Not everyone is as lucky as me and gets their starter as a gift, so will need to make their own sourdough starter, people will tell you this is difficult, but it really isn’t. It can just take a few attempts to get it right.
Creating your starter
- Place 25g of wholemeal rye flour with 25g of warm water (35°c) in a good-sized jam jar. Mix the rye and water together, close the lid and leave in a warm place (around 23°c) for 24 hours. To help you use an elastic band around the outside of the jar to mark the level of your mixture.
- Feed your mix with another 25g of wholemeal rye flour with 25g of warm water (35°c) to your mix from the previous day. Mix together and leave in a warm place (around 23°c) for 24 hours. Move your elastic band up to mark the new level of your mixture.
- Repeat step 2 until your mixture starts to double in size overnight. This should take 3 or 4 feeds. You will see it start to grow overnight by your elastic band marker.
- Once it is nearly doubling in size it is ready. Now all you need to do is manage your starter, so you have the right amount for your loaf and a little left over to feed for your next loaf.
Looking after your starter
Your starter is a gentle soul. It needs lots of love and attention to keep fit and healthy. If you intend to bake only once every so often, keep your starter in the fridge and feed it once a week.
To feed your starter, reduce its weight down* to about 50g and then add 50g of wholemeal wheat or rye flour and 50g of water. Mix well and then leave at room temperature (23°c) for 2-3 hours. After 2-3 hours it should have started to activate, now put it back in the fridge. Repeat this once a week until you want to bake a loaf. (If baking every day, you won’t keep him in the fridge and will be feeding your greedy little darling every day).
* This does not need to be wasted but that’s another story.
About 24 hours before starting to make your loaf, take him out of the fridge and feed him. 12 hours before starting to make your sourdough feed your starter again with equal parts wholemeal wheat or Rye flour and water.
You feed your starter depending on how large a loaf you are making. A 750gms loaf needs about 100gms of starter. It’s best to feed your starter equal to his weight, so if he’s 50g feed him 50g flour and 50g of water. This gives you 100gms for your loaf and 50gms for next time.
You need to keep your starter fit and healthy by maintaining his weight. If he is too fat he won’t grow up big and strong. So keep his size down unless you want to bake in bigger quantities.
If you are baking every day, you won’t keep your starter in the fridge and will feed it 12 hours before starting to make your sourdough with equal parts wholemeal wheat or Rye flour and water to give you the amount of starter you need plus enough left over to keep your starter going.
Storing your starter for long periods
Under normal circumstances your starter needs to be fed and used often to keep it fit and healthy. This can be more work and time than many people want or can afford. You don’t need to worry because you can store your starter in little packets ready to use when you need them by freezing your starter. There are two methods, wet and dry freezing. You can freeze larger quantities in each case so that you don’t have to keep doing this but with the wet method you will need to keep each 50g in separate containers. With the dry method you can have one large container and takeout what you need each time.
To wet freeze you just put 50g of your just fed starter in a small container (you may want to put a bit more to cover waste that you can’t get out of your container). Try to include as little air as possible, a plastic bag with the air sucked out is a good way. Put this in your freezer. It will keep for about a year like this. To reanimate, remove from the freezer and allow to defrost for a few hours. Once defrosted feed as usual with 50g flour and 50g water. It may not be as lively the first time you feed it so it may take a second feed to get the increase in size you need to bake.
To dry freeze take 50-60g of just fed starter and paste it thinly onto a sheet of baking parchment. Leave to dry in the air for about 24 hrs (until it is completely dry.) Once dry, crumble the dried starter into a container, again with as little air as possible and place in the freezer. Dried starter can be stored for about 2 years. To reanimate, remove from the freezer and allow to defrost for a few hours. Once defrosted add an equal amount of water to the amount of dry starter, mix well, then feed as usual with 50g flour and 50g water. It may not be as lively the first time you feed it so it may take a second feed to get the increase in size you need to bake.
Baking a sourdough loaf
To bake a loaf I followed a mixture of sources to arrive at my method, like www.bakewithjack.co.uk and Culinary Exploration both with great videos but I made a few changes that I had learnt from other experts.
