Sourdough Recipe (part one - Starter)
A few people have asked me to post the recipe for sourdough, which I have recently made with surprising success! It's going to be pretty long so I'm dividing it into two posts, this one for the starter (cultivating the yeast) and the second for the bread itself. I'm also going to include some brief explanations occasionally, for those who (like me) like to know why they're doing something. I'll put those in italics so that those who don't want them can skip them.
Sourdough is an odd mixture of simple and complicated so if I don't explain something properly give me a shout!1. What is a starter?
You don't add baker's yeast to sourdough (which means that some people who have a yeast intolerance can eat it). Instead, you cultivate the wild yeast which naturally occurs on all types of flour. Essentially, this is done by creating an atmosphere in which the yeast thrives.2. Ingredients and EquipmentThis is actually not a complicated process: Try not to overthink it and try not to worry if you make a mistake. Most mistakes can be corrected!
You will need three things: Flour, water and a container. The flour can be any kind, but wholemeal/rye will start your starter off much more quickly. Tap water is fine. The container, again, can be pretty much anything. I like using one with clear sides because that makes it easier to tell how much it's growing. Also, make sure there is space in the container for the starter to double in size. Some bakers are very fussy about the water they use. I've used tap water and it's worked fine, as have many others. If for any reason your starter doesn't work, though, it's one of the factors that's worth considering.3. Starting your Starter
In your container, mix up 50g each of flour and water (if you use cups, it works out to about 1/4 cup water and 1/2 cup whole grain flour. Weighing is more accurate, though, because flour can get compacted down). The mixture should be thick and sloppy. When you've stirred it together thoroughly, just scrape down the sides of the container. Food on the sides of the container can feed mould.
Cover it with some clingfilm, or if the container has a lid put it on loosely - not airtight.The fermenting of the yeast makes the starter take up more space. There are stories floating around of people sealing their containers and then having an explosion!4. Wait
You're - hopefully - looking at around 12 hours, and this is to let the starter become active. You'll know it's becoming active when you start to see bubbles rising to the surface of the flour and water mixture.
If the mixture doesn't become active within a decent amount of time (my favourite sourdough site reckons 36 hours is about the longest you should wait) something's gone wrong. I'll put a link at the bottom to a site which has lots of troubleshooting tips.5. Feed the Starter
When those bubbles tell you that the starter is active, you add another 50g flour and another 50g water and stir. This will, of course, stir the air out of the mixture so the bubbles will disappear.6. Wait some More
It's a long, slow process, this one. This time, you want the starter to make bubbles, as it did the first time, but you're hoping that it'll also rise a bit. Eventually it should be able to double in size at each feeding, but there's no need to worry if that doesn't happen at this stage. Again, it should take roughly 12 hours, although it can be quicker and can even take up to 24 hours.7. Feed Again
Each time you feed the starter, it will double in size, so this is the point at which you want to fix that. Before you feed it, therefore, you'll need to discard half of the starter.Later, when the starter is stable, you'll be able to bake with the starter that you discard, but at this beginnning stage it's not stable enough. There will be lots of random bacteria swimming about and baking with it is likely not to work. I know it feels like a terrible waste, but grit your teeth and chuck it.
Once you've discarded half, you can then add another 50g flour and 50g water and stir thoroughly.8. Wait Again
Again, it should take around 12 hours and by this time should be doubling in size. 9. Repeat
Once you've been repeating the feeding every 12 hours or so steps for about three days, the starter should be roughly doubling in size each time you discard and feed it. If it's not, this can be fixed - the key is to keep feeding it! The link at the bottom of this post will lead to a website with a nice list of troubleshooting problems and solutions.10. Change to Plain Flour
Once your starter is more or less doubling reliably, it's a good idea to change to plain flour, as this has fewer micro-organisms in it that could upset the balance of the starter. The starter will almost certainly slow down when you do this - don't worry, just wait until it becomes active again, and then start feeding regularly once more.11. Use Your Starter!
The starter definitely shouldn't be used until it's at least a week old. It just isn't reliable enough. After it's a week old and can reliably double itself between feedings, you're good to go.Maintaining Your Starter
There are three main principles that should be followed with a sourdough starter:
1. Starter at room temperature MUST be fed at least twice a day. Less than this and it won't continue to be active and will eventually die.
2. Each feeding should double the starter (this is why you discard half each time; otherwise you'll end up with an ocean of it!).
3. In each feeding, you should be adding equal parts of flour and water by weight. You can have thicker and thinner starters; thinner ones rise much more quickly and so are harder to keep under control; thicker ones taste stronger but are harder for beginners to work with. So start at equal weights and you'll do fine (in bakers' terminology this is called 100% hydration).
That's literally all there is to maintaining.Storing Your Starter
Now, if you bake bread once or twice a day, it will make sense for you to keep your starter at room temperature. If, like most of us, you don't, it might be more sensible to keep it in the fridge. This slows down the processes that happen in the starter and mean that you don't need to feed it so often.
It is recommended that you don't refrigerate your starter until it's been alive for 1-3 months (recommendations vary!). This is because for at least the first month it is still developing its strength, stability and flavour and if you refrigerate it, that will stop this development from happening.
When you do refrigerate it, though, you'll need to feed it once every couple of months, but probably not more often than that. It's best to put it in the fridge just after you've fed it - they seem to revive much more easily in this case.Reviving Your Starter
My starter has never been in the fridge because it's only just a month old, so I'll probably start refridgerating it sometime soon. When I do, these
(click on the red word for link) are the instructions I'll be using to revive it when I want to use it (basically, getting it - ir a bit of it - warm and active again).Using Your Starter
It's best to use a starter when, after you have fed it, it has risen to its peak or as it starts to sink again. At this point it's definitely active and should rise your dough nicely.
Mostly you'll just follow the instructions in the recipe for how much starter to use. If you do want to convert a recipe that uses bakers' yeast to sourdough, though, you'd start by replacing a packet of yeast (generally about 7g-ish) with 240g (about a cup) of starter. There are more detailed instructions here
if your dough rises too much or too little using this amount.
And that's the basics of creating a sourdough starter finished (finally). If you can't/can't be bothered, PM me; I have a fairly stable starter which I'm happy to post you a bit of for the price of postage plus airtight container! You can also buy them but it can be a bit dodgy making sure you get one that's good.
This website: http://sourdoughhome.com/index.php
is my favourite one because it has so much detail about the sourdough process, including starters, and the guy seems to have an excellent idea of what he's talking about and be pretty sensible.