This rather unappetising glop is my sourdough starter. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of making bread from “wild” yeast. You read stories of people handing down their starter from generation to generation.
The idea is simple enough, provide the right conditions and wild yeast will flourish. You then use it in place of shop-bought yeast to make bread. It appeals to me both as a bit of a romantic and as someone attempting to embrace frugality. So a little over a week ago I stopped making excuses for not starting and combined a cup full of wholemeal flour with a cup or warm water, whisked vigorously, covered in clingfilm and consigned to the airing cupboard. Next day there were already signs of life, bubbles littering the surface. I added another cup each of wholemeal flour and warm water, and returned the – by now very smelly – glop to the dark warmth. Next day it was bubbling like one of those mud springs you see on documentaries about Yellowstone, so I transferred it to the relative cool of the kitchen, threw half away (in an empty frozen pea bag saved for the purpose) and added another cup of flour with a cup of cold water. After 5 days of the daily ritual of throwing half away and feeding with cold water and flour it had become sweeter smelling and was still very active. I decided to give baking with it a go…
You start the previous evening by creating another unappetising looking glop, a sourdough sponge. You take 500g flour (I used 50:50 wholemeal and rye) and mix it with 600ml warm water and a cup of your sourdough starter. You then leave it, covered in plastic, over night to bubble and ferment. More strange smells!
Next morning the sponge was full of bubbles, so I added 25g fine sea salt and 600g flour – I used strong white at this point – mixed it well into a soft sticky dough and kneaded until smooth. I formed the dough into a tight round and left it to rise, covered in plastic, until doubled in size. Then I shaped it into 3 loaves and, with dire warnings of how much this dough can sink ringing in my ears, supported the rounds with tea-towels like badly turbaned babies. I covered this collection of strangely cosseted balls with plastic and left them to rise – which they duly did, rather quickly in fact!
Then it was the usual thing of putting the oven on its highest setting, slashing the tops of the loaves and dusting with more flour, spraying with water and putting them in the top of the over on a preheated baking tray with a tray of steaming water below. All bread rises even more when you first put it in the oven, but this was like something from a sci-fi film! I turned the oven down after 10 minutes and cooked them for a further 20 minutes. They came out looking amazing:
The crust was wonderfully crunchy, the texture open and moist, and the taste distinctively tangy. It toasts very well, and marmite loves it, but it is definitely a savoury bread – I can’t imaging it with jam. Though having typed that may have to go and try… I also want to have a go at a 100% white sourdough, which is what I remember being rather addicted to on business trips to San Francisco, and probably a rye version as I’d love to try it with pastrami. I don’t think it will ever take the place of bread made with shop-bought yeast, as the taste isn’t always what you want, but I am looking forward to experimenting more. Watch this space!