how to make a sourdough starter

I made a sourdough starter a year ago and have been happily dibble dabbling in sourdough ever since. I love it and my family loves it. It’s easily become a regular part of our life. When I initially started it, I had no idea what I was doing, had confused myself, and so just played around until I got into a rhythm that I liked. The whole process is still very much evolving and I am by no means an expert though. How I do things, constantly gets tweaked and changed and I’m fine with that. There is a LOT to understand with sourdough and bread making in general and I still feel I only have a tiny grasp of it all.

I’m fine with this though. I’m happy to keep fiddling, tweaking and learning. I’ve had a few questions lately of how I started my starter. I partially documented it here, but was never really sure whether it would work properly. It did work though and a year down the track the starter is strong, happy to get reduced to nothing, frozen, bulked up, popped in the fridge, loved on the bench. It’s very much still there.

So could I do it again? Could I make another? Was it a fluke the first time? Were the planets aligned and the sourdough fairies happily hovering when it all happened the first time? Let’s find out. Let me see if I can make another, and this time show a bit more of the process, (as long as it didn’t turn grey, smell like vomit, smell like acetone, grow purple mould, or simply just die.)

You’ll need a ceramic bowl, an old plastic shopping bag, rye and bakers flour, tap water. Try to feed your starter at approximately the same time each day.

 Day one- Added 50g rye flour and 50mls water together. Weighs 100g.

 Smells like- rye flour and water

Looks like- rye flour and water

 Day two- First feed. Adding 50g rye flour and 50mls water to flour and water mixture. Now weighs 200g.

Smells like- rye flour and water.

Looks like- rye flour and water.

Day Three- Second feed. Adding 100g white flour and 100mls water to the mixture. Now weighs 400g.

Smells like- Fruity and floury, things are starting… Go on, take another smell to make sure.

Looks like- It’s puffed up a little, it looks a little stringy when you stir through the feed. That tiny black speck in the middle is a bubble.

Day Four- Third feed. Adding 200g of white flour and 200mls water. Now weighs 800g.

Smells like- a bit fruity, a bit yeasty, a bit…?

Looks like- more bubbles, with a few white streaks with the change of the flour.

Day Five- Fourth feed. First I need to divide the starter, (otherwise it will be too big- this just goes in the compost). Take it back down to 100g of starter and add- 50g white flour and 50mls water. Now weighs 200g. (This is repeating Day Two)

Smells like- A bit fruity, a bit yeasty, nothing unpleasant at all.

Looks like- Bubbles. Lots of action going on now.

Day Six- Fifth feed. Repeating Day Three. 100g of flour and 100mls water, now weighs 400g.

Smells like- fruity/yeasty kind of action.

Looks like- bubbles, a whole lot of them.

day seven copy

Day Seven-  Changes. The smell of the starter becomes slightly more acidic smelling. As long as there are plenty of bubbles happening, you can decide whether you want to keep feeding it and bake with the discarded amount of starter or store it in the fridge, (this is now your mother.) At this stage your starter is a little vulnerable as it’s still new, but the older and more feeds it has, the stronger it will be.

By storing the mother in the fridge you slow down the fermentation process. (I store mine in the fridge, feeding and baking with it twice a week.)

Before you want to make up a dough, you will need to refresh your starter at least 3 times within 36 hours, (eg. 7am, 7pm, 7am.) Longer, if you have left it for any length of period.

*****

Now as this was just an experiment and I didn’t really need another starter (or to be using up any more flour). I decided to mix up a dough. The bubbles were good and big, and ready to rock.

Into the mixer, with 200g of starter, 375g flour, 250mls water. Quick mix with the dough hook, then forgot about it for 2 hours, (I usually leave it for 40 minutes.) Added 1 tsp salt, mixed again with the dough hooks and then by this stage it’s late and I couldn’t be bothered thinking about anything bread, so whacked a plastic bag over the top of the mixing bowl and popped it in the fridge.

Day Eight- 7am out on to a lightly floured bench, for a quick stretchy, three way fold. Then back into the mixing bowl with bag over the top, and placed in the warmest spot in the flat. Couple of hours later and it’s doubled in size. Back to the lightly floured surface. A stretchy, three way fold again, a little shaping and then on to a paper lined tray with a bag over the top again. Chase the sun once more and forgot about it for half the afternoon. Doubled in size (ish).

Pre-heated oven, then

slashed and into the oven at 240C with steam.

So did it work? Yes, I think it just might have.

