Sour (Dough) Starters

I make bread quite often, in many forms. Flatbreads, pitta, pide, roti, pizza doughs, white loaves, rye and wholemeal loaves… I enjoy making all kinds of bread and love every aspect of the process because it’s hands on and you are dealing with a living thing with its own character. That goes double when dealing with sourdough, which uses a starter of water and flour energised by natural yeast in the atmosphere. A good sourdough loaf has a wide-open texture, with huge pockets of emptiness, a thick, chewy crust and a distinctly tangy flavour.

From time to time I have made and nurtured traditional sourdough starters – a process which, it has to be said, can be a bit of a faff – then I go away for a month or so, forget about it in the fridge, get engrossed in some other cookery (or DIY) project when I return, only to come back and find it has gone a bit horrible and beyond recovery.

Frustrated by my own inefficiency, I have tried various cheat’s sourdough recipes (all good, but most definitely NOT proper sourdough), and habitually start most of my doughs with a little flour and water and all of the sugar and yeast, and leave it for a couple of hours to allow it to develop a subtle tang that goes someway to replicating the special properties of sourdough. These are all things worth trying and developing as you become comfortable with using them. Lately though – the past six months or so – I have used a couple of halfway house starters that last in the fridge pretty well without turning bad, are dead simple to prepare, and only need occasional topping-up as they get used. The recipes are below, one each for a basic wheat starter and another for a rye starter.

We have homemade pizza every week, and I now always use one of these starters when I make the dough the night before, substituting the starter (which has the consistency of double cream) for around half of the water. It is impossible to give a precise measure of how much starter replaces how much water, it is just something you have to judge for yourself, which means this is a pizza dough that you have to mix by hand so you can judge when it has the correct balance. The same goes for regular loaves; no bread machines here, it’s time to work the dough by hand, and sweat. That’s what making bread is all about though, right?

Rye-sourdough.jpg


RECIPES 

Wheat Sourdough Starter – makes about 1 Litre

Day 1:

200ml lukewarm water

175g plain flour

1 tbsp honey

Day 3:

100ml lukewarm water

100g plain flour

Day 4:

100ml lukewarm water

100g plain flour


Rye Sourdough Starter – makes about 1 Litre

Day 1:

200ml lukewarm water

175g rye flour

1 tbsp honey

Day 3:

100ml lukewarm water

75g rye flour

Day 4:

100ml lukewarm water

75g rye flour


METHOD

To make either of the starters, on day one whisk the flour, honey and water in a large glass jar until it is a smooth mixture. Cover with clingfilm and let it stand at room temperature for two days.

On day 3 add the water and flour, whisk again until it is a smooth mixture and once again cover with clingfilm and let it stand at room temperature for another day.

On day 4 add the water and flour, whisk again until it is a smooth mixture and once again cover with clingfilm and let it stand at room temperature for one more day. After 24 hours you can now store it in the fridge where it seems to last pretty much indefinitely with the occasional stir to bring it all back together again (it will separate slightly over time).

When you have used around 2/3 of the jar, you can top it up by adding the appropriate quantities of the flour and water for whichever starter you are dealing with.

I told you it was dead simple…

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