Oh, what a lazy Boxing Day I had yesterday.  The mister spent his day working on the computers around the house (after 7 years, I don’t ask what he’s doing anymore, I just let him get on with it and stay out of his way), I spent the day reading and napping with the Wondermutt.  So, now I feel recovered from the cooking and baking (not to mention eating) marathon that was Christmas and am ready to face writing the two-parter that is sourdough bread. 

Why write this recipe now?  Well, hopefully, you have a little time off this week between Christmas and New Year – time in which you can think about starting a new hobby!  And this one is incredibly gratifying – there is nothing like making your own bread.  Nothing like pulling a gorgeous loaf out of a hot oven and knowing that you made it.  Nothing like cutting through the crusty outside to the soft, springy inside and thinking that it tastes as good as anything you’ve gotten from a bakery.

Just remember – like all things, it takes practice.  You’ll make some wonky loaves.  Some that are a little dry.  Some that don’t have the crust you want.  But, hey, it’s flour, water and salt – it’s not a huge capital investment.  Give it time and enjoy the process.

The Starter

  • About 100 g bread flour that is half whole grain, half white
  • Roughly 1 kg bread flour to feed it
  • warm bottled water (nuke it in the microwave to body temperature)

In a medium bowl, mix the 100 g of flour with just enough water to give it the consistency of cake batter.  Do make sure you start it with a 50/50 white to whole grain split so as to give the wild yeasts something good to eat at the start.  Stir it well to make sure you don’t have any lumps – and walk around the room while you’re stirring.  I don’t know if it makes any difference in the amount of yeast you incorporate, but I like to think that it can only help.  Once your mixture is smooth, cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit in a nice warm room for around a day.  You should start to see tiny bubbles within the first couple of hours – that means that fermentation has started and you’re on your way!

The following day, add another 100 g flour (you can start to use only regular white bread flour now that you’ve given your yeasts a good start) and add more water to keep the cake-batter consistency.  At this point, you don’t have to warm the water, it can be room temperature.  Again, stir well and let it sit for another day.  It will start to have an aroma to it, but because it’s so early in the fermentation process, it won’t be that rich, yeasty smell – it’ll be a sharper, more acrid smell. 

Now you start the feeding process.  For the next week to 10 days, you need to feed your starter everyday by removing slightly less than one cup of the starter and add 100 g fresh flour and enough water to maintain the correct consistency.  The smell will continue to develop as the starter matures.  The consistency will also change from a smooth cake batter to something a little more … well … gloopy is the best word I can think of.  You’ll notice that it’ll feel a bit stretchy when you go to scoop – that’s good!  It shows you that it’s a living thing.

During this week, you should keep your starter out on the counter, letting it stay at a nice comfortable room temperature.  Once you start to use it to make bread, you may need to change the way you store it.  If you find yourself baking every other day or so, then continue to keep the starter at room temperature.  If you’re like me and need to make bread only twice a week, then you can slow down the fermentation process and keep the starter in the refrigerator, going no longer than four days between feedings.

One last note:  every sourdough bread tastes different because it’s going to use the yeasts that are particular to that area — it really is the most basic example of terroir there is.  Sourdough from San Francisco is going to taste different to sourdough from Atlanta which is going to taste different to sourdough from Washington, DC which will taste different to mine in London.  So, when you finally make your loaf, don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t taste just like that amazing bread you had at Fisherman’s Wharf.  Keep developing your starter and you’ll come up with your own tasty loaf that no one else can duplicate.

Oh.  And don’t forget to name your starter.  It is a living thing after all – you have to feed it and take care of it. 

Meet my starter, Reginald.