Baking your own Sourdough Bread

After my life update post I got a request for my sourdough bread recipe, so I thought I would explain the what’s and how to’s today. Sourdough is a dough which is fermented using naturally occurring bacteria and yeast. Wild yeast is floating around in the air, it is on everything, even on your fingertips!  It’s amazing that you can capture this and turn plain flour and water into something ultra delicious. According to Wikipedia “One of the oldest sourdough breads dates from 3700 BCE and was excavated in Switzerland” so basically this way of making bread has been around for thousands of years and is a natural as you’re going to get.

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I am just starting out and confess I don’t entirely understand the science behind what goes on with the gluten etc. in the process, but let’s just call this sourdough for dummies. Firstly you’ve got to start by making a starter – the magic ingredient in your bread recipe. I used the steps from King Arthur Flour .

  1. Day 1: Combine 1 cup of rye flour with 1/2 cup of water in a glass jar or bowl.Stir everything together thoroughly; Cover the container loosely and let the mixture sit at warm room temperature for 24 hours. 
  2. Day 2: You may see no activity at all in the first 24 hours, or you may see a bit of growth or bubbling. Either way, discard half the starter (about 1/2 cup). Add 1 cup of regular bread flour (I use Eureka Mills white bread flour) and 1/2 cup water. I use lukewarm water. Mix really well and leave it for 24 hours.
  3. Day 3: By the third day, you’ll likely see some activity — bubbling; a fresh, fruity aroma, and some evidence of expansion. It’s now time to begin two feedings daily, morning and evening. Measure out a full half cup of starter and throw the rest away. Add one cup of bread flour and 1/2 cup of water. Mix really well and leave it until you repeat before bedtime.
  4. Day 4: Repeat day 3.
  5. Day 5: Repeat day 3. 
  6. Day 6 and 7: By this time your starter should be bubbly. It all depends on the environment so it could take as little as 5 days or it could take 10. I think it took me about 10 days to two weeks to get my starter really bubbly. You know it is ready when it is very bubbly, almost frothy, with a sour smell and you can see the bubbles on the sides of your jar. If you’re in doubt you can do a float test but putting a teaspoon full into a glass of water. If it floats, it’s ready to make bread with.

I got this picture of sourdough starter from The Perfect Loaf because it’s a great picture of what your starter ought to look like.

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Now that your starter is ready, you only need to feed it once a day. I got into a routine of feeding mine at night. It becomes like a pet that you have to feed and look after, but it definitely gives back to you, just like a dog. You can also put it into the fridge and only take it out to feed once a week or so, but I felt like I was being cruel to it when I saw it go all flat in the fridge.

Now to make your bread! I use this recipe from The Clever Carrot which gives a lengthy explanation of each step with pictures, if you want to have a look. Otherwise I have the recipe below and some tips.

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Photo credit: The Clever Carrot

Yes, it is a long process making sourdough bread. It basically takes all day, but the bonus is that for most of that time you just leave it to do its thing. Sourdough takes much longer to rise than bread using commercial yeast. I haven’t tried baking it in anything other than my Dutch oven. I got mine from Takealot but if you are lucky enough to have a Le Creuset pot then that would work perfectly. Mine doesn’t have enamel coating so I coat it with rice flour before adding my ball of dough. The end result is a crispy, crusty loaf of warm, delicious bread that the human body can actually digest and get the nutrients from the grain – something which the commercial bread making process destroys and as a consequence store bread has to be fortified.

I even use my starter to make my own pizza dough (only takes about 2 hours) and the pizza bases have come out great.

If you’re thinking why all this fuss, perhaps have a look at this trailer for Cooked. It will make you think a bit. If you can, watch the part titled ‘Air’ which describes in detail how we have lost the goodness in bread which has kept people alive for thousands of years through industrialisation and mass production since WWII. It really inspired me to get back to the age-old tradition of healthy cooking. Even if it takes two weeks to make the main ingredient and ALL day to bake the bread, it’s worth it!

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