Wild yeast is all around us, the joy of foraging into flour and water to create your natural starter can be a life long journey. Looked after correctly, your starter will provide you with the fantastic reward of your own sourdough loaves for years to come.
Day 1 - To start the whole thing off you will need:
50g strong organic stoneground flour
It can be white, wholemeal, spelt or rye
50g (ml) of water (if you have hard water consider using bottled or filtered water to avoid the chlorine)
Place into a bowl/jar/plastic container of your choice and mix together really well to form a loose mixture.
Cover your container with a cloth and leave out at a warm room temperature for 24 hours.
Now repeat this process around the same time every day until day 5. Feeding 50g of flour and 50g of water each time and stirring it well.
During those five days the wild yeast bacteria will slowly multiply within the starter. They will be fermenting on the natural sugars in the flour and after a couple of days will show some signs of fermentation. First there will be a couple of small bubbles and after that a quite rough aroma will develop. This smell will develop and improve with time (trust me) so please don’t throw it out now.
Carry on feeding every day until day 5, then leave it for another 24hours.
By now you have 500g of bubbly starter. You have established the culture, you should be proud. The starter will be quite acidic so now we need to give it a refreshment to increase the strength of the yeasts.
To do this discard about 90% of the starter you have in the jar, you want about one tablespoon left (I make sourdough pancakes with the discarded starter). This may seem wasteful but is a necessary sacrifice for a well risen loaf.
Now I’m going to suppose that you would like to make 2 loaves so now we’ll feed the starter 150g flour and 150g water giving us a total of 300g plus our tablespoon of starter that we already had in the jar.
After about 6-12 hours It’ll bubble up, be fully active, smell fruity and taste sweet with a mild acidity. A good test for activity is that the starter floats on water. It will also rise up, especially if you keep the starter in a jar. Now is the time to mix your dough.
After mixing the dough you will be left the same small amount in the container that you started out with (about a tablespoon). To keep this going for your next bake you have two options either feed again and start baking another loaf. Or simply add enough flour and water so they come halfway up the jar/container, mix well and store in the fridge until you would like to bake next time.
Your sourdough culture will work at its best when it is used regularly. It will rise in a predictable amount of time and raise loaf after loaf without difficulty.
However there are times when we need to leave our starter for longer in the fridge without feeding. They are in general incredibly resilient, especially the older they get.
You will be able to leave you starter in the fridge for about 2 weeks without feeding, sometimes even a little longer. If the starter has been unused for this long it is wise and prudent to give at least two feeds (discarding 90% between them) before baking with it again. The difference in the end loaf is definitely worth it.
The best option is to feed your starter at least once if not twice a week even if you are not baking with it. If you keep your starter in a medium jar them you won’t be throwing away very much each time (or eating pancakes), and ideally you’ll be baking lots of sourdough so there really won’t be much waste at all.
**A note on inactivity**
Very occasionally after 5 days initial feeding there’s very little life in your infant culture. It can be worthwhile carrying on the feeding programme for another 5 days. So after day 5, tip away all but about 50g of the starter then start to add 50g of flour and 50g water every day for another 5 days. After the further 5 days there should hopefully be some more definite signs of fermentation. Carry on the process then from ‘Day 6’
If disaster strikes and you have a dead starter on your hands then it can be a good idea to have a back up stashed away somewhere. A lot of bakers have a small amount well wrapped in the freezer for the fateful day. Another good option is to spread the love and give some away to family and friends who may be interested in making wonderful sourdough too. And thirdly you can also dry the starter on a piece of paper and keep it in an envelope ready to be called upon and rehydrated in the hour of need.
You will of course have to give these a few good feeds to get them fighting fit again but will hopefully prove useful.
We wish you many happy years of baking with your culture and like any culture it will get better with age.
Now with your starter alive you are ready to make your first loaf, this is an exciting and scary prospect. Stay calm with this simple recipe you will be on your way to mastering the oldest form of leavened bread.
Makes 1 large loaf
For the dough:
400g Organic strong white bread flour
100g Organic 100% wholemeal (stoneground if possible)
350ml room temp water
150ml Active sour starter
7.5-10g (a teaspoon) of salt
The first and most important thing we have to do is make sure our starter is good and active.
