Sourdough to me was like advanced bread-baking. It seemed like so much effort, and so many things could go wrong with it.
And boy go wrong it did. Sally the Sourdough Starter faced many teething problems. She produced alcohol (hooch) because I didn’t feed her enough. She smelled like nail polish remover the first 2 weeks.
But finally, 16 days after her conception Sally’s overwhelmingly sour smell was gone and she instead smelled like fresh yeast. She was beautiful.
And the waiting was so worth it. The house was filled with the smell of fresh, yeasty bread this morning.
The bread had an absolutely wonderful crust. So crispy. It was like knocking on a door. In a good way.
The insides was wonderfully chewy, with that characteristic hint of sourness in the background. It was much more flavourful than my usual yeasted bread, perhaps benefiting from the longer rising time.
This bread would be perfect for sandwiches. Or eating it plain with olive oil. Or with honey and cheese. Or by itself. All of which I’ve already done.
My friend made a panini with it and said it was so crisp it scratched the roof of her mouth.
I started my sourdough using Paul Hollywood’s formula, with troubleshooting help from Sourdough Home (the sourdough starter recipe listed below is an adapted version). I then baked off the bread using this recipe.
- 1kg strong white bread flour (you’ll probably need more to feed the starter)
- 1 organic apple, grated with skin still on, avoiding the core
- 360ml tepid water
The sourdough itself
- 375g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
- 250g sourdough starter
- 7.5g salt
- 130ml – 175ml tepid water
- Olive oil
Sourdough starter (I named mine Sally ♥)
- Mix 500g of the flour with the apple and water. Tip this into an airtight container at least twice the volume of the starter and mark the level on the outside of the container (to see if the mix had risen). Cover and leave to ferment for 3 days (might take you less time, see notes).
- After 3 days the mix should smell sweet, like cider. It should be darker and have bubbles. Check if the starter had risen against the mark you made earlier. If it had risen and fallen, discard half the mix and add 250g of bread flour and an equal amount of water by weight. (This is called feeding). Mix thoroughly and tip back into the container and leave for a further 2 days.
- There should now be plenty of activity, indicated by lots of small bubbles. If it has risen and fallen, it is active. If it is active but has sunk down and a layer of sour-smelling dark liquid had formed on top, it is over-active. Feed it more often. If there is no sign of bubbles/rising, leave the dough for a couple more days.
- Once the starter is active (risen and then fallen), feed it. If it manages to double in size between feeding, your starter is ready. Be patient with this, as some starters take weeks to stabilise/grow the right micro-organisms. Some starters take up to a month.
- Once your starter is active and ready, feed your starter at least once every 3 days. If you are using your starter less often (like once a month), you can keep it in the fridge and make sure it comes to room temperature before use. If it seems inactive just feed it.
- You have created your sourdough starter! Some call this the sourdough mother. This starter can basically last you indefinitely. Some starters have lived as long as decades.
The sourdough itself
- Combine the flour, starter, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add water a little at a time and mix with hands until you get a soft dough.
- Coat a work surface with olive oil and knead for 10-15 mins, or until smooth and elastic.
- Tip into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Leave to rise for 5 hours, or until doubled in size.
- Knead the dough until it’s smooth, knocking the air out. Roll into a ball and dust with flour.
- Tip into a well-floured banneton and leave to rise for 4-8 hours.
- Put a tray half-filled with water at the bottom shelf of the oven and preheat to 220°C.
- Carefully tip dough from the banneton onto a lined baking tray. Score your dough however you like.
- Bake for 30 mins, then reduce to 200°C for 15-20 mins. When the bread is done, it should produce a hollow sound when you knock it on the bottom. Cool on rack.
Starting your sourdough starter
- If, like me, your sourdough starts off already very active (already risen and fallen within a day), just feed it instead of waiting the full 3 days like in the Paul Hollywood formula linked above.
- If your sourdough is too active, it might form a layer of sour-smelling dark liquid. This is alcohol produced by anaerobic bacteria in the starter. Just feed it more often (like once or twice a day) until it stops producing alcohol. You’re waiting for the starter to start smelling a bit yeasty. This is when wild yeast has finally established itself, along with the bacteria that you want.
- Your sourdough starter is ready if it can double in size between feedings.
- Your starter has a nice little community of bacteria and (wild) yeast growing in it. The success of your starter depends on which type of bacteria (aerobic/anaerobic) and yeast is growing in it. It is this community of micro-biological friends that produce the rise in your bread through their respiration. So since your starter is basically a living thing, treat it like a pet and remember to feed it!
Baking the sourdough
- I read that coating your banneton with rice flour instead of normal flour will help ensure it doesn’t stick to the basket, especially if you’re using the basket for the first time and haven’t built up a moisture layer. I coated my banneton with rice flour but if you don’t have rice flour just make sure you coat your banneton well. Coating your banneton with too thick a layer of flour will of course compromise the pretty rings but it’s a fair trade off for the dough not sticking to the basket.
- Scoring the dough will help direct the direction your bread will rise in.
- I forgot to score the bread until it was already baking in the oven for 5 mins (oops). But if you DO manage to remember to score your bread, and score it deeply enough (maybe like a good half inch in), your bread will probably have a much prettier shape.
- If you have a spray bottle, spraying the oven with fine mist, and adding the tray of water at the bottom of the oven will help the bread develop a good crust.