I'm always asked which bread is my favourite to bake. And I always say sourdough. There's something unique about each sourdough loaf, more so than bread made with shop bought yeast. You simply do not know what you're going to get, which is exciting for me, but off putting for many. This post will hopefully demistify the process that leads up to creating sourdough bread.
The thing people always want from sourdough is a chewy crust, lots of air pockets in the crumb and a tangy taste! I'm going to show you how to do this. It's not difficult!
First, I thought I'd show you my first attempt, made a couple of years ago.
I was so proud of it! It had taken blood, sweat and tears to get that far. I remember emailing this photo to Bake With Maria who had given me some advice. Maria told me to use a white bread starter and to add other flour as and when needed, as separate starters. That's very important advice. Thanks Maria!
Since then, I have made quite a few sourdough loaves, but each one requires a lot of work, but not a lot of ingredients. So if you'd like to make your own sourdough, then please read on.
First, you need time. You can't rush this! I've already referred to a thing called a starter. That's not a small plate of food dished up before your main meal, but is the basis of every sourdough.
You may already have bits of kit like proving baskets, which help the loaf to form a shape. Whilst they are not essential, I will talk about them a bit later.
No yeastThat's right, sourdough doesn't use any shop bought yeast, although I have seen recipes for it that do, believe it or not. You need to make your own natural yeast, which isn't as difficult as it sounds. This is called a starter, or leaven or poolish (if you're poshish). The bread will use the starter as it's raising agent. You simply mix a bit of starter with your chosen bread flour instead of yeast.
How to make a sourdough starter.You will need the following:
A jar or bowl with a lid (I use a plastic 2 litre pudding basin - a kilner jar is also good)
One cup of white bread flour
One cup of tepid water
Pour the ingredients into the bowl/jar and using a spoon mix them together. A good stir is needed here. When they are combined, replace the lid and leave for 24 hours (told you it takes time!) I leave mine on top of the fridge, but anywhere fairly warm is food. Don't put it in a cupboard - it likes daylight!
The following day, empty half of the contents out of the jar and discard. (You may have heard that people share their starter with other people, but it's too early to do that at this point).
Add another cup of white bread flour plus another cup of tepid water. Yes, you guessed it, leave for 24 minutes. I meant hours. Just testing you were still with me!
The following day, you may start to some activity. A few little bubbles may have formed at the top, plus some air bubbles may be visible when looking athe side of the container.
As before, halve the starter, discard and top up with another cup of white bread flour and a cup of tepid water. Leave for 24 hours.
Right, that should do it. After a day, you should be seeing signs of activity. Don't worry if you don't, just repeat the final step from above. It will happen, but you need to be patient!
Your starter should look something like this.
Lots of bubbles, lots of natural yeast just waiting to be used! In fact, those bubbles are so important as they will form the lovely air pockets (holes) throughout your loaf. Now you can see why it was worth the wait!
At this stage, you can share your starter with others. This is an age old tradition of bread making, by passing on natural yeast, you are encouraging others to make bread.
How to make sourdough bread
Yes 4-5 hours. That's right! As it is using it's own yeast, it takes a lot longer to prove, to stretch and to grow. Leave it alone, go out, do the dusting, grow a moustache but let it do its thing!
If you have a proving basket, or a banneton, then flour it during this time (we'll talk about bannetons later). If you have no idea what I'm talking about, then place a muslin inside a mixing bowl (medium sized is good) and dust it heavily with flour. The bowl will shape the loaf for you.