One of the questions I often get asked at my Essential Artisan Bread Making course is: ‘So how do you make sourdough bread?’
I’ll be the first to admit that my main two answers — a) ‘grow a wild yeast culture in a paste of flour and water’, and b) ‘come along to my Wild Yeast & Sourdoughs class!’ — are somewhat lacking.
So recently I’ve been going with c): ‘I’m about to write a series of articles over at the Baker & Loaf blog on how to make sourdough, I’ll send you the link, I promise.’
So true to my word, here’s the first in a series of posts on How To Make A Sourdough Starter.
Day 0 – The Set-Up
First up, an extremely short shopping list.
- 1kg bag of strong white wheat bread flour
- a medium-sized bowl (i.e. bigger than a cereal bowl)
- a spoon
- cling-film / shower cap / something to cover the bowl with
- Some practical experience of making conventional yeasted breads — i.e. those made with shop-bought yeast. No need to be a master baker, just enough bread making experience that you can turn out a ‘everyday’ loaf of bread that you’re happy with.
Does it matter what brand of strong white bread flour I use?
Not really, no. I’ve grown several sourdough starters from a range of flours — all worked, though some took longer than others.
What about organic flour? I’ve read that it’s better to use for starters.
I’ve read that too. The theory seems to be that organic flour is more likely to contain more natural yeasts. But in a recent starter experiment, I found that the non-organic flour (Allinson Strong White Bread Flour) actually produced better results than the organic (Shipton Mill’s Untreated Organic White Flour No. 4).
What about wholemeal/wholewheat flour or rye flour? Can I use that instead?
Yes, you can also use these flours to make sourdough starters, and I’ll be including instructions on using these flours instead of strong white flour. However, all the photos of the sourdough starter at different stages of its life are of a white wheat starter — so if you want to benchmark against these, stick with white flour. Personally, I prefer to keep a white wheat starter as my ‘main starter’, and convert it into other types of starter as and when I need them.
Why do I need to have made yeasted breads before? I want to go straight to the good stuff!
It’s not essential to have made yeasted breads before, but it sure does helps. Conventional yeasted breads rise faster and more reliably than sourdough, making them good practice for your sourdough baking.
To get the best out of your bread making, it’s good to have a fair idea of what bread looks/feels/smells like at different stages of the bread making process. Sourdoughs are different for each and every baker, which means you’ll be relying on your baker’s senses, not your kitchen timer!
How long will it take for my starter to be ready?
Building up a starter from scratch can take anything from 4 to 10 days. With any luck, you’ll be baking your own sourdough around week from now.
Next up: Day 1 — Mixing Your Starter.
These posts are part of a Sourdough Tweet-Along taking place from Sunday 22nd April (a.k.a. Day 1) until… well, until your starter is good and ready! Follow along at @BakerAndLoaf on Twitter, or follow the hashtag #SourdoughTweetAlong