We have taken on the nurture of another little life in this busy household of ours – one that pops up in homes up and down the country. Yes we have our own sourdough starter. Making bread and even cakes using natural yeast leaven takes a little thought, a change of pace. Yet the effort is rewarded with a more developed flavour. We are making our pizzas and flatbreads this way as well as regular loaves. Dan Lepard, a baking guru and someone who makes fabulous loaves the gentle way (a caress more than a kneading of dough) is someone we admire. Our copy of his book Short and Sweet is covered in flour and sugar stains, the loaf cakes and cookies being particular favourites. We love his writing and the simplicity of his recipes.
When we discovered Dan was holding a masterclass on making sourdough bread at the little Cookery School in Great Portland Street, it was too good an opportunity to let pass, so Pierre went along.
Here are the tips from the course and Pierre’s experience of making sourdough regularly over the last few months.
Making the starter:
First off don’t stress about it. A starter is a mix of different yeast and some bacteria such as lactobacilli. The proportion will vary according to the ambient temperature and hydration status of the starter. It will flourish with feeding, but sometimes it may go bad and smelly, liquid etc. There are ways to rescue a starter that has gone bad, some people have starters going for years.
If you are new at this though, you could just get a new culture going. It is just a matter of days and you will still make great loaves. Our current starter has been going 2 months and yields a light, airy loaf with a slightly sour taste that is just as good fresh or toasted. We had a great starter before that which went off track during the very hot weather spells over the summer.
The natural leaven (starter) you use instead of bakers yeast needs to be established by fermentation of the natural yeast bacteria that are found on grains of flour (dark rye is particularly good apparently). You can boost this with other yeast-laden things such as raisins and yoghurt. You could start with a rye flour leaven and when the culture is well established and bubbling you can feed it white, wholemeal or any type of flour you want remembering the taste will change accordingly.
Here is what we do:
Day1: You need a clean and dry large glass wide mouthed jar with a loose fitting lid. Add in 50ml lukewarm water, 2 tablespoons each of Rye Flour and Strong White flour. You can add a teaspoon of raisins to boost the yeast growth (we do this).
Day2: Mix the starter, add 50ml water and stir the mixture. Add 2 tablespoons each of Rye flour and Strong White and mix. Push the flour from the edge downwards to ensure the starter has even thickness.
Day 3: if the mixture is bubbling and starts to look active, pass it through a sieve to remove the remnants of raisins into a new clean glass jar and feed it again (as you did above – water, then flour, mixing before and after each addition). If it is not yet bubbling much, leave the mixture another day.
Day 4: The mixture is likely to be bubbling well and increasing in volume now, in which case you can remove three quarters of the leaven and discard or use in a loaf. Feed it again as on day 2. You can now move to feeding with the flour of your choice.
Day 5 onwards – you will need to feed it every few days depending on how often you make bread.
You can freeze portions of starter and then feed and refresh it as you bring it to room temperature, but we have not done that. We keep it in the fridge if we go away to slow down the growth.
Thanks to Dan for the excellent tips and we are now making all kinds of loaves.
Soon to come on Franglais Kitchen – making regular loaves, sourdough naan bread and some sweet sourdough baking.
Dan has also been doing sourdough classes with Vanessa Kimbell at her Juniper and Rose school of cooking where Vanessa herself also holds regular classes that are highly popular.