- 100g starter
- 450g white bread flour (I use a mix of rye and Canadian white flour 100/350g).
- 310g water at room temperature (23°c) (you can vary this on experimentation, but I add quite a lot while folding the dough, wholemeal and rye both need a little more water)
- 8g salt
- Good sized bowl
- Fine mist water spray
- Clean tea towel or cloth
- Flour shaker (not essential)
- Flat scraping tool
- Dusting brush
- Banneton or bowl to shape your loaf.
- Baking parchment cut to fit your baking dish.
- Dutch oven or lidded cast-iron casserole dish
- Cooling rack
- Dissolve the salt in the water, add the starter and mix to dissolve the starter in the water. Add the flour and mix together to make a rough dough. Leave in a generous sized bowl covered with a tea towel for at least 30 mins (this will vary on the mix of flour you are using). This time allows the flour to soak up the water.
- Keeping the dough in the bowl, spray a little water on it and using wet hands grab a little of the dough, stretch it a bit and fold the dough like a flower in on itself about 12 times. (I have a small bowl of water to the side that I dunk my hands in to keep them wet). Shape the dough into a ball, spray with a little water and leave in the bowl covered with a tea towel in a warm place (c.23°c) for 2 hrs. (This is an ideal temperature, but I live in Newcastle and it rarely gets that warm anywhere, but my dough does ok with lower temperatures.)
- You will feel that your dough is softer as it starts to ferment and grow. Keeping the dough in the bowl, spray a little water on it and using wet hands stretch and fold the dough like a flower in on itself about 6 times. (again, I have a small bowl of water to the side that I dunk my hands in to keep them wet). Shape the dough into a ball, spray with a little water and leave in the bowl covered with a tea towel in a warm place (c.23°c) for 2 hrs.
- Your dough will feel soft and warm as you work it now. Keep the dough in the bowl. Spray a little water on it and using wet hands stretch and fold the dough like a flower in on itself 6 times. (as before I have a small bowl of water to the side that I dunk my hands in to keep them wet). Shape the dough into a ball, spray with a little water and leave the dough in the bowl covered with a tea towel in a warm place (c.23°c) for 1 hr.
- Turn the dough out of its bowl onto a floured surface. You are going to pre-shape the dough. Flour your hands to stop the dough sticking then stretch and fold the dough like a flower in on itself 6 times. With the last fold, roll the dough over and shape into a tight ball (leave on the floured surface covered with a tea towel for 1 hr).
- Prepare your shaping basket (banneton) or bowl for final shape with lots of flour to stop it sticking.
- Finally, you will shape the dough on the floured surface ready to put in your prepared shaping basket. Lightly dust your dough ball with flour. Using a flat scraper, slide it under your doughball to release it from the surface and gently turn over the dough so sticky side is up. Very gently stretch it into a rectangle (trying not to lose all the air you have folded in. Take one side of your rectangle and fold just over 1/4 in towards the middle, then take the opposite side and fold just over a ¼ in so it overlaps your first fold. Turn your dough 90° and roll towards you putting a little pressure on as you roll to ensure the roll sticks together. Gently place your rolled dough with final seam up in the proving basket/bowl you prepared in 6. Leave in fridge over night to ferment and grow a little.
- Next morning put your Dutch oven or lidded cast-iron casserole dish in your oven and preheat it to 250°c. Once it has preheated, take dough out of fridge, turn it out onto a floured board, dust off any excess flour with a brush. Slash loaf for extra puff, slide onto a piece of baking parchment and into your Dutch oven. Bake at 250°c for 28 minutes* then remove the lid and continue to bake reducing the temperature to 190°c for a further 28 minutes*. Turn your loaf out onto a cooling rack and leave for one hour to cool. It is still cooking while it cools.
* You can vary the length of time you bake to get a darker crust.
- Enjoy wonderful bread, but remember when it goes wrong the first time, as it most often does, just try again but first watch some online tutorials to find the method and recipe that works for you.