How better to start this blog than with sourdough starter. If you haven’t eaten sourdough bread yet you have been missing a treat: it’s chewy, has a slightly sour taste and keeps for longer than your average loaf.
Although making the bread doesn’t take that long, in order to do so you need a starter, which takes up some time. But the beauty of it is that you keep some of the starter in your fridge and simply replenish it whenever you feel like it. That way you can keep making delicious loaves, or baguettes, or whatever you fancy, from the same starter dough.
The other good news is that for most of the time your dough is simply sitting in a corner, covered with clingfilm, slowly developing the cultures that give it its name. So what’s keeping you?
The process of making the starter is split into three separate steps, which have their own fancy French names: the chef is the first step, followed 3 days later by the first refreshment. Two days later your chef is technically finished. Before you make your first bread you need to double the amount of your chef, which is now called the levain. Eight hours later you are ready to use half of it for your first loaf, keeping the other half safe in the fridge for the next time.
Day 1: Chef
- 1/8 tsp yeast
- 1/2 cup plain flour
- scant 1/8 cup tepid water
In a small bowl, mix the water and the yeast.
Add the flour and mix all the ingredients to a stiff dough.
Cover with clingfilm and set aside for 3 days.
Day 2, 3 and 4: rest
You know it is working when your start seeing bubbles on the surface – also, the initially stiff mix gets gradually softer and quite liquid over the next few days:
Day 5: 1st Refreshment
Once the chef has doubled in size and become quite liquid, you can feed your starter. This is usually around the 4th or 5th day.
- 1 cup plain flour
- scant 1/8 cup water
Cover with clingfilm and set aside for another 2 days.
Day 6 and 7: rest
Over the next two days, the stiff mix will become gradually bigger and more liquid – but this time much faster than before the first feed!. Simply admire it: you’re almost there!
Day 8: the finished starter
Now you have a finished chef: if you’ve lost interest, simply pop it into the fridge in a lidded container and forget about it for a few weeks. If you are desperate for action, feed it to have a lovely loaf within 12 hours.
Feeding your starter
In order to keep hold of those lovely active sourdough cultures you have created, you need to double the quantity of your chef by adding more flour and water: over the course of a few hours, the sourdough cultures will mix with the new ingredients, leaving you with a whopping 300g or so of sourdough starter. You will need:
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1/2 cup tepid water
Simply add an mix with your starter, cover it with cling film, and leave it for 8 hours in a draught-free corner of your kitchen.
If you’re using a breadmaker, you can easily do the mixing and resting in there, just make sure you’re not accidentally baking it! Run a short kneading cycle and leave it, lid closed, for the 8 hours or so. You’ll notice it will double in size:
I’ve forgotten starters for weeks on end, somewhere in the back of the fridge. Trust me, it doesn’t matter. They don’t need any TLC until the day before you want to use them. By feeding the starter, the cultures will spring back to life and8 hours later, you’ll have an active, bubbly starter ready to use. No need to discard anything, or to employ a professional sourdough nanny to look after it whilst you’re on holidays. Seriously.