The Sourdough Starter Guide
There is a great deal of mystery surrounding the hallowed sourdough. Many pro-bakers will guard their secret recipes with their lives! I’m here to take some of the mystery out of making your own starter from scratch. No magic, no mystery, all you’ll need are some basic ingredients and some patience. Making a sourdough starter is the first and biggest hurdle to being able to produce the perfect sourdough bread. Once you have a good starter it’s fairly easy to maintain. Think of it like a pet; it’s alive but if you don’t feed it, pretty soon it will die. I’ve known people will take their sourdough on holiday with them, even their honeymoon (I’m not joking!) rather than letting the ferment die! So I say it’s like a pet but maybe it’s more like a monster, a little Frankenstein, with great intention you create this thing but it ends up taking over your life and you keep having to go find food for it!
Sourdough Starter Recipe: (Sourdough Ferment)
Step 1 – Creating a Monster!
Note: I strongly recommend using only the finest quality organic ingredients and in the case of the honey particularly I suggest finding local produce. When it comes to water; I say the stuff out of the tap is fine if it doesn’t stink of chlorine. I recommend you weigh the ingredients (including the water) accurately, get away from using cups as a measure.
50g Spelt Flour
150g Strong White Flour
Mix all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl so they are well combined, slide the whole bowl into a plastic carrier bag and tie the handles together to loosely seal it up.
That’s it for now; put it in a warm place (around 30°C) to allow the sourdough yeast to develop. The warmer it is the faster the live yeast develops, so depending on the temperature, leave it for a day and a half or two days to ferment.
You’ll know you’re ready to move on to step 2 when you open up the bag and the whole thing has got funky. It should be full of bubbles and smell really alcoholic. The monster is born and it needs feeding!
Step 2 – Feeding the Monster
30g Spelt flour
270g Strong White Flour
250g Warm Water
Combine the flours and then add the flour and water to the ferment and mix it all together thoroughly.
Chuck it back in its bag and back in it’s favorite warm spot for another 24 hours to digest. When you return to the bowl your ferment should have grown a bit and smell familiarly sweet and alcoholic. Your little monster is all grown up!
Step 3 – Taming the beast!
200g Strong White Flour
200g Warm Water
By now you will have nearly 1kg of ferment, this is the kind of volume that could fast take over your life or at least your refrigerator! Divide and conquer. Weigh out 200g and ditch the rest. If you have friends who are into making bread you could make a couple of extra batches of starter otherwise bin it – it’s harsh but fair.
Take the 200g of ferment, containing the live culture, and add the flour and water. Mix it up well and this time, empty it all into a large glass jar. The jar should be of a size that the ferment doesn’t quite fill it half full. On the outside of the jar mark the top of the ferment with a line and note the time and date with a marker pen. With the monster safely trapped inside the jar it’s now easy to see how much it’s grown and when it needs feeding. Just remember not to screw the lid on tight; it needs to breath!
Set the jar in its usual warm spot and let it sit there until it has grown by around 50%. From now on we’ll be thinking more in terms of volume and rate of expansion rather than time but this will probably take between 6 and 12 hours.
Stage 4 – The Mature Monster
By now the live culture in the starter has spread throughout the mixture and the whole of the ferment is now living. It’s time to slow things down a bit by putting the jar in the fridge, this is known as retardation. Slowing the maturation of the ferment will allow for a more developed flavor and will also let you stop to catch your breath in between baking sessions! Retardation is a trick often used in various stages of bread making to allow flavor to develop.