Make your own sourdough starter

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Make your own sourdough starter

In honour of Sourdough September, we take it back to basics with our method for making your own wild yeast Sourdough starter. It requires time and commitment, as well as plenty of patience, but it is one of the most satisfying skills to master. For serious bakers, a good starter can become part of the family.

Method:

Put the starter into a large bowl and mix in 350ml of the water. Whisk thoroughly with a balloon whisk. Add the flour all at once, then mix it quickly together to form a fairly scrappy and softish dough; a plastic dough scraper is particularly useful for this. Add a little extra water if necessary. At this stage, it does not matter too much how smooth the dough is, just make sure there are no dry patches of flour. Leave the dough to rest for about 30 minutes. This helps the flour to absorb all the liquid and will make kneading easier.

At the same time the following day, discard half the initial starter from the jar so you are left with 50g. Add 25g each of white and rye flour with 50ml water to the remaining mixture, and stir well. As before, leave uncovered for 24 hours.

Repeat this process over a total of 5 days, still with the jar uncovered. By this time, there should be a bit of activity in the jar – bubbles are an indication that the yeast is developing. If you can see some sign that the starter has risen and fallen during the day and has small bubbles dispersed throughout, you can feed it for a second time on day 6 after discarding half of the mixture as before. Otherwise, just feed it once.

On day 7, feed it twice. If possible, try to feed it a little earlier in the day the first time to allow it time to bubble before feeding again. You should see a honeycomb network of bubbles underneath the surface.

Keep feeding your starter twice a day until it is ready to use, discarding half the mixture as before. It is ready to use when it passes the ‘float test’.

The Float Test:

To test when a starter dough is ready to use, drop a spoonful into a bowl of cold water. It should be bubbly and airy enough to float.

Looking after your starter:

If you are going to be baking regularly, you can keep the starter out, uncovered, at room temperature, and keep feeding it twice a day. To feed, you need to double its weight each time. So if it weighs 200g, you would add 100g flour and 100ml water. Obviously, if you continue doing this, you will end up with a ridiculous amount of starter, so you either have to bake with it or throw some away. Once the starter has reached this stage, there is no need to keep mixing the white flour with rye flour for feeding; you can just use white flour.

However, if you are not baking daily, the starter doesn’t need constant looking after, so if you want to go on holiday, there’s no need to take it with you! To keep it dormant in the fridge, feed it, and put it in a large jar, ideally a Kilner jar with the rubber seal removed so some gas can escape, and just make sure it’s only about one third full (much fuller than that and the last feed will make it bubble up and overflow in the fridge).

Two days before you’re ready to bake, take the starter from the fridge, remove the lid and put the starter into a medium bowl. Double its weight by feeding with flour as before, twice a day until it passes the float test. If it has been in the fridge for quite a long time, it may take a little longer to be ready to bake, but if you’re baking fairly frequently, 2 days should be sufficient.

So, next time you bite into a deliciously tangy slice of sourdough toast, think about the time and attention that's gone into creating the starter and keeping it alive... We guarantee it'll taste even better!

Sophie Hibbert

Author: Sophie Hibbert

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