Sourdough Starter

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…

Sourdough Sponge

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!

Sponge Ready For Action

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:

Finished Sourdough Loaves

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!

21 thoughts on “Bread of the Day: Adventures with Sourdough…

  1. I’d love to try sourdough, and you say it goes well with marmite one of my favourite things! My wife has just started baking bread, we had a lovely granary loaf the other day. Hopefully more loaves to come!

    1. That bread looked great, though I was distracted by Lou Reed running through my head…

  2. Yes, the end result definitely looks a lot more appetising than the dough you started with! I too had my first encounter with Sourdough in San Francisco — I seem to remember that there are a few places near Pier 39 that serve various seafood / chilli dishes in a dish made of a hollowed-out sourdough loaf. Certainly saves on the washing-up if you have an edible bowl!

    1. That sounds familiar! And hey, you’re worried about how the glop looked – I had to smell it! Though it does become a lot sweeter as it gets ready to be used.

  3. How exciting although I’m not sure whether I would like to fall into a bowl of that mix ) You have inspired me Janet and I have to confess to making some granary rolls yesterday – out of practice but they were edible.

    1. Excellent! Glad to know I have helped encourage you to bake bread again, I bet the rolls were light years better than anything you could pick up in a supermarket!

    1. Ooh, yes, that has definitely convinced me to go for rye bread next…

  4. I’m not sure I could be well enough organised to make this bread. I’d forget the mix for a few days and only remember when I found it festering in the airing cupboard.

    Thank you for your supportive comment on my blog. I appreciate it a lot.


    1. Hi Esther. I have to admit to being a little disorganised on the feeding front myself – I’ve skipped a day here and there, but it still keeps bubbling away. And happy to be supportive, we all need a little of that occasionally!

  5. It looks so darned good! Reminds me of friendship bread and also reminds me I would love to have some fresh bread!

    1. Mmm, “friendship bread” sounds nice, though no idea what it is!!

  6. Wow – I read something lately on a blog about a lady doing something similar with her home cultured ‘fred’ made me laugh that she gave her culture a name – why not! Any name for yours?

    I hope you got my email re bere flour – happy to get you a bag and post down – !

    Happy bread eating – when I heard the M (marmite) word – your status only grew in my book – the girl likes bread/marmite AND plants – shes clearly brilliant!!


    1. Hi Fay! I did get your email – and replied! Just sent it again, and will post on your blog again too… Happy to bond with anyone on the M-word!!

  7. Yummy, it looks good! I made a cake from a yeast base a neighbor gave me. It sounds similar to how this bread starts. At the end you pass along a cake like bread and some of the yeast for them to start their own bread and pass along. I think this is the Friendship Bread that Tina mentioned above…

  8. This is a post I needed. I have not made a sourdough starter in years and keep thinking about doing it… so here it is, a reminder, and no more excuses.

    1. Good luck Diana! I have to admit that I’ve not fed my starter for two days, and am feeling a little as if I have let a child down… But apparently if I feed it again it will be OK!

  9. I’ve been wanting to try sour bread dough for ages. your method for beginning is different from the one I have which uses organic grapes to get the natural yeasts from the skins; it sounded even more complicated than your recipe. I made the Spelt rolls, though I had to adapt it a bit using walnuts instead of sunflower seeds. they were good but as you say very heavy, I think I’ll try using half spelt and half wheat next time – they do taste delicious though, thank you for posting the recipe for me.

    1. Good heavens, grape skins? Makes sense I suppose, though it does sound a little fiddly. So glad you gave the spelt rolls a go! Using walnuts sounds lovely – I make a walnut bread that I may post about some time, it has apricots in as well making it wonderfully moist. Half and half spelt and wholemeal makes a lovely bread, I sometimes use spelt in my standard seedy bread.

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