In celebration of @UKSustain's Sourdough September, we thought we'd share a few tips we've been taught and learnt through babysitting our own sourdough cultures over the past couple of years. Sourdough bread is the epitome of Slow Food and the older, more cultured (excuse the pun) version of our modern Kingsmill's and Hovis' i.e. Chorleywood bread.
I want to continue this series on Sourdough bread by talking about the lifeblood of the loaves that is the sourdough culture. This is not some kind of intangible set of traditions upheld by fancy bakers, but rather a more substantial paste comprised of flour, water and a host of symbiotic yeasts, bacterias and enzymes. This may not sound delicious to you, but as with most things, good bread is merely a sum of its parts.
Okay, so how do I make a sourdough starter?
A sourdough starter’s main ingredient is time. One can be made rather easily with nothing other than flour, water and time. The most fool-proof way to create a starter culture is to mix equal parts flour and water (I recommend 100g of each) to form a smooth paste and to leave it, covered and at room temperature for two days. After these two days are up, discard half of the mixture and ‘refresh’ the starter with the same amount again of flour and water. Repeat this process 3-4 times during which time you should notice some activity within your starter in the form of bubbles, intriguing odors, and perhaps if you have got it right, some expanding and falling of the ‘starter dough’ as the community of cultures feed off the flour.
If you have never made a sourdough starter before, it should be happy, bubbly, smell sour and yeasty, but not off, and (if you can brave it) taste sour uncooked bread. If you are getting ‘farty’ or ‘nail polishy’ smells, a layer of liquid over the starter or no activity whatsoever, it could be that the starter is hungry and so try feeding it once a day from that point and if there is no noticeable change in a few days, I’m afraid somethings gone wrong and you should definitely start again!
The best judgement call when creating your first sourdough culture (also called a mother if you’re a San Fran hippie) is you! The various bacteria and yeasts are similar to those present in yoghurt and Sauerkraut and so your culture should be funky but not disgustingly so. Once you have created a sour culture, all that remains is to make bread, and feed your starter with the same 50/50 mix (or 100% hydration) each time you use some up, or when not in use to keep your starter cool in the fridge to slow down fermentation and feed from time to time if not using regularly. There are many sources of information and inspiration when it comes to sourdough, including different starters based on different flours. We have two at the restaurant, a started fed on just white bread flour (Tessa) and a starter that has a diet comprising of white flour and Rye (Merville).
Did I mention that once you have given birth to a starter, it is only bad luck not to name him/her?
Now you’re confident about sourdough cultures, it is time for the fun part – Baking! Tune in next week as we share an easy Sourdough bread recipe! A.