Hello my lovelies! Not a recipe today. A foundation. For the longest time I didn’t feel qualified to write this for you. Because sourdough – for the obsessives – is a constant journey. You don’t just get it right and then declare that you are done. You tweak and tweak and tweak. And sometimes it’s slightly better and sometimes something goes wrong and you don’t know why. It is an unending pursuit of the elusive idea of your perfect loaf. But perfection isn’t everything. We’d all do a lot better if we let go of the idea altogether. I know I would. We are making loaf after loaf of delicious healthful bread. Gaining skills. Making our homes smell amazing. If that’s not enough reason then I don’t know what is.
So here are the basics of my sourdough routine. How to get started. From this many recipes will follow. The recipes will be very good. But you should feel totally free to tweak. Chase your perfect loaf. But remember to enjoy every slice along the way.
Start Me Up
By far the easiest way to get going is to find someone with a starter and ask for some. Anyone who makes sourdough at home will absolutely share the joy with you. Just ask around on Facebook and someone near you will pop up. You can also find a good quality bakery near you that you know makes good sourdough and just rock up and ask. They may charge you a few bucks. They may say no. Doesn’t hurt to ask. This is quicker and easier than starting from scratch. It also guarantees you a strong healthy starter that someone has been using for ages that doesn’t need too much babying.
If you do want to start from scratch you can. I recommend using wholemeal flour because it tends to be more active as more yeasts are trapped in all the good stuff that is sifted out of white flour. Use an unbleached flour as bleach kills happy microorganisms. All major NZ flour brands are unbleached. I asked. I run a single wholemeal starter and use it for all my sourdoughs regardless of the flour in the loaf. I have tried to look after multiple starters before but it just feels like too much. If you are used to a Tartine style routine of creating new starter each time you make a loaf then this is a bit of a departure. Because I use the same starter for all and sundry I need to maintain it on it’s own rather than as part of my baking cycle.
To make a starter get a glass clip-top jar that holds at least 1 litre (1 quart). Take the rubber seal off the lid. You want to be able to close it so that bugs don’t fly in there but you don’t want it to seal. Oxygen needs to get in and carbon dioxide needs to get out. Then over the course of a week we are going to tease it into life.
Day 1: 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water go in. Stir it well. If you are starting this in the cooler months use tepid water to help it along. Put the jar on the bench for 24 hours.
Day 2: An additional 50 grams of four and 50 grams of water go in. Leave it for another 24 hours.
Day 3: Same as day 2.
Day 4: Ditto.
Day 5: By now you should be seeing some bubbles and some activity. It’s alive yay! Now you are going to scoop out roughly half and throw it away. Then top up the remaining starter with 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of water.
Day 6 – 14: Repeat day 5 until you can see a regular rise and fall in the starter as it feeds and then relaxes. This is why we use a glass jar. So we can see. I am asking you to do this for a full 2 weeks to make sure your starter is strong and healthy.
You will notice that a layer of greyish liquid – known as hooch – slowly rises up through the starter and settles on top when the yeast has eaten all the food that is in the flour. This is ok. Just drain it off gently.
Now that your starter is happy you can give it a name if you like. Then start baking!
My starter lives in the fridge. I work through it and every week to 10 days I take a big scoop of it (about 2 tablespoons) and transfer it to a clean clip top jar, top it up with 150 grams of flour and 150 grams of water and then put it back in the fridge. Over about 24 to 48 hours it will rise up and I know it’s fine. It can go a lot longer without feeding in the fridge because the cooler temperature slows down the yeast. Then I wash out the previous jar so it’s ready for next week.
Most of my recipes use around 50 grams of starter per go. This means at the end of a week for me the level of starter is looking a bit low. You might use your starter at a slower rate but make sure you feed it every 2 weeks at the longest just to keep it strong and healthy. It can survive for up to a month but then it might need a few feeding cycles to get it going again.
Red Flags (or pink or orange flags)
There are things that can go wrong. Your starter can die completely if it is left for too long without feeding. Then you can start again from scratch or hit someone you know up for some more. The first time this happens it is surprisingly heart-wrenching. It’s ok to need a hug.
Bad things can also grow in your starter. If you see anything pink or orange or blue or green or red THROW IT ALL AWAY. It’s really important to be safe rather than sorry here. A starter is a natural balance between lactic acid bacteria (like in yoghurt) and wild yeasts. The yeast can tolerate the acid where other nasty microorganisms can’t. Acid is one of the ways preservers keep bad bacteria at bay as well. However sometimes unwanted guests can get a foothold no matter how careful we are. You must must must replace your starter if anything dodgy grows in it.
If you are concerned you can always send me photos by email or on facebook and I can check them for you.
So now it’s time to get into it! Most of my recipes are overnight recipes. I find it a good balance of flavour development and convenience. All this means is preparing a pre-ferment just before bed the night before and then finishing the recipe the next day. No drama. You will need to plan ahead to be around (or take your dough with you in the car as a friend of mine does). Sourdough is less clock-friendly than regular yeast breads. You will be looking for signs to move to the next step which can take more or less time depending on how warm the day is, how recently you fed your starter or what kind of flour is in the recipe. Approximate times will be given but don’t take them as gospel. If you want to extend your ferment instructions will be given with the recipes. As a general rule you can do this by stopping and putting your dough in the fridge overnight when the recipe asks you to start shaping. Get the dough out in the morning and let it come to room temperature before continuing as instructed.
Each time you make sourdough make a note of what you did and any changes you made and over time you will develop the loaf that suits you best. I’m terrible at remembering to do this. Do as I say, not as I do and all that.
Be kind to your starter and to yourself. You are making sourdough from scratch at home you awesome human. That’s worth a pat on the back. And a slice of toast…