Comings and Goings

Sourdough, getting started

Introduction

Flour: I use unbleached baker’s flour from the supermarket. Choose something with a high protein content.

Baker’s percentage: proportion of ingredient in relation to flour (this is not the mathematical percentage).
For example, if you add 100g of rye flour to 1kg of white flour, then baker’s percentage of rye = 100/1000 x 100 = 10% (mathematical percentage would be 100 / (100 + 1000) x 100 = 9% approximately).

Hydration: baker’s percentage of water in the dough. Starter is normally 100% hydrated. That is, half water, half flour (by weight).

Starter (or mother starter): This is the starter kept in a jar, usually at 100% hydration.

Sponge (or baker’s starter or poolish): The sponge is the first stage of fermentation. It is also 100% hydrated, making it identical in composition to the starter.

If you want to make rectangular loaves, proofing baskets are good. I have two baskets (about 300mm long, 150mm wide and 70mm high at the centre). Use a bowl large enough to hold the dough and allow it to double in size. This dough a little wet (about 64% hydrated), which is somewhat sticky. I leave it in the mixing bowl, stretching and folding it with a soft plastic scraper. You can use wet hands if you prefer.

Total rise time is about 4 hours (summer) to about 8 hours (winter), depending on the room temperature. The trick is trying to judge when it has risen enough to get a good ‘bounce’ in the oven. Leave it too long and you will end up with a flat loaf. Getting it right takes a bit of practice. In this recipe I let the dough rise slowly overnight in the refrigerator then warm up for one or two hours in the morning (summertime).

Food covers: Aldi sells packets of plastic food covers which are really just coloured shower caps of various sizes. They are handy for covering bowls and proofing baskets.

Books

How to Make Bread, Emmanuel Hadjiandreou

How to Make Sourdough, Emmanuel Hadjiandreou

Making starter from scratch

Day 1: Mix 1 teaspoon flour and 1 teaspoon water in a small clear jar. Seal and let stand overnight.

Days 2, 3, 4 and 5: Add 1 teaspoon flour and 1 teaspoon water to the jar and mix. After a few days bubbles should start to appear. If unhappy with the bubbles, keep going for a few more days.

In a larger, lidded jar, say 300 – 400 mL, take about 15g of the mixture above, add 100g water, and mix thoroughly. Then mix in 100g flour. Cover and let ferment. This is your starter and you can keep it in the fridge once it has fermented.

The starter will keep in the fridge for several weeks. It will keep longer but will need to be fed before use. Feed your starter by pouring about half away and feed with equal weights of water and flour (about 30 – 50g of each). Don’t worry too much about lumps – they will disappear.

Making the sponge

Make the sponge by taking a few scoops of starter from the jar and add equal weights of water and flour. Eg to make 300g sponge:

  1. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons starter to a bowl (the quantity is not critical).
  2. Add 150g water, stir thoroughly
  3. Add 150g flour, mix reasonably thoroughly. Don’t worry about a few lumps.
  4. Cover with a clean shower cap (available from Aldi as re-usable food covers) and let stand on bench about 6 hours (might be quicker in the summer, slower in winter).
  5. Replenish (feed) your starter.

Tips

  1. Sourdough can be a slow process and an hour or so here and there doesn’t matter much. In winter I often let it rise in the oven (~ 30°C), just to speed things up a bit.
  2. You need to start the process about 24 hours before you want to eat the bread. If you leave it too late, a pinch or two of dried yeast in the final mix will speed things along considerably – but it won’t taste as good.
  3. If the starter is left in the fridge for some months, it will get a grey watery sludge on it. Pour the sludge and most of the starter down the sink, then feed it daily for a few days. It should come good.
  4. Keep a rescue kit – scoop out a tablespoon of good fresh starter and spread a thin layer on a sheet of baking paper. Place it in a cool oven to dry. When dry, peel off the dried starter and pulverise it in a mortar and pestle, and store the powder in a zip-lock bag in the freezer. To replenish: mix a teaspoon of the powder in a small jar with two teaspoons of water and one of flour. Let it stand overnight, and when you see bubbles forming, transfer it to a bigger jar and feed it.
  5. Experiment!
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