As someone who loves baking and really enjoys creating traditional yeast based breads I didn’t put much stock in sourdough, I thought that it was a little too much trouble keeping up with caring for a starter and a little limiting in what kinds of breads you can make - boy was I wrong!
During lockdown in particular I really started experimenting with sourdough and it's been a fascinating process, making me realise that there is more to sourdough than I first thought. Once you have a good understanding of a few key concepts it's a super approachable process for anyone and there are endless variations to try.
This is a 3 part series taking everything I’ve learnt from both my successes and failures to help you make beautiful sourdough bread and so much more!
So, let's get Startered! (Part 1)
The first thing to get your head around when starting to bake sourdough is getting a starter going, and keeping it alive. It is a living thing which can feel a little daunting but don’t worry it’s nothing like a newborn puppy you just need to know a few key things.
A starter in its essence is flour and water, you are using the natural yeast already within the flour to create a raising agent for your bread. When making a starter the usual ratio of flour to water is 1:1. It's a good idea to start with a smaller amount so, say 30g flour to 30g water and mix. Let the natural yeast do its thing overnight, there should be bubbling evident the next day. Over the following 5 days discard half and add in additional 1:1 ratio of flour and water. You’ll know it’s ready to use to make bread when the culture becomes very bubbly within just a few hours of feeding, and when it smells sour but fresh. Disclaimer - the above, of course, is not an exact recipe, the concept is there and if you’d like more detailed instructions there are a plethora of exact measurements and day by day guidance on the web!
Ideally, feed your starter weekly. You should be taking approximately 50% of the starter out as discard and mixing in equal parts flour and water to replace what you have removed, this will keep the starter going and in good health. I tend to bake sourdough about once a week so when I’m removing some starter to bake I tend to add in a little more flour and water to replace what I’ve taken and the starter is happy with that. I don’t measure things out and I don’t create lots of discard - I just add a few tablespoons of flour to the starter and add enough water to bring it to a good consistency. Good consistency is a little subjective but for me it is a consistency slightly thicker than pancake batter.
I’ve found that you can be quite rough with a starter and more often than not it will keep on going (mines over a year old now and going strong). Keeping a starter alive is much easier than killing one off. Realising this is what made me decide to take the plunge into the world of sourdough.
On the weeks that I don’t bake, and the sourdough starter is hidden behind something else in the fridge I may forget to attend to it. Horror of horrors - I’ve in the past even left it for three weeks or more particularly if I’ve gone on holiday. But being in the fridge the starter patiently waits to be fed and once I do that it comes back very nicely. I will sometimes get a grey looking water on top (called the hooch) this can be poured off the top and the sourdough fed with no issues. You can see below my starter with hooch on top on the left and then the same starter a couple hours later after being fed looking lovely and bubbly and ready to go!
Top three takeaways:
A sourdough starter is a very good and patient pet - don’t get too worried about the responsibility of taking one on.
Being exact and scientific about feeding your starter isn’t 100% necessary, if you aren’t that type of person.
Keep your starter in the fridge, this will make it almost impossible to kill!