What is Sourdough?

What is sourdough? Those fancy loaves in the bakery which cost a pretty penny? I guarantee, once you’ve made a few loaves of your own, you will appreciate why the cost of a sourdough loaf is higher than a standard one.

I think a lot of the loaves sold as ‘sourdough’ are a bit of a hybrid. I don’t doubt they have some wild yeast inside them, but they just don’t seem to have the body and the flavour that I associate with a home made sourdough loaf.

Yeast is an active substance, controlled by temperature. You can freeze dry it and activate it with warm water, you can prove bread in the fridge (you do prove pastry in the fridge). Natural yeasts are slower acting than industrial strains. As the yeast consumes the sugars and produces carbon dioxide, it also releases chemicals. The longer the process of proving, the more mature the flavour. These chemicals combined with the flavour of the wild yeast itself, is what gives sourdough its distinctive flavour.

How to Make a Starter Culture

Making a sourdough yeast starter is easy. Put some strong bread flour in a bowl (ideally organic, but it needn’t be, as a standard flour will have naturally occurring yeast on it too), and add some water until you have a wet dough, the consistency of porridge (100g flour to 125g water). Put the mixture in a jar and keep it in the kitchen.

You can add some natural sugars art this stage, like a couple of sliced grapes (again organic would have the bloom of natural yeasts on board), or half an organic apple grated and mixed in, but they aren’t necessary, the flour is the main wild yeast contributor.

The sugars help to get the yeast going, but they aren’t essential. You need to leave the sourdough alone in a warm place (ideally 24C) feeding it ideally every day. It is going to take at least a week for the sourdough mother to get into a reasonable shape, ten days or two weeks until you have something you can use to bake a loaf. There is a chemical reaction taking place in the jar, and it takes time for the mixture to sort itself out, and for mother nature to work her magic.

You may find as the days progress that you have a layer of liquid on top of the starter. Do not panic! This is perfectly natural, add a little more flour and water until you have your wet dough consistency and  put it back in the jar. This layer of liquid, called Hooch by sourdough bakers, is a sign that your culture is active and is consuming food at a fast rate.

Remember to Feed your Pet

Every time you feed your starter, before you do, discard some of your culture. If you don’t, then your culture will grow and grow and you will be using enormous quantities of flour just to feed it. A small Kilner jar is fine, and then build up a levin (sponge) every time your make a loaf or two ( I will explain as we move along)

After about a week to 10 days, it will start to become more active with more vigorous bubbles after feeding, and it is a sign that it is ready to use. If you’re not sure if your starter is ready to use, leave it another week, feeding it as you see fit. You will know when it is ready by the way it smells. In the early days, it can smell somewhat putrid, there is a battle going on inside the jar between the good bacteria (sourdough) and the bad. Keeping it warm and feeding it regularly, it will turn out well, just as light illuminates a dark spot.

Your sourdough starter is essentially a yeast culture living in flour. I use white flour, with occasion feeding of Rye (as I like to put a little Rye in my Sourdough loaves) there is no reason why you can’t experiment with a 50% wholemeal blend, or your own Rye sourdough starter. You can feed it plain flour, this has more starch and less gluten, which the starter culture likes better.

When you open the sealed jar, the starter should smell acidic, some say a bit like home made lemonade. I think it is a stronger smell than that.


Next time…..how to make your first sourdough loaf……

 Sourdough - How to make your own sourdough Starter - andrewgoodman.me