June

How to: Make sourdough starter

The Slowpoke: MAKING SOURDOUGH STARTER

There’s a lot of beauty to be found in baking your own bread – combining something as simple as flour and water to create a fulfilling daily essential. Taking it a step further by combining those two simple ingredients to ferment with wild yeasts from the surrounding environment, resulting in a strong sourdough starter, captures more beauty still.

Someone who agrees wholeheartedly is Piero Pignatti Morano from Two Chaps, (catch our recent interview with him here). “I think that wild or real sourdough is the most attractive, elusive, alluring bread you can produce amongst the sourdough family – a bread that contains only prefermented flour and water that’s existed for a long enough period of time to have good strong characteristics of flavour and bacteria and yeast – and something that is alive and consumes and produces something different every day.”

That’s what Piero makes at his local Marrickville café, and it’s what he’s here to teach us this week, starting today with the essence of the bread itself, the sourdough starter from scratch.

“If you know a baker, or you know someone who’s baking at home, you can simply get some of their starter and that removes a little bit of this process. But it’s not very difficult to do yourself at all. It’s just a little time consuming in the beginning, as with any other fermentation process.”

The process, at it’s simplest, involves combining flour and water and allowing the wild yeasts from the air to naturally ferment the mixture over a period of time.

“There are a lot of different ways to do it – you can add dried fruit which is going to have extra yeast and extra sugar in it to stimulate the beginning. You can also use things like golden syrup or even sugar to really give it some pep to begin with. But you’ve got to be careful, these things need to be good they also need to be clean. We’re going to stick with flour and water.

“If you can, use a good flour, one that is unrefined and preferably organic, as fertilisers and pesticides can affect the activity and the energy in the flour. I always use a mix of white and wholewheat flour to get it started, just because the wholewheat flour contains all the bran. And filtered water is also not critical but it’s better to use if you can. Just to remove some of the chemicals.

“Different flours will absorb different amounts of water – for example, wholewheat will soak up more water than white – so you can dictate the level of hydration to a certain extent. In bread terms hydration percentage always refers to the percentage of water with regards to the quantity of flour. If the ratio we have used below of 100 percent hydration (100g flour and 100ml water) is just a wet slop for you and you can see that it’s going to be difficult for that to begin to get some structure, drop the percentage of hydration to 80 or 90 percent and see how that works. Use your own judgement in the process.”

The Slowpoke: MAKING SOURDOUGH STARTER The Slowpoke: MAKING SOURDOUGH STARTER

You’ll need:
100g flour
100ml filtered water
A plastic or glass container you can see into

Starting from scratch

Mix the flour and water in the glass container. Cover it with a cloth, tea towel or paper filter. It shouldn’t be airtight because it needs to be able to consume oxygen and also release carbon dioxide.

Mark on the glass or plastic the level of the mixture. Leave on your kitchen counter for 1-2 days. Keep an eye for any signs of activity – the process of feeding it over the next few days is really dependent on what sort of activity you’re getting out of it.

What you’re mostly looking for is some elevation or growth from the mark you left on the glass at the start. Bubbles are also a good sign.

After two days whether you’ve seen activity or haven’t, simply tip out approximately ¾ of it and give it the same feed again – 100g of flour and 100ml of water.

Leave it for another 2-3 days, looking for signs of activity again. You may get some, you may not (weather will also affect this, with colder months slowing the process). Just persist with it. It’ll be starting to develop, and those strains of yeast, which are there and are present, just need to become more active – and, so long as everything has been done correctly, time is the only thing that’s going to permit that.

If you’re not getting activity keep giving the same feed every couple of days – tip ¾ out and mix in 100g of flour and 100ml of water, continuing to observe.

Once you start getting activity it’s critical to maintain a steady feed and to observe how quickly it’s multiplying. You want it to get to the point where it will almost double in size, or at least by 50 percent. My starter will double over a period of 10 hours or so (a little under or over depending on the temperature outside).

In this next feed that follows some activity give it the same feed again – tip ¾ out and add 100g of flour and 100ml of water. Observe it at intervals – 5, 6, 7, 8 hours later, and see where it peaks. You can keep marking it every time you see it. When it stops increasing and it maxes out and starts to drop again you want to know roughly how long that took.

Getting it ready for baking

When you begin using your starter to bake you will ideally want to be it a little bit before it peaks, because that’s when it’s at its highest activity. When you feed it at that point it’s going to have the greatest ability to multiply again, which is the process you want when you start making the bread.

So now you’ll feed it again to get it ready for baking with. Note how long it took to peak last time and give it this feed that length of time before you want to bake your bread. So, say it took eight hours to peak, feed it eight hours before you want to bake.

For this pre-bake feed, tip out a portion so that 200g of the sourdough starter remains. Give it 300g of flour and 300g of water. Once it has grown to its peak, remove 250g to use. That’s the leaven for your bread recipe.

Keeping the starter alive

If you want to make a daily practice of baking bread, you’ll want to give your sourdough a consistent feed each time prior to baking.

Discard a certain portion of your starter leaving just 200g behind again, then feed it 300g of flour and 300ml of water. And then use again when it’s at its peak.

If you don’t want to use it the next day, continue to feed in smaller amounts (100g of flour and 100g of water) every couple of days, discarding a decent portion first.

Using leftover sourdough starter

Discarded sourdough starter can be used as the main ingredient to make crumpets! Simply take one cup ripe starter (or a little past) and add 1tsp sugar and 1tsp salt and 1tsp bicarb then pour it straight into an egg ring on a hot pan with some coconut oil.

The Slowpoke: MAKING SOURDOUGH STARTER The Slowpoke: MAKING SOURDOUGH STARTERInstructions: Piero Pignatti Morano

 

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