I can’t claim the credit for the sourdough starter: that goes to my friend Frin’s husband, Jon, who clearly missed his calling. I tried making sourdough a couple of years ago when I first started baking bread and couldn’t really get it to work properly so wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to use a starter that was already tried and tested!
In hindsight I think my first few attempts failed because not only did I not leave the dough to prove for long enough, I also didn’t bake it for long enough. The result was a very heavy, dense loaf/brick and it didn’t inspire me to keep going. Having now had more experience baking bread I felt a little more confident. It can take a lot longer to rise than bread made with commercial yeast so as long as you can be patient with it it should be fine. I started this loaf at 11am and ended up baking it at 10pm: it could easily have gone in the fridge overnight for baking first thing but I knew I wouldn’t have the time in the morning.
I know as a baker I should probably cultivate my own starter but I think I may be too lazy… Once the starter is established, keeping it is much easier. There is a huge amount of information on the internet about how to keep a starter and a lot of the advice is conflicting, particularly about when or if to refrigerate it. As I will not be making a loaf every day I am planning to keep mine in the fridge and feed it once a week. So if you have any better advice, please let me know!
One very helpful piece of information I found was that if your starter doesn’t easily double in size it is not going to be able to make your dough rise. If you put your starter in a measuring jug, add your flour and water and leave it for a while, it is easy to see if it doubles. It should look thick and bubbly and have bubbles on the surface.
I made the “sponge” by adding a cup of flour and a cup of water to about half my starter, mixing it and leaving it to start bubbling. In total I had 300g of sponge:
Once it is ready you can combine it with the flour, salt and water to form a dough. I found a recipe that used 300g of starter, 500g of bread flour, 10g of salt and 250ml of water and it turned out to be a good recipe. I didn’t put all the water in at first but ended up using all of it to make quite a wet dough.
300g active starter
500g strong white bread flour
About 250ml water
When your sponge starter is ready (see above), mix with the flour, salt and enough water to form a dough.
Knead for around 10 minutes until smooth and silky.
Leave to rise in a covered, well oiled bowl until about doubled in size.
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead briefly. Shape and place in an oiled tin or a proper proving basket, if you have one.
Leave until doubled in size again.
Set the oven to 200ºC.
Bake for around 35-40 minutes, until well risen and the base sounds hollow when tapped.
It tastes really good and I just hope I can keep Jon’s starter alive. And if I can I will be very tempted to get one of the proper proving baskets: if you have one I’d love to know if they are worth the expense!