakers alike. People give great advice, we lift each other up when our bakes fail, and celebrates our milestones and successes! All the pictures are inspiring and makes me want to be better and try new recipes =)

My top advice for a new home baker starting out:

Patience – sourdough is a process and it takes time. When my starter was in the beginning stages, I remember getting excited as it doubled during the early days but after days 3 or 4 there was barely any activity and I thought I’d killed it. But I persisted and after a couple of weeks, I was able to do my very first bake.

Mistakes happen, and luckily, they can be eaten =)

Get a digital scale to measure ingredients accurately.

Also get a pair of stretchy pants for all the goodies you’re about to eat lol


Patricia
Louisiana, USA

Like a lot of people, my sourdough journey started during the quarantine over the summer.  I kept seeing people post about sourdough and I figured, what the heck, I have time, lol.  But, I was TERRIFIED! Why? Because I am NOT, nor have I ever been, a baker.  The extent of my baking ability was boxed cake mixes and boxed brownies, the occasional batch of cookies and bread from my bread machine.  I searched the web and decided to look on eBay.  I found a starter that supposedly was a descendant of starter that had been around since the 1880’s and the person was selling it to help subsidize their mom’s assisted living. Plus her name was also Patricia so I figured if it was bogus, it was a great story! So I ordered it.  I faithfully followed the directions and when it started to rise the first time I realized I was hooked, until I made my first loaf… then, I was REALLY hooked.  

My biggest challenge continues to be my fear of messing it all up! I have to keep reminding myself how forgiving sourdough is and if my ancestors can do it, why can’t I? My biggest breakthrough with sourdough was realizing that not all sourdough is the same and doesn’t act the same. Even starter in the same house doesn’t always act the same.  And baking bread doesn’t have to be intimidating! 

Sourdough Mamas has been absolutely amazing for my baking life and maybe not my waistline, lol.  Seriously though, I probably would have given up a long time ago if it hadn’t been for the group.  I discovered it probably around the time I got my starter.  I searched for sourdough groups to get advice and joined a few, but let me tell you, the only one I am active in and follow religiously is the Mamas! The group has been amazing because there are no silly or stupid questions.  No one ever belittles you for asking a question or saying something. It’s so very welcoming! And the sharing of recipes is absolutely amazing. Oh, and the tips are all life savers!! The group allowed me to be able to proudly say… I AM A BAKER! 

My advice to a new home baker is be brave. Be willing to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.  Make notes and lots of them!

Name your starter and talk to them! Your family will think you are crazy but that’s okay… They will be more than willing to reap the rewards of that craziness in the form of baked goods.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the group and don’t be afraid to offer advice, too.  Use the list of sourdough tools on the Leavenly site. It’s great! And it doesn’t have to the be the most expensive items, you can do it on a budget! Just HAVE FUN!! 


Lisa
Nova Scotia, Canada

I started my sourdough journey in July 2020. My husband and I love bread and of course wanted a healthier and better quality bread than store-bought, plus I love to bake so this was the right thing for us. I am very pleased and happy that I did and will never go back. 

When I first started my sourdough journey, I was pretty skeptical as my starter was slow going and I thought  the process too long but now I wouldn’t change it for the world. With Heather’s guidance, confidence and assurance, I followed her very easy step by step instructions and recipes and was making my first sourdough bread within two weeks. It’s hard to believe with just three simple ingredients (flour, water and salt), it would make such delicious, wholesome, very tasty bread. Eventually, I did experiment by adding cheese and jalapeño and cinnamon sugar and raisins that are amazingly delicious as well. 

I love being part of the Sourdough Mamas group as I get to see everyone’s questions and answers which is a great way to learn and see all the challenges people have and how to overcome them. Everyone in the group is so helpful and this is very encouraging even when you are not having a good good day.  I also get to see everyone’s beautiful breads and all the different kinds people make and, of course, it makes me want to make them as well.  

I do still have some challenges with shaping but that is because I am so nervous that I will deflate my dough but determined to step it up and keep trying hard until I have the perfect loaf with a perfect ear! One thing I don’t ever do is give up. 

For a new baker, I would encourage you to stay connected to the Sourdough Mama’s Facebook group and don’t be afraid to ask questions or how to overcome challenges you come across. It is a great learning tool.  Enjoy your sourdough journey and you will be very proud of all your hard work.  Happy baking! 


Mia,
Singapore

I started my sourdough journey back in June 2020, when Singapore was also experiencing a lockdown of sorts.  I have always loved to bake, but never ventured into breads due to one particular (yeasted) bake many many years ago that resulted in a brick and I don’t like failures, so I just decided NOT TO EVER bake bread again.  Until COVID.  I started with yeasted bread again as there were a few recipes trending in Singapore and with the small successes, I became more confident in baking bread.  Then I decided to explore sourdough.  I made my own starter, and used recipes from the web with mixed successes.  More failures than successes, but being older and wiser this time, I refused to let the failures deter me, so I delved deep into the topic, reading, watching YouTube, asking questions on FB, etc.

