Sourdough Pt 1 – Starter

madnad

Having a sourdough starter in your life is much like having a pet. We have even named ours Heston Bloomin’heck. You have to keep him in the right conditions and feed him, or he will die.

I have made my own bread off and on for several years, but sourdough is by far the tastiest bread I’ve ever baked. I think that the name, sourdough, is quite misleading. I have spoken to people who have not tried it simply because they are expecting the bread to have a sour taste. I would describe it as having a more ‘bread-like’ taste and a very slight tang. There is a deeper flavour as it is a fermented dough, so if like me, you are a bread fan, then waste no time in getting your hands on a starter. You can buy dried starters that you reconstitute with water, or even some ‘live’ starters off Ebay. I would very much recommend you make your own though. The hardest bit is getting your starter started, but once its going, it is fairly easy to look after.

Only a couple of years ago, I would say sourdough bread wasn’t that popular in the UK other than on artisanal stalls at farmers markets etc, but now, with an increased awareness of the benefits of fermented foods, you can buy it in any supermarket. Homemade sourdough is infinitely better than shop bought though, as supermarkets will still add cultured yeasts and other raising agents and preservatives. The reason sourdough tastes better than your average sliced white is the long proofing time. Unlike bread that is made using cultured yeast, sourdough bread takes a lot longer to proof, but the longer the proof, the better the taste. It is fantastic with soup, and it makes the most unbelievably tasty toast.

Ingredients & Equipment

  • Rye Flour (as fresh as possible)
  • Bottled Water (room temperature)
  • A clear ceramic or glass bowl, or a large jar (at least 800ml volume)
  • Cling film

Day 1
In a bowl, mix together 100g rye flour and 100g water into a thick paste, then cover with the cling film, and leave on the counter top for 24 hours

Day 2
You won’t see much activity, but check that there is no bad smell. Leave to ferment for another 24 hours

Day 3
At this stage, there was definite signs of life in my starter. It had a slight puffy look to it, and there was signs of aeration when I scraped back the top layer or looked at the bottom through the glass. It also start to get a slight vinegary smell, which is acetic acid. I decided to feed it. I threw away about 3/4 and then added 60g rye flour and 60g water and stirred well. There still might not be any signs of fermentation in your starter as it is dependent on many factors such as room temperature etc. Feel free leave it another day if that is the case. No point feeding until you see signs of fermentation.

Day 4
starter day 4Hopefully by now you should have signs of life, such as a few bubbles and a light aerated structure under the surface. The vinegar smell could be stronger. After discarding 3/4, feed it 60g water and 60g rye flour and stir well.

Day 5 – 9
I repeated the same process as Day 4, until Day 9 – each 24 hours, discarding 3/4 of the starter, and feeding 60g rye flour and 60g water. Keep checking the smell. An acidic smell isn’t a problem. A yeasty beer smell is quite common too. As long as it does not smell off or rotten, it is fine. As the population of ‘good bacteria’ grow and the environment becomes more acidic, this will fend off any populations of ‘bad bacteria’ that are trying to take hold. You might even start to notice a white crust form. This is all normal. 

Day 10
At day 10, if you haven’t done so already, move a small portion of your starter into a large glass jar (an old mayonnaise jar is ideal), fed it, then marked the height of the newly fed starter with an elastic band around the jar. Still keeping on the counter top, you should see that after 12 hours, it has definitely doubled in size. If that happens, start feeding every 12 hours.

Day 11 – 14
Keep up the regime of feeding 60g flour and 60g water twice a day. If your starter consistently doubles in size between 6-8 hours, then it is ready to bake. 

At this stage, you can use a portion of your starter to begin the baking process. A small amount of the remaining starter should be fed 60g rye and 60g water as usual, then you can pop the lid on – not too tight – and place in the fridge. It will happily stay there a week, or even two without feeding. If you aren’t baking at the weekend, just discard and feed to keep your starter lively, then pop it back in the fridge.

There are loads of sites out there that will walk you through growing own starter. Everyone has there own way of doing it. This is just the way I did it.

Come back next week for part 2 of this post where I talk about baking with your starter. 

Tartine Bread


This is a bread baker’s handbook, with more than 50 recipes and over 200 step-by-step photographs, instructing how to make master baker Chad Robertson’s legendary bread at home.
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