Whilst waiting for The Pantry to open I decided to try making something that I’ve always wanted to, but never had the time. Homemade sourdough is the king of breads in my mind, with its crisp crust and light airy pockets and sour notes.
Making sourdough means you need to make the bread from a natural starter (levain). Natural starters can be made using just flour and water, although some people like to add some yogurt or fruit like rhubarb or pineapple juice to kick start the process.
I decided to try the very basic recipe, just flour and water for this attempt.
For my starter I used 1 tablespoon of flour and 1 tables spoon of water I left the mixture in a container in my kitchen with a loose fitting lid and waited for the natural bacteria in the air to introduce itself to my mixture. After 8 hours I fed the mixture with 1 tablespoon of flour and 1 tablespoon of water, I did the same after another 8 hours.
It’s ALIVE! Here’s a pic of my starter after 24 hours, the bacteria has settled and started to feed off of the flour water mixture creating small bubbles on the surface.
What you then need to do is leave your starter on a work surface and feed her* every 24 hours, adding a little flour and water each time. *One of the nicknames given to a natural starter is the ‘mother’ which is why they are often referred to in the female tense.
My starter after 3 days
After you have fed your starter for 3 days you will need to start pouring half about half of the mixture and topping it up in equal quantities of flour and water. After about 7 days your starter should be active enough to bake with. You need about a ladle full of your starter to 500g of flour to bake a loaf in addition to a little salt this is all you need to bake the best bread you will ever taste.
After the 3rd day I didn’t have the heart to throw away half my starter so I decided to try baking a loaf with what I had poured off, as I felt my stater was active enough.
The results are a fantastic tasting loaf, however a little heavy due to the fact my stater wasn’t quite active enough.
I fed my starter for a further 4 days and then made my second loaf. The recipe requires you to make what is called a sponge which is a ladle full of your starter and 500g of flour and 650ml of water. whisk this up in a bowl and leave it on the side to rest for 8 hours. I did this at night and came back to it in the morning. Then you kneed the sponge with 500g of flour and 25g salt till it is nice and elastic (10-15 minutes), leave to rise for 1-4 hours. Then you need to punch the air out of the dough, shape the loaf and place onto a tray and leave to rise for 1-4 hours again.
When your dough is ready pre-heat your oven to its highest setting, place a tray of water in the bottom to generate steam, then slash your loaf and put in the oven for around 30 minutes.
The result is really airy, crusty and fantastically tasty loaf. The sour notes come from the long fermentation time and will probably the best loaf you will have tasted in a long time…
So thats all you need, flour and water and a little time. The good news is once you have your stater active you can bake a fresh loaf every day or even once to twice a week, replenishing the starter as you go. Alternatively you can refrigerate the stater and feed just once a week, however if you want to bake with the stater take the stater from the fridge 2 days before and feed it at least twice to three times. When you have created your starter looking after its becomes addictive you will want to constantly check up on her especially first thing in the morning. Most artisan bakeries have starters that have been around for years, in fact some claim theirs have been around for over a 100 years! They can be dried or frozen but if your baking on a regular basis it is good to keep it out at room temperature in order to keep it nice and lively.