I had a starter issue in the beginning because there were so many ways to skin a cat, and I was distracted by all the different “noises.” That took a while to figure out, and that was one of my biggest breakthroughs.  The learning is, don’t overthink the starter!  The difference between a good bread (well proofed, light airy, tasty) and excellent bread is very tiny (maybe more lacy and larger holes in my view) and not noticeable to your family and friends who are the ones tasting the bread.

The biggest challenge that I am still trying to overcome is to understand when bulk is done.  I am getting there, but needs more consistency.

I feel safe in the Sourdough Mamas group. I don’t feel judged for my bakes.   I also feel appreciated when I offer advice to people.

My biggest advice to a brand new sourdough baker is to enjoy the learning process, learn from failures and never give up. Ask any questions in the group when in doubt.

You can follow Mia on Instagram @ovenspringsg.


Sue
California, USA

My sourdough journey started because of my sister, Lenore. She started during the beginning of the pandemic and kept telling me how delicious the bread was and all the other fun things she was making with the discard. She spoke a new language: starter, autolyse, stretch and fold, fermentation. I had no idea what she was talking about. She sent me all sorts of different links to review. Before long I had a folder about one inch thick and still didn’t understand. I decided to buy a starter and get started. It didn’t work out very well.

Then just as I was going to give up, Heather sent an email to teach us how to make our own starter. Just what I needed! It made it so simple. My starter wasn’t ready after the 10 days, but I kept feeding every day and after about 14 days it finally floated. It still stayed in the fridge for a few weeks. I also found Heather’s Simple Sourdough recipe. Finally, one that made sense to me!

I did my first bake in July 2020 and it was delicious. A little moist inside but still delicious. With every try I made,  it kept getting better. Now I bake about once a week. I have found for me that my bread comes out the best when I use a half recipe  The dough just seems easier to handle. One thing I learned, from some mistakes I’ve made is that sourdough is very forgiving. The last time I baked, I totally forgot to do the final shaping. I did my final folds and put it right into my baskets. They were still good loaves of bread.

So never give up. I’ve only been able to get through this because of all the sourdough mamas and papas advice and experience, and especially all of Heather’s knowledge. 


Katie
Nova Scotia, Canada

I am a Registered Nurse during a global pandemic. I think that sentence in itself paints a picture of just how busy I am. But to add to that, I work full time at one job and pick up extra shifts at two other facilities. I also have a husband and two little boys, and just finished school, completing my Masters. I tell you this because if I can fit baking bread into my busy life, ANYONE CAN!

I was introduced to sourdough over a year ago as a healthy bread option, but it was presented as this “super hard” bread to make and that you needed a person to show you how to do it. As I’ve already explained, I’m pretty busy without adding in a how-to meeting. Fast forward to summer 2020 and a friend of mine sent me a little package in the mail containing dried sourdough starter. I was ready to go! So by chatting via messenger and through videos, I was able to grow my starter and bake my first loaf of bread!

Although that first loaf of bread did turn out, I had no idea what I did, and I had many questions my friend couldn’t necessarily answer since we lived in different time zones. Sometimes Google is the only option! I ended up at the Leavenly website and that wonderful downloadable “How To” PDF became my best friend.

Starting out, my loaves were scored using scissors and a kitchen knife and proofed in a normal kitchen bowl. I didn’t see the need to invest in a lame or bannetons if this bread making journey didn’t last. Thankfully I have always been a baker so all other materials and ingredients I had on hand. I’ve never been a perfectionist with my baking, putting more emphasis on taste than looks. And I think this has helped me to continue with sourdough baking. I have not gotten an “ear” while baking and for some, I can imagine this would discourage them. I however keep trying for it but eat all the bread along the way because, in the end, it doesn’t matter. And I for one do not want huge holes in my bread slice; where will my condiments go?!

Leavenly values producing delicious bread over all other details, and that sits well with my values and makes the website and Sourdough Mamas group welcoming places to visit. And all have helped me to feel confident and to know that it’s okay to value taste and nutrition over appearance.

My advice to new bakers is to not get discouraged, and to ditch any recipe you have that involves kneading for hours or using expensive tools. Follow the Leavenly process/recipe and you will be good. I work day and night shifts, so I build my leaven at times that work for me. I love that I can be washing the dishes or playing with the kids and just need to stretch/flip the dough for all of 20 seconds and then forget about it for another 30 minutes. It really is very simple! Just make sure to set timers and write notes if you have many things on the go like me! I one time did a stretch to my dough and had no idea if this was the second or third stretch. Since then, I use scrap paper and write the time I start each stretch.

All said, sourdough is now a staple in my home and comes out in more than just bread. I have made bagels, pretzels, English muffins, and cinnamon rolls just to name a few. So many ways to add sourdough into your life! Take the leap and just try it, you won’t be disappointed.


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2 comments

Janice Carnevale February 1, 2021 - 7:22 pm

I know for sure that it was your tips Heather that got me to two successful tasty sourdough loaves!! I really appreciated your support 🤗

Reply
Heather February 1, 2021 - 9:05 pm

Thank you, Janice! 🙂

Reply

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