Lockdown due to the Covid 19 pandemic opened up the opportunity for people to rediscover – or even discover – a passion for cooking. Baking in particular has been a top family activity, and swathes of people have started to bake their own bread. This led to flour shortages and a boost for smaller, local mills. It’s a trend I hope will continue going forward.
Bread is rather challenging for me. I love it, but due to my yeast intolerance, it really does not like me! And if you’ve ever looked at the ingredients of standard loaves found on the supermarket shelves, it’s a real concoction of refined grains, fats and chemicals, including emulsifiers which are particularly damaging to gut health (read this article to find out more about this). If you do check the ingredients list you’ll see that palm oil often pops up too. That’s not good for anyone! Or the environment.
Sourdough bread uses a much more traditional method of bread-making. No fats, chemicals or yeast needed. The main necessities are a healthy starter and time. This bread cannot be made in a rush.
I’ve made a number of attempts to make my own starter before – all have failed. I even managed to kill off one I’d bought from a bakery in the Lake District that sells portions of its 40 year old starter. They said it was hard to kill, but I managed it!
So as we went into lockdown, I decided to try again and vowed to really nuture a starter so we could have freshly baked bread at home, reducing the need to go out shopping. One of the difficulties in keeping a starter going is that I travel between the UK and Portugal a fair amount; staying in one place has definitely made a difference! Bert (yes I named my starter!) is now well-established and lives happily on the kitchen work top, happy to bubble away as long as he gets fed every day 🙂
I explain the process I followed in this video – my Facebook Live last Friday – and have written the method followed in the recipe below. Credit for this goes to thekitchn.com . There are lots of recipes out there and some a really complex, using bakers language that I just don’t understand! I’ve followed a few, but they all failed. This one is simple, doesn’t use up too much flour and worked. Three good reasons to follow it!
In the video I talk through the process with whole-wheat flour, but I’m actually creating a gluten-free version (as I didn’t need another Bert!). I’ll create a separate blog post about that another time. Basically because it failed. Big style. So I need to start again with that one…….
Sourdough bread gifts you with lots of nutritional benefits, not least it helps break down gluten in the flour, making it more digestible, plus introduces beneficial bacteria to your gut. There’s so much to cover, I’ll pop that in another blog post too. Plus I have a range of delicious sourdough recipes to share, not least a super easy sourdough bread but also pizza base (the next Facebook live) and sourdough crumpets! Maybe it’s because I haven’t been able to eat these things for so long but I really can’t get enough of it!
If you get the chance to try your own starter, do give it a go. It can be frustrating, but when it works, oh so satisfying! And if you do give it a go, don’t forget to let me know how you get on. Oh, if you wonder why I’m looking a bit orange in the video, it was a super hot day and I had the blinds down over the big patio doors – they’re bright yellow and the light makes me look like I’ve been eating too many carrots 😉
Simple sourdough starter
- Large jar with lid or medium-sized kilner jar
- 100 grams whole-wheat flour organic if possible
- 100 ml water filtered or spring
- Place the jar on kitchen scales and zero
- Measure out the flour and the water. Mix together well to form a smooth paste.
- Cover the jar with the lid but do not seal, just rest it on the top. This allows the air to circulate and enables the natural bacteria and yeast to get in (but nothing else!)
- Leave in a warm place in the kitchen for 24 hours. The ideal temperature is between 20-24 degrees. NB: I found leaving it at the back of the worktop underneath a cupboard light above worked as the temperature in my kitchen is often quite cool or too humid.
- It's unlikely anything much will have happened in your jar yet. Repeat the same process as day one. Leave in the same place covered.
- You may find a few bubbles have started to appear on top and your starter smells a little musty. When stirred, it might feel a little bubbly. This is all good. If it doesn't, don't worry, hopefully tomorrow you will see some action.
- Repeat the same process as day one (this is why you need a large jar as you're adding to it every day)
- By now you should have some action going on with bubbles on top and when you stir the mix. You may notice the starter had risen up a few hours after feeding yesterday but has settled down again now. That's good! It should start to smell more musty and slightly sour. But not off. You may have a little liquid on top. That's ok but is a sign that your starter is a bit weak. This can be caused by the temperature not being right, the flour might be a bit old or 'dead' or your water has chlorine in (hence why filtered or spring water is best). Stir it in and try to find a better place in the kitchen for it.
- Repeat the same process as day one. Yup you're getting a lot of starter now!
- Hopefully now you have lots of bubbles, your starter rose up high after being fed yesterday and it smells sour but healthy. If this is the case, you can actually use it now for making bread. You will also have a lot of starter! The discard can be used to make pizza base, crumpets etc so you can get baking. Or if it's too much and you're not ready to experiment then throw away half and repeat the feeding process as below.If your starter is not quite ready, then don't worry it just needs another day or so.
- Repeat the same process as day one.
- If your starter wasn't ready yesterday, hopefully its nice and perky today. Now you can use it to make bread or other recipes.
- From now on, you can keep your starter in the fridge and feed once a week. I prefer to leave mine out in the fear that I'll kill it off! I feed him every day, but use only 25g of flour and 25ml of water to keep the mix amount at a manageable level. The kitchen is warm at the moment, so the overhead cupboard light is not needed.