First things first: before you start baking sourdough you need a sourdough starter.
Now, if your principal interest is in mastering the art of baking a loaf, then you can get a lively starter from a baking friend or local baker. Older starters can also be more reliable. However, we’re starting at the very beginning here, with instructions on how to make your own starter.
You will need to understand how to look after what will be your new pot of living bacteria – which contains wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria – before you can bake great sourdough. There are lots of ways of producing a starter but one of the most rewarding is by capturing the wild yeasts and bacteria already present in the flour and those that are present in your kitchen. It is fascinating to see the pot come too life – you can get a huge sense of connection to your bread by getting your own starter going.
- A warm room about 20 degrees C. Often airing cupboards are too hot
- You need to keep it in a space to catch your wild yeast with no other cultured foods nearby or there will be a cross over and you risk not getting the yeast you need.
- A non-reactive container (sourdough starters are acidic and will react with certain metals) in which to make and store the starter. I prefer glass or stoneware but plastic is fine too.
- A whisk to incorporate air.
- A breathable cover or a lid such as a clean tea towel, coffee filter, or a loose fitting disposable shower cap to allow air movement but also to prevent the starter getting a skin and drying out.
- Start by putting in 150g of organic stoneground wholemeal flour and 150g of 34 degrees C water in a large jar. This temperature drops to about 28 degrees C, which is great to encourage the yeast to multiply. Whisk the mixture vigorously to incorporate air and cover with your breathable lid. Allow your mixture to sit in a warm place for 12 to 24 hours. Between the 12 or 24 hour mark you might even be lucky enough to see some bubbles, indicating that organisms are present, but if you don’t then don’t worry. Repeat the feeding by removing a cup full of the mixture, and replacing with 75g of flour and 75g of water this time at 28 degrees C. Stir vigorously, cover, and wait another 12 to 24 hours.
- From this point on you will need to remove half of the starter before every feeding and discard it so that the starter you do have can multiply in organisms without your jar overflowing.
- If you are somewhere warm you will find activity quickly … after about 3 to 4 days, but if you are in more temperate climates then it can take 10 to 14 days. At that point the sourdough starter should be beautifully bubbly and have enough yeasts and bacteria to be active enough to bake with. Transfer into the fridge about 6 to 8 hours after a feed when it is live and bubbly. It is now ready.
- You will then need to look after your starter and keep it active and regularly refreshed.
This is one of the things we teach on the courses at the Sourdough School. There are lots of recipes and information on the website. Happy baking. But before that, happy startering.
By Vanessa Kimbell