Sourdough Starter

Sourdough is something that once you start, it's hard to stop.

It takes time but not much effort to begin your very own sourdough culture. A sourdough starter is a mixture of lots of different kinds of microorganisms. Mainly wild yeasts, lactobacilli, the sourdough culture is a complex system but mostly it looks after itself, provided you attend to some of its needs such as food and water. This doesn't have to be done all that often mind you, once every 3-4 days if you can keep it in the fridge. However, this does mean that you have to do something with the growing culture and that means regular baking. Now this may worry some people that they may not have time or they have too much work to do with study and so on. However sourdough loaves are a wonderfully relaxed creature. You can attend to its needs in a few short moments. A spare 20 minutes for mixing and kneading, another 5mins an hour or so later to shape a loaf and then 16 hours later it needs to be baked in the oven. This gives you plenty of time to be getting on with eating, drinking, study and sleep. Sourdough even keeps a couple of days so it'll keep you going until it's time to bake once more.

Now. While sourdough can be easy, it does required some thought and skill. The beauty of the idea is that this is exactly what sourdough gives you. Firstly, you have started or been given a sourdough culture, you will be baking regularly and practice makes perfect. The first few times you may find that your sourdough is not perfect, handling wet dough is not easy. Secondly, the time it takes for the everything to occur gives you plenty of time to plan what you are doing. You will find that your yeasted breads and other baking will improve because of it and you will have a much deeper understanding of bread.

So hopefully by now you want me to go on and tell you how to make a starter? This is how I started mine. I have only done this once as you can keep your started going indefinitely, so if it fails I'm sorry but try again with the same method or another. They should all work. Here goes:

Step one: Do not sterilise everything, there should be no need. After all we're after airborne bacteria and yeasts to culture here.

Step two:
Measure out 200g of rye flour. If you don't have rye, use wheat or a mixture. Add 175g water and mix into a dough. Cover with cling film and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

Step three:
Look at your creation. Has it changed? Probably not, but keep an eye for any expansion. Wait more, perhaps overnight. Expanded yet? Give it a sniff, any alcohol or carbon dioxide (notice a choking effect?). If so, excellent! Move on to step four. If not then leave for a bit longer and keep observing. It will probably go darker on the top. That's ok but If it goes mouldy then throw it out.

Step four: Add 300g wheat flour and 150g water and mix into a slightly tougher dough. Cover and leave for 24 hours at room temperature.

Step five:
It should have expanded again. It should definitely smell alcoholic and perhaps a bit acidic and a bit sweet. If this is the case you're pretty much ready to rock. Feed it once more with 300g of wheat flour and 150g water and after about 12 hours at room temperature you should be able to use the culture for making sourdough!

Ok five steps done. Then the question lies, how do you turn this into a loaf?? I won't answer this here. If you can bake "normal" bread then you should be able to figure it out. Just use a ratio of 3:10 starter to flour instead of your yeast and a reasonably high water content. Use this as a chance to develop your own bread rather than following a recipe. Your bread will now be unique, the starter and the "recipe" will be your own. One last thing...

Step five.five:
Put your starter in the fridge, and feed regularly. I use 2:1 flour to water. How long you leave between feeds will influence your sourdough. Experiment. Once you find something you like stick to it if you want to keep it predictable.

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