Sourdough September

Every year The Real Bread Campaign organises Sourdough September to encourage people to try sourdough, whether buying it from their local bakery or baking it themselves.

Make your own sourdough

If you have ever thought about making your own sourdough but haven’t picked up the courage to do so, I say go for it. Now, is the perfect time. Have a look at my instructions for making your own starter and how to maintain it and if you start today next week you could be making your first sourdough loaf.

sourdough loaf

What is sourdough?

Sourdough is made with just three ingredients: flour, water and salt. Add time and you get the magic ingredient that transforms your loaf. Sourdough doesn’t have to be sour, you can control your dough to be really tasty without any sourness, so don’t let the name put you off.

Sourdough doesn’t contain any commercial yeast (commercial yeast being one of the three yeasts that you can buy – easy bake/active dried/ fresh). Instead you mix together flour and water and allow it time to bubble away and concentrate the wild yeasts that are found in the flour. Beneficial bacteria also get to work in that wild yeast starter and it is these that give your starter that distinctive tang. You can choose whether you prefer your loaf to have that tang of acidity or whether to use your starter when it is lively and young before the acidity has time to develop.

Common mistakes

Lots of people are put off making their own sourdough because it seems so complicated and maybe because they have tried and had distasters. I can understand this, believe me. The first time I made sourdough I was tempted too early to make a loaf. I had made the starter from scratch and on day four it looked promising, all bubbly and vigorous. I made my first loaf. The dough didn’t rise in the bowl very well, it lacked strength when I was shaping it and it baked like a flat discus that tasted, well, not very good.

What I should have done:

  • The starter needed more time to develop. I should have waited one or two more days for the starter to get fully ripe.
  • I should have taken a small amount of that starter and added a lot of flour and the same amount of water (30g starter, 100g flour, 100g water) and stirred vigorously and left for a further 6-8 hours for that to get bubbly and lively and then used that as the basis for my loaf (remembering to keep 30g back for my next loaf).

If I had followed these simple steps my loaf would have been so much better.

When you first make a starter (following these instructions) the gluten in the flour becomes very weak; the acidic bacteria have spent a week attacking it. If you give a small amount of that starter plenty of new flour for it to devour it become strong with lots of wild yeast and plenty of gluten strength. This will help the dough develop lots of strength as you stretch and fold the dough and the yeast will get to work eating the sugars and expelling carbon dioxide which will stretch the gluten walls and develop the airy texture that a good sourdough needs.

The strength of your starter dictates your final loaf, get this right and you will be one (or several) steps closer to making a delicious sourdough loaf all of your own.

Now is the time to make your first sourdough loaf or give it a try again if you have tried before. Keep practising and it will repay you ten times over with the pride you feel when you can put a delicious loaf of sourdough on the table.

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