Whether your starter was in the fridge or at room temperature you need to tip away all but a tablespoon. Now measure on the scales 75ml water, 75ml flour and stir into the starter to feed it.
This will give us enough to make a loaf and still have a little left over. If you’re making more than 1 loaf, then increase the quantities as necessary.
Leave the starter out at room temperature for at least 6 hours if your kitchen is very warm or more normally around 8-10 hours until the starter increases in volume and shows some clear signs of activity. There will be bubbles and interesting smells.
Many problems with sourdough baking can be traced back to the activity of the starter. If you don’t bake regularly then it may take 2 or 3 feeds to get required strength to make superb bread. So if you are doubting the strength of your starter it may be wise discard all but a tablespoon again and wait at least another 6 hours so that the strength is improved. You’ll have much better bread in the end by paying attention to the starter in the beginning.
Now for the dough…
Get your water accurately measured into a jug. In a large mixing bowl place your flour and make a well in the centre.
Pour your starter into the water, it may float, which is a good indicator that it’s active and ready to use. If it doesn’t float then don’t worry too much as there can still be plenty of activity in a healthy starter.
Mix the starter into the water then pour into the flour. Do not add the salt yet!
Gently bring the dough together being as gentle as you can the gentler the better, this should take no more than 30 seconds. Give the starter a little feed and place back in the fridge.
Cover and leave the dough for 30mins-1 hour this gives the dough and starter a chance to start growing together and form a stretchy network of gluten.
Place the salt on top of the dough and pour a little water over your hands, then gently bring the salt through the dough. The dough will start to tighten up a little and look like it has been fully developed. Again this should take no more than 30 seconds. Cover your dough and leave to prove; a room temperature of around 20°-24⁰ plus is ideal. We’ll leave the dough for 30 minutes before we start developing the gluten through a series of 3 folds with 30 minute rests between each one.
To begin folding uncover your dough, dip your fingers in water and gently loosen the dough away from the bowl. One by one stretching each of the 4 corners of the dough up as high as they want to go without tearing and lay over the top of the previous one. Those four movements count as 1 ‘fold’.
Leave to rest for 30 minutes and repeat.
Repeat this fold and rest until the dough has had 3 folds. Leave the dough another 30 minutes.
Our dough will have now been proving for 2.5 hours.
Now to shape your dough…
Place on a lightly floured surface, being careful not to rip or knock too much air out. Pre-shape into a round by gently folding the corners of the dough in to meet in the centre, then flip it over, dust with flour and leave to bench rest for at least 15 minutes and up to 30. Get rid of excess flour on the work bench.
Finally, shape your dough into your desired shape. For a round flip the dough over and bring the dough from the outside into the centre about 5 times, flip it over again and using the dough scraper help to push it into a tight round. Place into a floured proving basket or mixing bowl lined with a floured tea towel. Leave to rise at room temperature for roughly 2- 3 hours, place in a cool place to slowly prove for around 8 hours at 8-12⁰c or in the fridge for at least 15 hours.
You can be clever with the proving times if you like, for example give the dough an hour or 2 at room temp then put into the fridge overnight for a longer slower prove.
To bake have your oven set to 240°c gas mark 8 with a heavy tray, baking stone or casserole dish in there getting hot.
When pushed with a floured finger about 1cm into the dough it should spring back very slowly but decisively and leave a little indentation. This is a good indicator you dough is ready to bake.
Upturn the loaf onto the hot tray, baking stone or casserole dish. With a sharp knife or razor blade slash the top of your bread then nice and fast, place into the oven. (Put the lid on the casserole).
Spritz the oven with water to create steam (you don’t need to do this with a casserole).
Bake for a good 35-45 minutes turning halfway through or in the case of a casserole lift the lid off halfway through turning the oven down to 220⁰ when you do. When the loaf is ready it should have a deep golden crust and when tapped on the bottom the loaf should sound hollow and feel crusted up on the bottom. If you feel it needs a little longer then bake for a further 5-10 minutes.
Cool on a wire rack.
Interested in making sourdough bread? Take a look at our two-day sourdough course.