Homemade Leavening and Sourdough - 3 Ways to Make and Use Them

  • 01 of 06

    Homemade Leavening and Sourdough Starter

    Moroccan Bread for Sale

    Diane Levitt / Design Pics / Getty Images

    Before the commercial availability of cultivated dry and fresh baker's yeast, various cultures around the world made bread and other baked goods with homemade leavening. Sourdough is one such leavening that is used by home cooks and professional bakers.

    In Morocco, homemade leavening is called khmira beldia. It differs a bit from sourdough in flavor and texture–the Moroccan leavening tends to be less sour and less bubbly–but is used in a similar manner to make Moroccan breads like those shown in the photo.

    Moroccan leavening and sourdough are both made from a mixture of flour and water; left to ferment, the mixture becomes a playground for lactobacilli bacteria and wild yeast. These naturally occurring organisms work together to give homemade leavening the rising properties and complex, sour flavor that it's famous for.

    Homemade leavening can also be made from fermented fruit–raisin yeast is an example–but because alcohol is produced in the process, I'm not including it here.

  • 02 of 06

    Homemade Leavening and Sourdough - How They Work

    Various Stages of Sourdough Starter

    Tania Mattiello / Moment Open / Getty Images

    While there are different ways to make flour-based leavening, the methods are similar in principle and procedure. 1) A mix of flour, water and/or acidic liquid is left to ferment; 2) in the process, lactobacilli bacteria convert complex carbohydrates into simple sugars; 3) wild yeast feeds off the sugar and produces carbon dioxide bubbles (hence the leavening power; 4) the starter dough is fed periodically with additions of flour and water until an adequate leavening power is achieved. The photo here shows sourdough starter at various stages, a process that can take up to 14 days before the sourdough is deemed ready to use.

    The following pages show three different methods for making your own homemade leavening or sourdough. To make gluten-free versions of the starters, you can substitute cornmeal, buckwheat or other gluten-free flours for the regular flour.

  • 03 of 06

    Moroccan Leavening (Khmira Beldia) Made With Garlic


    Lane Oatey / Blue Jean Images / Getty Images

    Less spongy and sour than sourdough, Moroccan khmira beldia is used in place of yeast to make khobz, beghrir and other risen doughs and batters. A clove of garlic is inserted into the initial starter dough, a technique that helps boost rustic flavor. The garlic is discarded after two days and the starter is fed only once before it's considered ready to use. Baked goods will be very flavorful but without the tart pungency associated with longer-fermented sourdough.

    Use this leavening at an initial ratio of 40 percent leavening by weight to flour. Subsequent batches of bread can be made with a 30 percent ratio. Allow eight hours or longer for the dough to rise.

  • 04 of 06

    Moroccan Leavening (Khmira Beldia) Made With Bread

    Crusty Bread

    AKEAUNAGE / E+ / Getty Images

    Similar to the method on the previous slide, this Moroccan leavening (khmira beldia) is made from a dough of flour, water, and vinegar. A small piece of bread is inserted into the center of the dough and the starter is left at room temperature for at least a day, or until fermented and bubbly on the surface. The piece of bread is discarded and the starter dough is ready to use as leavening. Whenever a batch of bread is made with the khmira beldia, a portion of the dough is reserved as leavening for future use. 

    For the first bread dough made with the khmira beldia, use 40 percent leavening by weight to flour. That ratio will reduce to 30 percent for subsequent batches. Know that a very long rising time (8 hours or overnight) is generally needed.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Traditional Sourdough Starter

    Sourdough Starter

    Tania Mattiello / Moment Open / Getty Images

    A traditional sourdough may be more familiar to you than the Moroccan homemade leavening described on previous pages. Made from a dough of flour and yogurt, sourdough requires more time and more feedings to mature and ferment (8 to 14 days) than the khmira beldia methods shown on previous pages. Consequently, it is more spongy, bubbly and sour. It can be fed and maintained indefinitely, with some bakeries taking great pride in the age of their sourdough.

    Sourdough is used at a 30 percent ratio by weight of leavening to total ingredients in the recipe. As an example, if the flour, liquids and other ingredients in a bread recipe total 1000 grams, you will need 300 grams of sourdough starter as your leavening agent. A minimum of four hours rising time is generally needed, but that may be increased if a more pungent sour note is desired.

    For the full recipe and directions, see Sourdough Starter Recipe - How to Make and How to Use It.

  • 06 of 06

    Baking Breads With Homemade Leavening

    Khobz L'Mahrash - Moroccan Barley Bread

    The Spruce / Christine Benlafquih

    If you already bake bread, it's well worth your time to try making khmira beldia or sourdough to use in place of commercial yeast. Remember:

    • Khmira Beldia: Use a 30 percent ratio by weight of leavening to flour (40 percent for the initial use); allow 8 to 9 hours rising.
    • Sourdough Starter: Use a 30 percent ratio by weight of leavening to total ingredients (flours plus liquids); allow at least 4 hours rising time.

    Here are some popular Moroccan breads that benefit from the flavor of homemade leavening:

    Batbout - Pan-Fried, Pita-Like Flatbread

    Khobz b'Chehma - Stuffed Moroccan Flatbread

    Moroccan Barley Bread

    Moroccan Semolina Bread