HOW TO MAKE | SOURDOUGH STARTER

It’s said that good things come to those who wait – and that’s certainly the case with sourdough. From home-made, artisan loaves with crunchy crusts and deliciously tangy, chewy centres to crisp pizza bases, sourdough beats any mass-produced, factory-baked recipe for both texture and taste. And it isn’t at all tricky to make: you just need a couple of the most basic ingredients around (flour and water), a little patience… and our easy-to-follow sourdough starter recipe.

What is sourdough?

If you’re new to sourdough, start reading the instructions below and your first thought will be ‘but where’s the yeast?’ – you won’t be alone. We’re so used to adding ready-made yeast from packets and sachets that making bread without it seems like it just won’t work. But baker’s yeast was developed less than 150 years ago to speed up the bread-making process: before that, all leavened (risen, rather than flat) bread was made the sourdough way, using a pre-fermented starter.

How does it work?

Sourdough starts off as a fermented mixture of flour and water. Flour naturally contains a colony of micro-organisms, including wild yeast and lactobacilli: when these come into contact with water, naturally occurring enzymes break down the starch in flour into sugars, which the yeast can then metabolise. Leaving this to develop, and adding daily ‘feeds’ of flour and water, creates a stable culture which will cause dough to rise.

How long does it take to make a sourdough starter?

If you’re starting from scratch, it will take 7-9 days to make a sourdough starter that’s ready to use as a raising agent. It does take commitment to the sourdough cause but, once your starter’s developed and is bubbling away, it will keep for years if you look after it and feed it.

It’s been compared to having a pet – easier than a dog, trickier than a goldfish! And while sourdough dough does take longer to prove, the final loaves keep much better and longer than ‘normal’ bread made with baker’s yeast.

How to make a sourdough starter

Ingredients

Approximately 650g strong white flour and 650ml water.

Instructions

Day 1
In a bowl, mix together 50g strong white flour with 50ml water to make a thick batter, using your hand. Leave uncovered in your kitchen for 10-12 hours, or overnight.

Day 2
Make the first ‘feed’ by mixing together 50g strong white flour with 50ml water. Add this to the original bowl of flour and water and mix thoroughly with your hand. Leave uncovered in your kitchen.

Day 3
Discard 100g of the batter. Make the second ‘feed’ by mixing together 100g strong white flour with 100ml water. Mix thoroughly into the starter with your hand. Leave uncovered in your kitchen.

Day 4
Discard 150g of the batter. Make the third ‘feed’ by mixing together 100g strong white flour with 100ml water. Mix thoroughly into the starter with your hand. You should by now see that the mixture is beginning to ferment, becoming light and bubbly, with a pleasant sour smell. Leave uncovered in your kitchen.

Day 5
Discard 200g of the batter. Make the fourth ‘feed’ by mixing together 150g strong white flour with 150ml water. Mix thoroughly into the starter with your hand. Leave uncovered in your kitchen.

Day 6
Discard 250g of the batter. Make the fifth ‘feed’ by mixing together 200g strong white flour with 200ml water. Mix thoroughly into the starter with your hand. Leave uncovered in your kitchen.

Day 7
Your starter should be ready to use – it should be bubbly and light, with a pleasantly sour, vinegary smell. If necessary, leave for another day or two, following the procedure for Day 2 each day.

How to keep your starter going

Once your starter’s ready, it’s good to use in sourdough recipes – these will always state how much of the starter you need to use. You’ll find recipes for an Advanced Sourdough Loaf, Sourdough Garlic Twist and Sourdough Pizza on our blog to get you started.

When you’ve removed the amount of starter needed for your recipe, cover the rest and refrigerate, then feed it once every week, with a mixture of 50g strong white flour and 50ml water.

And when you want to make more sourdough bread or pizza, feed the starter again the night before with 150g strong white flour and 150ml water. Keep it refrigerated, but remove from the fridge about 4 hours before you start baking to get the starter lively again.

My sourdough starter didn’t work – what am I doing wrong?

Making sourdough does take patience and can take practise to perfect – you’ll find videos online that should give you help and information. And even better, if you have a local artisan bakery that makes sourdough, the baker should be able to give you advice.

It sounds like a lot of effort – is there a quick fix?

If you want to skip making your own sourdough starter, you can buy one online, or beg some from your local artisan baker – but you will have to keep it going once you’ve got it.

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