A warm kitchen filled with the smell of freshly baked bread. Delicious! But kneading has become a painful chore rather than a therapeutic pleasure, as arthritis ravages my joints. A bread making machine bakes a close second loaf, but measuring ingredients and pressing start doesn’t quite bring the same joy. I have however found a wonderful alternative. Sourdough replaces traditional yeast with a fermented flour starter, and the physical exertion of kneading with time.
A sourdough starter or levain is made with flour and water left to ferment, developing the naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeasts. The bubbles produced enable sourdough to rise. And the lactic acid produced from the lactobacilli give the bread its unique mildly sour flavour. There are many variations of sourdough starter, using different flours and ratios of flour and water. Rye flour is a popular choice for sourdough. I am making a basic white starter.
Day 1: You will need a choice of container for your starter. Glass or plastic is fine as long as you have a loosely fitting lid, or muslin to cover it; I have used a 1 litre kilner jar. Add 50g of strong white bread flour to the container and mix until smooth with 50ml of tepid water. Cover loosely and leave at room temperature for 24 hours. That’s it!
Day 2: Measure 50g strong white bread flour and 50mls of water, stir until smooth and add to the jar mixing until combined. Cover and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
Day 3: The starter will have probably started to activate and develop bubbles by this stage, but don’t panic if it hasn’t. You know what to do, mix 50g of strong white bread flour with 50mls of water and combine with the starter, loosely cover and leave for 24 hours at room temperature.
Day 4: By now the starter should be activating nicely, with bubbles on top and throughout the mix. If it still appears inactive try storing in a warmer place, or heating the room to get things moving. As before mix 50g of strong white bread flour with 50ml of tepid water and combine with the starter, loosely cover and store for 24 hours.
Day 5: The starter should almost be ready now. Feed with 50g of strong white bread flour and 50mls of water and store for 24 hours at room temperature. When ready it will smell like yogurt and if a teaspoon of the starter is added to water it will float. If not active keep feeding the starter each day until it is.
Day 6: The base for your sourdough is now ready. It will stay dormant kept in the fridge. Take out 24 hours before required and remove half the starter, which can be used in pancakes or given away to somebody else to make sourdough. Feed with 100g strong white bread flour and 100ml water. Leave it at room temperature for 24 hours to become active again. If it has been lay dormant for some time it may need a couple of feeds to reactivate.
Armed with your starter and a free day at home bake your own sourdough from a range of recipes readily available online. Below is an easy to follow recipe.