Friday, 25 February 2011

Sourdough adventures

Lively sourdough starters
I finally bit the bullet over Christmas and tried sourdough! It's one of those things that's been on my to-do list for so, so long :~) I chose to buy a starter in the end so I would know that it should work. I bought it from ebay (Link to seller) and it took off really quickly and hasn't let me down yet! As you can see from the pic above, it's pretty lively! The seller said they started it from the yeast naturally found on organic grape skins.

When it was growing really well, I divided it into three separate jars. The two small ones shown above (but slightly less full!) are my backup starters in case my everyday one goes funny, gets emptied out and washed up or gets dropped or something ... the usual sort of things to happen in a house full of Little People ;~)  One of the small jars is in the fridge and gets fed once a week and the other is in the freezer and should need feeding once a month or so.

Everyday starter
My everyday starter lives in this tall jar so it can grow and expand all it wants. I feed it every day, usually using the excess to make a "sponge" for bread the following day. In the picture below, you can see the little proving basket I treated myself to ... so much nicer than a plastic bowl :~)

What you need
Sourdough-making is lovely and slow and needs plenty of time. It's also very simple and forgiving. To begin, you need to source a starter (or start your own, plenty of info around on the internet if you fancy giving it a go), a jar to keep it in and flour. Measuring cups are handy too but not essential.

Feeding the starter
Roughly every 24 hours (48 at a push) you need to feed your starter with fresh flour and water. Take 1 cup of flour (I use white bread flour but it's fairly easy going about which type you use) and 1 cup of water (cold or tepid but not too warm or you'll kill the yeast) and mix it with 1 cup of the sourdough starter.

Making a sponge
Before you can make bread, you need to use your starter to make a "sponge". This is basically a larger amount of separate starter to use in place of the dried yeast you would usually use when making bread.  

When you feed your starter, you will have a cup of the starter left over. You need to use this to make the sponge. On days when you don't want to make a sponge, just put the excess down the sink.

Put your cup of starter in a mixing bowl and add 1 1/4 cups of flour and a cup of water. Stir these together, cover and leave for 12 to 24 hours. You'll see it frothing a little. 

Dough rising

Making the bread
Mix together 1 1/2 cups warm water, 2 tablespoons sugar or honey, 2 teaspoons salt and 2 tablespoons oil or melted butter. Stir it until the sugar and salt has dissolved.

Stir the liquid into sponge and then add enough flour to make a dough you can handle - soft but not sticky. Generally this takes 6 - 6 1/2 cups of flour or just under a 1kg bag. Malted seed flour or granary flour work brilliantly.

Knead the dough for a good 10 minutes and then place into a proving basket or mixing bowl and cover with a fairly damp, clean tea-towel. Leave for a couple of hours until doubled in size.

Knock it down and knead again. Place back in basket or bowl, cover again and leave for a further two hours.

Knock it down and cut the dough in half. Shape each half into an oval loaf, place onto a greased or lined baking tray, cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise for an hour or so. Brush with beaten egg and bake at gas 5 for 50 minutes. You may need to turn the loaves over and bake for a further 10 minutes or so just to finish them off. 

Note: You can omit the second prove if you're push for time. Also, any of the provings can be slowed down and done overnight in the fridge if it fits in better with your routine. I often do this. Don't be tempted to do it twice though (eg. first prove in the fridge overnight, second prove in the day then when your routine goes to pot, leaving the loaves to rise in the fridge overnight again) as the resulting bread will be sour, vinegary and pretty grim!

Making sourdough bread every day or two is a fair bit of work. It's fine if you can get into a routine with it but I'm still finding mine. Recently I did wonder out loud if I should carry on doing it as our main bread or just cut it back to every now and then ... the resounding answer was to do it every day which is nice to hear :~)

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