We promised someone a while back that we would do a post on how to make your own sourdough bread. The culture itself becomes a drop-in replacement for commercial yeast, and is very easy to make. Here are recipes for both the culture and the bread…

How to make a sourdough culture

  1. Get yourself some organic wholemeal or wholewheat flour (you can also use rye flour).
  2. Put about 3 tablespoons of flour in a jar or plastic container.
  3. Add about 3/4 of a cup of cold water.
  4. Mix the flour and water well.
  5. Cover the container with some loosely fitted cling film and leave it hanging around on a kitchen bench.
  6. Everyday add another teaspoon or 2 of flour to the mix.
  7. In five days you’ll start to get some bubbling and a slightly sour smell. (You can cheat by adding some commercial yeast to the plant if you like; sometimes I have added the sediment from a bottle of homebrew ale just to get things started).
  8. Pour off and discard 1/2 of the mix and add about another 1/3 cup of water and another tablespoon of flour. Stir well.
  9. Keep feeding it with a teaspoon or 2 of flour for another few days.
  10. After this time it should be ready to use.

And that’s it – that’s your culture. Simply pour 1/2 of the mix into your bread recipe and top up the remaining 1/2 with a little water and some more flour. Repeat this every time you make another loaf – pour half into your bread and keep and feed the other half.Some bakeries in Europe have been making bread this way for several hundred years, all the time using the same culture: using half for the bread, and keeping and feeding the remainder.

If you keep the culture in the fridge you don’t need to feed it as often, but it will take a while to wake up when you want to use it again.

Just a few notes about it’s properties when cooking. Generally, you are dealing with a mix of lactobacillus and some yeasts which are often wild. This means that your bread won’t prove like it does with commercial yeasts (unless of course you threw some commercial yeast into the starter.) The bread doesn’t puff up as much before you put it in the oven and proving times should be longer than with commercial yeast.

Making your bread dough and leaving it to prove overnight is often worthwhile. With sourdough loaves most of the rise happens when you put it in a hot oven. Bakers call this “oven kick” as all the gases generated by the culture try to get out of the loaf but are trapped in the gluten structure.

It’s always a good idea to place some slits in the loaf before you cook when you’re dealing with a lot of oven kick as this helps the loaf expand in the oven in a pleasing way.

Now to the bread itself…

How to make a sourdough loaf

Ingredients

2 cups plain flour
2 cups wholemeal flour
3 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 & 1/2 cups water
1/2 to 3/4 cup sourdough culture (i.e. whatever quantity is half of your current culture)

Method

  1. In a large bowl, add the sourdough culture, sugar, oil, flours, salt and water.
  2. Mix everything together with a spoon until roughly incorporated.
  3. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, or until it is smooth and elastic. You may need to add more flour as you go if the mixture is too sticky.
  4. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to prove for at least two hours (longer is better).
  5. After proving, knead the dough again for a few minutes.
  6. Shape the loaf and place it on a well-floured baking tray.
  7. Make several deep slits across the top of the loaf to allow it to rise and expand further in the oven.
  8. Leave for at least another hour (outside the oven).
  9. Meanwhile, heat oven to 200C.
  10. Place the loaf in oven. Reduce the temperature to around 190C, and cook for 1 hour, or until it sounds hollow when tapped. Bear in minds that sourdough is by nature much denser than bread made with commercial yeasts, and thus takes longer to cook.
  11. When done, remove from the oven and allow to cool. This type of bread is better the next day.

Serve and enjoy!

This is what real bread tastes like!

Large coffee tins are great recycled as flour containers -
their tightly-fitting lids keeping weevils at bay!

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