Sourdough. It’s hard! Many, many times I have worked for what has felt like days only to pull a shrunken, sunken concrete slab of ‘bread’ out of the oven, producing in me a great desire to throw the inedible bread-brick out of the kitchen window. I haven’t actually thrown it – yet!
So, I still have a very long way to go, and a lot of things to learn, but these are the lessons I’ve learnt so far…
Starting with The Starter!
The starter is the rising agent for the dough and, from what I understand, it is created by fermenting flour and water which attracts and incorporates bacteria from the environment around it. So instead of using yeast, you use the starter. It is not as ‘strong’ as yeast so it takes longer to develop and to rise. It is also highly sensitive, so if you use it when it’s not ready, then it won’t work!
Making the Starter: The one that worked.
My first battle was in making a good starter. It took me quite a while! I excitedly started out with a nice bowl and a cute tick sheet for each day, and after a few failed attempts, I was using an old margarine tub and hoping for the best!
In the end, the one that worked for me was super simple:
- 4oz of all purpose/plain flour
- 4oz of filtered water.
- Mix the flour and the water together in a bowl and then cover it with a cloth or something breathable like loosely wrapped plastic wrap. Leave it for a day.
- The next day, discard all but 4oz of the starter. Keep this remaining starter in the bowl and then add/ ‘feed it’ another 4oz of flour and 4oz of water and mix it in.
- You need to repeat this process (point 2. above) everyday for a week, or at least 5 days. Over this time, the starter becomes frothy and bubbly and smells ‘earthy’.
After I had made my starter, I took out enough to fill a mason jar and then discarded the rest on the compost heap. I stored it in the fridge until I was ready to use it.
I have since read that bread flour rather than all purpose is better for a starter and that different flours such as wholegrain or rye can be used as well. To be honest, I’m so pleased that I managed to make a successful starter, I haven’t yet attempted another one, but it’s on my list! Also, Paul Hollywood has a different starter on his website that uses an apple. It too, is on the list!
Feeding the starter. Nom Nom.
The starter needs to be fed each week if it is kept in the fridge, even if you don’t use it to make bread that week. You can keep it out of the fridge but then you have to feed it everyday. I have set a reminder on my phone for every Friday, but I have actually once left it for about two and a half weeks and it was fine.
When you first get it out of the fridge, there is a film that has formed over the starter. I’ve read that you can either mix it in or you can discard it. I’ve tried both and found that it makes the new starter a bit lumpy as it doesn’t all break down, so now I mostly discard it.
To feed the starter I pour it into a bowl, then spoon it out until there is 4oz of starter left. I discard the spooned out part (unless I am also making bread, see below). Then I mix 4oz of water and 4oz of flour into the starter, put it back in the mason jar and into the fridge. I think it is important to have equal portions of each ingredient. I have by mistake put too much flour in and it has been okay, just thicker. But when I put in too much water, it diluted it too much and the resulting bread did not rise very much.
Using the starter – finally!
When I want to make sourdough, I take the starter out of the fridge in the morning. I put 4oz of the starter in a bowl, add the 4oz of water and 4oz of flour and mix it. This wakes it up and feeds it so that it will be ready to use. I cover the bowl loosely and then put it to one side in the kitchen so that it can develop over the course of the day. At the same time I feed the remaining starter (see the section above) and put it back in the fridge.
When the starter is bubbly, it is ready to use. This takes about 6 to 8 hours.
Normally, if I feed it in the morning, it is ready to use by the evening. But, it does have to be ready when you use it – otherwise you waste a lot of time (I have, of course, been there!) The mistake I made was to feed the starter in the morning and then by the evening assume it was ready – because it was bubbly – and use it to make the dough. Sometimes it wasn’t, which resulted in flat plastic-y bread.
Then I read about the float test: If you drop a small amount of starter into a glass of water, and it floats, the starter is ready to use. But if it sinks, it needs more time to develop or it needs to be fed, and left alone, again.
Now I perform this test even if the starter looks ready, just to check!
When the starter is ready, you can make the bread! I’m going to do that in my next post. But for now, I’ve written ‘starter’ so many times it does not look like a proper word anymore!