What with work commitments, and a general fear of the whole sourdough process, I have been putting this one off for a while, however, I committed myself to learning all I could from Paul Hollywood's 'Bread' series, and as there is a whole chapter of the book, and a whole episode of the series dedicated to Sourdough, I could avoid it no longer. I have to hold my hands up at the start and say not only have I never made sourdough, I've never tasted it, so I'm not sure yet what I have been missing all this time. I guess I am about to find out!
As making sourdough is a lengthy process, rather than lots of short disjointed posts, or one that hops and skips over the process, I decided to keep a short diary here day by day, to show you how my starter gets made and grows up to become a real loaf. And if you follow me on twitter, you will know that this has been one heck of a journey! I can promise you that this is a story of hard work, heartache, and some successes and failures... Enjoy!
The Diary of a Sourdough Starter
Day 4: Yesterday evening I checked Gizmo whilst I was in the kitchen, and noticed that after the growth during the previous day, the starter was starting to fall back in the jar. I decided that it had had a good two and a half days, and that it would be a good time to feed it for the first time. I opened both jars, and transferred the mixture all back into one bowl, gave it a quick stir, and then discarded half as per the instructions. I then fed the remainder with an equal quantity of fresh flour and water, and returned it this time back into one tub. Today I am concerned that I might have killed Gizmo... There are a few bubbles, but there has been no growth, and a separate layer of liquid has formed on the top of the starter? I don't think this is right. I'm going out later, and I think if there is still no change when I get home tonight, I might try and feed him again to see if I can resuscitate the growth, if not, I may be introducing you to Gizmo II tomorrow...
Day 6: We're back to the beginning of the process, Gizmo II is happy in his new jar, no growth yet, but I'm not expecting any until the end of day two really. There are a few little bubbles, and all is well with the world.
Day 8: Disaster, Gizmo II has split as well! I can't for the life of me figure out what I'm doing wrong, but it must be me as it's happened to both attempts. This one doesn't smell anywhere near as funky as the first however, so I'm going to stick with it, feed it, and hope it starts to move again.
Day 9: Had a little moan about sourdough starters on Twitter, and received an absolute barrage of replies. There are some amazing people out there, and they gave me some fabulous advice. Big shout out in particular to Joanna at Zeb Bakes who asked me a ton of questions, worked out what I was doing wrong, and emailed me the most amazing tips and advice. Here are a few bullet points of things I have learned today, I hope that they maybe will help someone else one day too...
- by creating a sourdough starter, we are aiming to create an environment for both yeast and lactobacilli to grow, which are the little bacterias that will eventually bring us bread.
- there is an additional bacteria that grows in the early days, which emits a large amount of gases that usually causes big bubbles and a lot of growth. The lactic acid that then forms in the lactobacilli however will then kill this off. After that, we are relying on the yeast to have formed and take the growth from there.
- using rye flour is a much better option for the starter than white flour, as the yeasts exist on the outside of the grain.
- when you 'feed' the starter with flour and water, you are literally feeding it. The yeast and lactobacilli 'eat' sugars from the fresh flour. As they do so, they also reproduce and so run out of food quicker. They produce gas and acid, and a pure form of alcohol, which is in the colourless watery layer when your starter splits. Basically, the split happens when it runs out of food.
- to avoid this, the starter should be fed at least every day, and in some cases up to every 4 hours. The warmer the temperature, the more active the yeasts are, and therefore the more often it will need to be fed.Here lies my problem, my kitchen is warm, and the Hollywood method only states to feed the starter every 2-3 days. Basically, I have been starving the Gizmos of food! I've been told to discard all by 30g, re-feed it a couple of times a day, and it should come back to life...
Day 11: Success!!! I've been feeding Gizmo II twice a day, and finally I have a starter that seems to be behaving itself. The bubbles are smaller and more even, the starter has doubled in size, and responds well to being fed. And it doesn't smell bad at all, just yeasty, like it's supposed to. Tomorrow, I'm going to make my first ever sourdough loaf, and I couldn't be more relieved that this part of the process is finally over!!!
To summarise, the next time I make a sourdough starter, I will be doing the following;
- Use 150g organic rye flour and 175ml warm water (no fruit)
- Feed the starter daily, or twice a day if the weather is warmer
- Discard all but 50g of the starter each time it is fed, and feed with 100g rye flour and 125ml warm water
- If not using regularly, keep in the fridge and feed weekly. Return to room temperature however before using in a loaf.
I hope that this blog post has entertained you, and more importantly, I hope that by reading about my trials and traumas I can help you avoid them yourself! Come back soon to find out how the loaf comes out...