How do you make a sourdough starter, and what’s the best recipe for a sourdough loaf? Get baking during lockdown with this ultimate guide and recipe for the perfect sourdough loaf.
During lockdown, many of us have been finding comfort in our kitchens. We’ve taken our minds off the global pandemic by following intricate recipes, which is easier for us to do now that so many of us are working from home.
And the ultimate longterm recipe for a lockdown distraction? Making a loaf of sourdough (something that a huge number of us have been trying since the pandemic began).
If you want to get in on the trend, read on for the ultimate sourdough starter and loaf recipe, courtesy of cult bakery and baking school, Bread Ahead. You’ll need lots of time and patience, but it will be worth it when you see (and taste) your very own delicious loaf of sourdough.
Sourdough starter recipe
Don’t forget to name your starter - ours is called Bruce, after Canon Bruce Saunders, the first clergyman to bless our starter at Southwark Cathedral.
50g rye flour and 50g water, at room temperature
Day 2, 3, 4 and 5
1 tbsp rye flour and 1 tbsp cold water
On day one, just mix the flour and water together. Cover with a tea towel and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
Each consecutive day, add 1 tablespoon of flour and 1 tablespoon of water to your existing starter, and mix. Leave at room temperature, uncovered for two hours, then cover and pop in the fridge overnight.
By day five it should be nice and lively, with some bubbling and a slightly alcoholic aroma. Store in the fridge in an airtight container and use at least once a fortnight. Before use, feed with 75g of rye flour and 75g of water (or whatever volume your recipe requires) and leave at room temperature for eight hours.
We are creating an environment for yeast cells to live in, multiply and generally be happy. To achieve this we need to make four key things available to our starter.
Temperature: 24°C is the ideal for yeast activity. Water: yeast needs moisture/water to grow. Oxygen: yeast needs oxygen to live. Food: the flour is the food supply.
Caring for your sourdough starter
What is a sourdough starter (aka ‘mother’)?
A sourdough starter is used to cultivate wild yeast in a form that we can use for baking. Since wild yeast is present in all flour (and in the air), the easiest way to make a starter is by combining flour and water and letting it sit for several days with regular feeding. Yeast cells are living organisms and will learn a feeding cycle. The more regular we are with feeding the starter, the better the yeast will adapt to this cycle. When building a new starter we feed every day for four to five days. Once it is active we can feed just once a week, or the day before we are going to use it to bake.
Which flours can I use to make a sourdough starter?
You can use any flour to make a starter, but we recommend using a wholegrain rye flour (and we use this in our production bakery). Rye starters tend to be a bit heartier and more resilient than their white counterparts.
How long does it take to make a sourdough starter?
It should take about six days to create a healthy, bubbly starter. By this point, your starter should have a honeycomb pattern of bubbles in it and a slightly alcoholic aroma.
How/where should I keep my sourdough starter when I’m making it?
During these first six days (when you’re feeding and growing your starter), it should be kept loosely covered at room temperature. In summer, you should keep it in the fridge, as it can overdevelop and die.
How/where should I keep my sourdough starter after the first six days?
If you’re not baking with your starter straight away, put it into the fridge, with the lid of the container firmly fastened. If you’re not baking regularly with your starter, you’ll need to give it a feed (50g of flour and 50g of water) every two weeks.
What if I’m going on holiday for more than two weeks?
You can freeze your starter. Once you’re ready to use it again, allow it to defrost at room temperature, and feed it daily (50g of flour and 50g of water) until it’s back to its bubbly self (this may take a few days).
What happens if liquid appears on top of my starter?
Don’t worry if this happens – it’s harmless and is referred to as ‘hooch’, which is naturally occurring alcohol. It’s basically your starter saying ‘I am hungry’ and ‘FEED ME’. The hooch can either be poured off or mixed back into your starter – we are ‘hooch in’ at Bread Ahead.
How do I know when my starter is no longer rescuable?
If your starter begins to smell like dirty nappies, or the result of a night on the Brussels sprouts, it’s time to throw it away and start again. Simply give it a stir (it will probably have a sizeable layer of hooch on it by this point in time), then transfer 50g to a new container (discard the rest) and feed it daily with 50g of water and 50g of flour until it’s bubbly and ready to use.