*****

EDIT- Simple, Everyday Sourdough Recipe here.

If you are interested in getting into sourdough, there is some more information on other methods, troubleshooting, and maintaining the starter below. (There is a LOT of information to take in, but it’s a versatile beast that works in many mysterious ways for a lot of different people.) These people who have shared their vast sourdough knowledge on these sites have been doing it far longer than I have, so please have a read, and happy playing with your new pet.

sourdough baker

sourdough.com

wild yeast

bread cetera

the fresh loaf

Books

Bourke Street Bakery

The Handmade Loaf

The Real Food Companion

how to make bread, for the person who thinks they can’t…but really they can

This is, (I hope) a really basic way to start making your own bread. It’s an adapted version of the Bourke Street Bakery cookbook olive oil dough. I’ve used it a whole bunch of times, and it’s always reliably delicious.

 You will need.

600g flour (4 cups- I use strong bakers flour)

2 tsp dried yeast

400mls tepid water

 3 tbls olive oil

2 tsp salt

In a large mixing bowl add the, 600g flour, 2 tsp yeast and 400mls water. (The slight warmth of the water will kick start things, don’t use hot; you’ll kill the yeast.)

 mix with a spoon until it all comes together. It will look a little dry and unlikely.

Now leave it for 10 minutes.

 The dough looks and feels a little different. It’s been doing its thing for the past 10 minutes.

It will feel softer and more workable.

Now add 3 tbls olive oil, and 2 tsp salt

 Mix it through with the spoon initially, for about a minute and then by hand. You will be able to feel it coming together. Now tip it out on to a bench and knead. (I don’t find with this recipe I need a floured surfaced area, but it may depend on the type of flour you are using. If it’s sticking, lightly flour the surface and your hands.

Work the dough until it comes together as a smooth, stretching mass (or use a mixer with dough hook). You want it to feel elastic.

Use the heel of both of your hands for kneading. Finger tips flick the dough up, and heel of hands push down.

 When the dough is soft and smooth, it’s a happy dough. The kneading will probably take about 10 minutes.

Then pop it back into the mixing bowl, (or a lightly oiled clean one, I just whack it back in the grubby one though) with some plastic wrap (or a shopping bag/wet tea towel) over the top. This stops it from drying out. Let it prove for 30+ minutes.

If the dough is in a warm spot (about 26C) it will just need the 30 minutes, if cooler, it may take longer. If it’s soft, and springs back when you poke it, it’s ready to be folded.

 Pop it out on to your work surface and roughly flatten it. Using your finger tips.

 Fold one third over

Then the other third over. Turn it 90 degrees, and fold it to thirds again. Pop it back in the bowl.

 looking kind of square

Another prove for about 30 minutes, (longer if it’s colder).  Then get it out and press the dough down on the working surface area and shape. Or…

Take the ball of dough out of the bowl and place on the bench. Pulling a side of the circle, and dragging it into the middle and press down. Keep going until you have gone all the way around. Then using one hand to do the same process with the heel of your hand, (side to the middle) and your other hand turning the disc. This process can be used instead of the folding after the initial prove or it can be a way to do a final shape.

 In to the middle.

 Looks like that

and then flick it over. Should be smooth and round. Once you’ve got the shape you want, pop it on an oiled tray (or a tray lined with baking paper) cover it with a plastic shopping bag and leave it to prove again in a warm spot. Should have risen by about 2/3 and feel/look soft and pillowy. This can take 30+ minutes.

This dough can be  shaped into just about anything. I used it as a foccacia base here, but have used it as a fish, mermaid, sunflower, grissini and bread rolls.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 240C with steam. I use a water squirter bottle for the steam. 20 squirts in the crack of the door once you’ve popped the bread in or you can use a little dish of water at the bottom of the oven when you turn it on. Baking time depends on the shape you have made. Bread is cooked when dark golden in colour and sounds hollow if tapped.

*****

 The trick with bread is, you just have to practise. Make it, and if there are any problems, write down what they are so you remember for next time and can change it accordingly. I watched my mum make bread my whole childhood so absorbed how to knead it just by watching. If you have never played with dough before though, it might seem a little daunting.

Play with it.

At worst, they will be stone hard burnt unsalted bricks, (and I’ve certainly made my share of them before). Most likely though, they’ll be delicious, and you’ll never want to buy shop bread again.

Books to make you want to play further

Bourke Street Bakery

The handmade loaf

River Cottage handbook- Bread

Online

The Fresh Loaf 

Dan Lepard

Wild Yeast