Sourdough starter
Sourdough starter before the yeast starts to multiply. I like to mark on where it started, so I can see it grow!
I love making sourdough because it brings a real joy and satisfaction to my creative inner soul that I can conjure, from just three basic ingredients, the most tasty and (outwardly, at least) mysterious of breads to make. And, besides, it tastes fantastic and looks like a dream!

Over this and my next blog, I'm going to take you through the steps to making your first stunning sourdough loaf. There's a video coming too, which will need a little more time, but I'll come back and post the link in here as soon as it's done. 

It takes time and nurturing to make a great sourdough, and if you want to get sexy results too, just a little bit of equipment. Today I'm going to kick off with making a starter, and next time I'll post about how to turn your starter into a loaf that will have your friends and family cooing in admiration. 

The alchemy starts with just flour, water and a sugar source, and, of course, something to store it in. I use a Kilner jar, but any tub, container or jar with a sealable lid will do, so long as you keep in mind that the mixture is going to grow. When you make a starter, you are breeding a colony of yeast, and the breeding is rapid and vigorous, given the right conditions. It's the happily multiplying yeast that you need to make your loaf - you're about to snatch minute amounts almost out of thin air, and turn it into a roiling, belching maelstrom of flavoursome activity.

 Let's kick off with some great flour. For me, it's got to be organic and stone ground so I know there's loads of natural goodness in there (more of that in a future post) and no added blurgh! I use Stoates but, honestly, any strong flour from the shops will be great to get you underway. I've always used white, but wholemeal will do the job just as brilliantly. Use about 500g and mix with 360g of water. I always weigh my water (1g = 1ml) which gives better consistency than using a measuring jug. Finally you’ll need to provide some sugar to inject some pace into those breeding spores. I use 5 grapes cut in half so that the yeast can feed on them and
they're easy to fish out when the action kicks off. 

Mix those three things (that's all there is to it) together in a bowl and pour your thick but wet mix into your container, making sure there's room for it to grow at least 4-fold, then seal and leave in a cupboard. I like to mark how high in the jar my starter is with a felt tip, so I can watch how vigorously it's grown.

After a day or so, you'll see the mix has grown (if it's a cold kitchen, it could take longer than this) and when you lift the lid you'll smell a definite change. I always think of pear drops when I smell mine, but others say vinegar, citrus, etc. that is the smell of your yeast  colony's gas! 

For the best results, this mix needs to be cultured and 'matured' (in yeast generations, great great grandma was born and died yesterday) to deliver a wonderful consistency. To do this, remove and dispose of half the mix and the grape halves - fresh flour will be enough to sustain your colony from now on - and add another 250g of flour and 180g water and leave once more for another 24hrs or so. You can use the active starter now, or repeat this 'feeding' once
or twice more before actually using it so that you have a consistent, mature and dynamic mix. Keep checking that smell, can you sense it's character changing, stabilising? Are you picking up the delicious smell of sourdough?

I find the most joyous outcomes result from using the starter at full vigour. This will be when your mix has risen significantly, has the consistency of thick pancake batter and is very, very bubbly. It should ooze out of the jar like white magma when you come to use it and not have started to sink back down again. If it has begun to sink, just remove half the mix and replace with 250g/180g flour/water, mix thoroughly and give it 24 hours

You are now more than ready to bake, so I'll cover that next time. Just a quick note on storage before I finish: professional bakers use so much starter that they leave it at room temperature and feed it every day, which you can do too. But, even as a passionate home baker, I find I'm only making sourdough once a fortnight or so, so my starter lives in the fridge, where it can survive unfed for a couple of weeks. Before using it again it does need to come up to room
temperature and go through a couple of feed cycles, so for a Saturday loaf your colony needs to be out of the fridge Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. I also advise tipping the whole mix into a bowl now and again so the storage jar can be thoroughly cleaned.

Until next time, have fun growing yeast!