What should I keep my sourdough starter in?
This largely comes down to personal preference. Kilner jars are a popular option, but we’ve kept very healthy starters in plastic pots for years without any problems.
Once I’ve decided to bake a loaf of bread, when and how much should I feed my starter?
Once you decide you’re going to bake a loaf of bread, you’ll need to feed your starter eight to 12 hours before you bake (if you’re using a wholegrain starter you’ll need to feed it at least eight hours before; if you’re using a white starter, you’ll need to feed it at least 12 hours before). Take a look at your recipe, and if it calls for 150g of starter, feed your starter with 75g of flour and 75g of water so that the total volume of added ingredients is 150g. Then leave your starter out at room temperature, covered loosely, until you’re ready to use it.
How much starter should I generally keep?
Again, this largely comes down to personal preference, but we recommend keeping about 500g.
What is the difference between a sourdough starter and a stiff sourdough starter?
So from the rye starter we make our stiff starter – from Bruce to Son of Bruce. We use this stiff starter in many of our sourdoughs at Bread Ahead, feeding daily over 500kg. The main difference is, as the name suggests, that it is stiffer – with more flour and less water being used it is easy to handle, especially on a large scale. It still gives you a lovely depth of flavour for your sourdough – it’s really a matter of personal preference.
No knead sourdough recipe
This is a really good introduction bread for the home baker that wants to start pushing the boundaries of bread making. It has all the benefits of a complex sourdough but takes out a lot of the variables.
Ingredients (makes one loaf)
500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
150g rye starter
11g fine sea salt
semolina, for dusting
A cast iron dutch oven/casserole or baker’s stone
DAY 1: Place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. In another bowl, add the starter to the water and mix (your starter should float in the water). Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the liquid. With your hand like a fork, gently bring the dough together (don’t overmix – at this stage you just want to combine until the flour has cleared). Cover and leave at room temperature for two hours.
Cover your dough and place in the fridge for 12–24 hours.
DAY 2: Take your dough from the fridge and uncover. It will be a lot firmer now and will be starting to resemble a fully mixed dough. You now need to give your dough a fold, using the technique described here.
First, pick up the top two corners and pull up, stretching the dough upwards, then fold over to the opposite side (the first corners should meet the opposite two corners).
Next, pick up the bottom two corners and again pull up, stretching the dough up and over, and fold to the opposite side.
Now repeat for the left and right-hand sides, then flip the whole of your dough over, so that the bottom becomes the top. This will start to develop the gluten, reactivate the yeast and put air pockets into the dough. Rest it for half an hour, then give it another fold. Rest for another half hour, then take your dough out of the bowl and give it a gentle pre-shape. Cover and leave for 10 minutes.
Heavily dust your proving basket with flour, then shape your dough into a nice tight round by bringing the outside edges of your hands together (palms facing up) underneath the loaf as you turn it on your work surface. This will create good tension in the loaf. Place the dough upside down in the proving basket and leave to prove for one to two hours at room temperature.
Preheat your oven to 250°C/fan 230°C/gas 10, or as hot as it will go. Once your oven is ready, put a Dutch oven (cast-iron casserole) or baking stone in to heat up. Get your water spray ready if you are using a baking stone.
If using a Dutch oven, very carefully take it out of the oven. Sprinkle the loaf with semolina and gently place top side down in the Dutch oven. Using a razor blade, cut two slashes in the dough. Put the lid on, place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for a further 12-15 minutes. Take the Dutch oven out and very carefully remove the loaf, then put it back directly on the oven shelf, bake for a further 10 minutes, depending on how much singe you like.
If using a baking stone, gently and slowly turn out your loaf on to a baker’s peel or a wooden board. Using a sharp knife or a razor blade, cut two slashes on the top of the loaf, then slide it off the peel on to the baking stone in the oven. Heavily spray inside the oven with your water spray, and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, turn the loaf round and bake for a further 25 minutes, depending on how much singe you like. Once baked, place on a rack to cool.