The essence of a good sourdough bread comes from your starter, that is, your grotty looking mix of flour, water and natural yeasts that you maintain with a little bit of care and attention. Sourdoughs need more time to ferment and rise, have a distinctly sour (and wonderful) flavour and a more open, holey crumb. Here I will describe how to set up and culture your own little army of bread making natural yeasts. If you are already doubting whether you are prepared to invest in this procedure, scroll straight down to the end of this text and read what I actually do with my sourdough cultures, its not that much.
Making your Sourdough starter
You need a plastic container with a lid big enough to allow your batter to grow and expand, approx. 4-5 times the size of your starting batter. You can use any kind of flour, rye, spelt or wheat flour. It is also common to make different cultures and to then match your sourdough type to your bread recipe. Eg. Use your rye strter for your rye or mixed breads, and your wheat starter for your wheat breads. However, I find that one starter culture made using wholewheat flour does the job for all my breads. Whichever type of flour you choose I recommend a wholegrain variety, it will ferment sooner and more vigorously than white flour does.
150g wholewheat flour
Mix the flour and water in your container and leave to stand on your work surface, mix vigorously 3 times at approx 10 minute intervals to incorporate more natural yeasts from the air. Put the lid on and leave it in a warmish (room temperature, unless your kitchen is unusually cold), draft-free place.
Stage 2: feeding.
The time it takes for your starter to get going depends on how much yeast is around in the air , how much you managed to incorporate in your initial mixings, the type of flour you are using and also how warm it is. All you need to do is check on it every 12 or so hours until you see bubbles and frothing. At this stage your culture is fermenting and active and it needs nutrients and energy to keep it alive, so you feed it. This means mix in another 150g of flour and 200mls warm water and leave it for another day.
Stage 3 and forever:
Your starter is almost ready for use, so just keep feeding and replenishing it until its really well established. Remove half your culture and discard it, add another 150g of flour and 200ml water and find it a permanent home in your fridge. For the first week feed it every day by removing half and replenishing it with flour and water, as above. Over this time the sourness will develop and you should start to notice the wonderful tangy aroma that is going to give your breads great flavour. Once established your culture only needs to be feed once per week and don’t worry about going on holiday, it will survive in the fridge for upto 3 weeks. Just bring it back to life with a good feed and room temperature incubation for a day or so when you get back home.
Making bread with your sourdough starter:
There are various ways you can use your sourdough starter to create beautiful breads. To make a lovely pure sourdough you need to get your culture really active by taking it out of the fridge a day or 2 ahead of time and feed it up into a thick frothing batter with additions of flour and water. This batter will give your bread a chewy, open crumb and complex sourdough flavour . You can also use your sourdough in combination with fresh yeast to create breads with finer texture and subtle sour flavour, such as my Sourdough bread I, Sourdough wholegrain bread, German rye bread or this French wholewheat loaf from Brotdoc.com and this dinkel loaf from Ketex.com . Whichever you choose they look artisan and taste delicious.