Sourdough

December 9th, 2009

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As you’ve probably noticed we love making bread and (usually) bake a loaf every week. Getting a proper sourdough starter going has long been on my foodie list of things to do. It seems almost magical to be able to make a loaf of bread from just flour and water.

To make make proper sourdough, you need a starter, which is a mixture of flour and water filled with wild yeast and bacteria. You make the bread dough from this starter, keeping a portion back to from the starter of the next loaf. As long as you keep the starter fed, it can live for centuries –  a thriving colony of microorganisms.

The starter can be used to make any type of bread, we’ve used ours very successfully to make potato bread (more later) and even pizza. The pizzas were  inspired by the fabulous Franco Manca. At its simplest though, a plain white sourdough loaf is still a thing of beauty,  with its characteristic sour tang and chewy crust.

Don’t be put off by the length of the ‘recipe’ below – once you’ve done it a few times, it can become, as with most bread making, fairly instinctive. You can feel when you’re kneading a good loaf and can  see just by looking when your sponge is ready. It’s all so satisfying (and forgiving) and a world away from pastry making, which for me is fraught with worry – don’t add too much water, don’t let it get too warm, don’t roll it too thin etc.

Starter

1 cup water
1 cup flour

  • Mix the flour and water in a large jar and set aside for a day or two, loosley covered. It will start to look bubbly and spongy (see below) and is now ready to make bread from.

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Storing your starter: If you don’t intend to make bread daily from your starter, it’s best to keep it in the fridge. Don’t worry if the mixture separates, the liquid on top is called the hooch and will smell a bit like beer. If your starter is little stiff, you can mix the hooch back in, otherwise just drain it off.

Boosting your starter: the bacteria in the starter grows faster than the yeast, therefore sourdough breads sometimes don’t rise very well. Try to refresh the starter as often as possible (i.e. make bread from it) and try whisking it every so often to aerate it and provide oxygen to help the yeast grow. While it’s won’t be strictly sourdough anymore, you can also add a pinch of yeast to help your starter along, if you find it difficult to get your bread to rise.

Baking bread

The sponge

your starter
1 cup warm water
1 cup flour

  • Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, cover with a tea towel and set aside until it becomes spongy and bubbly (as above).
  • Depending on the temperature, this can take anything from a few hours to overnight. At the moment, as its cold outside, I tend to leave it overnight to do it’s thing.

The dough

the sponge
½ cup flour
½ cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
500g flour
vegetable oil, for kneading
warm water

  • First of all siphon of you starter. Mix ½ cup flour, ½ cup water and ½ cup of the sponge together in your starter pot – this is your new starter and can be stored as mentioned above.
  • For the bread, add the sugar, salt, and flour to the sponge, then mix it with a wooden spoon until it forms a fairly cohesive mass.
  • Grease your hands and a work surface lightly and knead the bread until you have a smooth and elastic dough. Be prepared for some elbow grease as this can take a good 5 minutes of kneading.
  • Cover the bread and set aside somewhere warm to prove. Again like the sponge recipe above, this is really dependant on the temperature. So, at this time of year, I might leave it overnight. You can also speed things along by turning the oven on for a few minutes, then turning it off and letting the bread prove there.
  • Once the dough has doubled in size, knock it back by punching out the air. Shape the dough into a loaf shape and place onto a greased or floured baking sheet. Set aside to prove again until doubled in size.
  • While the dough is proving, turn the oven on to 200C. Bake the bread for 25-35 minutes, until golden-brown on top and it sounds hollow when you tap the bottom. Remove from the oven and let it cool on a cooling rack.

Experimenting with flavours

As I mentioned above, you can use the sourdough starter as you would yeast in most recipes (bear in mind that you make the sponge first and then probably won’t have to add any water). An easy variation is to use different flours such as a little rye, spelt or wholemeal flour. The flours are denser than white flour, so go easy and factor in a longer proving time.
Potato bread: Replace the sugar with 300g cooked, mashed potatoes for a super tasty loaf that keeps really well.

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2 Responses to “Sourdough”

  1. rach says:

    Gosh, I love the new layout and i have lots of catching up to do.
    I am officially inspired, I make bread every now and then but not as much as i’d like, so i am going to take your lead and make my starter and see where that takes me.

  2. [...] with homemade pizzas as well. We usually make sourdough pizzas (and if you want to try, make the recipe here), but I find that any old bread dough will [...]

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