About 17 years ago I started making my own sourdough bread by way of research for my book By Bread Alone. The end result is delicious, everything leading up to it something of a faff, but if you like your carbs like I do, you persevere.
A starter is a collection of flour and water and bacteria that you use instead of yeast to make your bread rise and taste so darn yummy. But you need to feed it flour all the time or it sits at the back of your fridge growing whiskers and smelling like a very old woman who’s peed her pants, which is why I call my starter Aunt Bessie.
I haven’t baked a loaf with her in eons but given the current lockdown situation, what’s a girl to do? She’s out of her dungeon, being fed water and flour every day, and if not smelling as fresh as a daisy at least not making me want to barf.
Don’t get me wrong, the strong smell is a good sign in a starter. You just wouldn’t want to marry her. But if you want to make the bread, here’s the recipe, along with instructions on how to get your own starter started.
Warning: she uses a lot of flour.
30g rye flour
470g strong white flour
180g starter (see recipe for starter below)
320-40g water NOTE THIS is G not ML
Mix all ingredients bar salt in a large bowl, by hand, for five minutes or in a mixture with a dough hook (I mix for 10). The mixture is quite wet but if you are having trouble mixing it (if most of it is ending up on your fingers or around the bowl), try using 320g water instead of 340 (I use 330g). Rest for five minutes, then add salt. Mix for another 5-10 minutes on a bench (much less if you’ve used the dough hook), without adding flour, until mixture is smooth and elastic then put into a slightly oiled container (I use the same bowl) and leave for 3-4 hours loosely covered, say inside a supermarket plastic bag (remember those?).
Knock back with a gentle fold, then leave for another hour.
Round or gently pre-mould the loaf by folding it in on itself and turning it over and letting it sit for 10 minutes. Then give it a final mould, dip it in flour, and put it in a basket lined with a heavily floured linen tea towel. Rub the flour well into the tea towel and don’t wash it in between uses. If it’s not floured enough, the bread will stick when you try to up-end it for baking which will ruin the whole thing.
At this stage you can leave the dough for half an hour, put it in the fridge overnight, then bring it out and sit for an hour before baking
leave for three hours in the basket, then tip out, preferably onto a pizza stone, cut 3-4 quick slits in the top with a razor or sharp knife, and bake at 250deg C for 20 minutes, and 200 for 10 minutes, remembering to steam the oven when you put the loaf in. Do this by spraying the sides of the oven with one of those squirty bottles and quickly shutting the door.
Getting the bread out of the mould without breaking the “skin” is often the hardest part and you pretty much learn this by mistake. Everything to do with sourdough has to be done pretty gently. Its sensitive – but worth it in the end!
Day One: Juice three organic apples, strain and leave the liquid in a partly covered jar or jug.
Days 7-10: When the juice is bubbly and fermented add it, in a glass or ceramic bowl or plastic container, to 1 ½ cups of flour and ¾ cup of water and leave, covered loosely.
Day 11: Add another 1 ½ cups of flour and ¾ cup of water and leave.
Day 12: Discard half the mixture and add another 1 ½ cups of flour and ¾ cup of water.
Day 13: Repeat the above and do so every day until you know your starter is alive and kicking because it will rise up the sides of the bowl in between feeds and will be bubbly and smell sharp and cidery. If you want to get it going more quickly, feed it twice a day.
Note: this stage initially took me EIGHT WEEKS.
The above has been changed to American measurements but basically you want to end up with 800g of starter, 400 of which you discard each time you feed it, adding 200g water and 200g flour.