Making sourdough is a totally natural experience from beginning to end and with this fact in mind, the variations in taste will reflect your own immediate environment. Just like with cheese making and any other natural ferments, moulds and yeasts that inhabit the food preparation area will all be reflected in the sourdough starter that you make.
Sourdough bread needs a starter to ferment. To make a starter all you need to do is to add equal amounts of water with flour and leave it in a warm spot to ferment. It’s as simple as that. However, there are factors that can influence this process and these are as follows:
- Freshly ground organic flour will give optimum results.
- Water should be as pure as possible. Town water will have chemicals such as chlorine that can inhibit the life forces that you are trying to capture.
- Temperature is an influence but is not important. The warmer the conditions are, the quicker the yeasts will grow and multiply. Cooler temperatures will retard but not stop the process. (You can make sourdough in the fridge for instance.)
- The mixture should be fluid enough for the yeasts to grow and thrive. An improvement to this simple mixture would be to add a little sour whey to introduce some bacteria and enzymes to give it a start. This will help to make a more effective starter culture.
My own sourdough starter mixture consists of three ingredients:
- Unbleached flour
- Filtered water
- And perhaps a little water kefir
- Mix the ingredients together into a thin cream consistency adjusting the liquids as needed and place in a bowl with a tea towel or some open-weave cloth to keep any insects out but still have contact with the air.
- Stir daily and it should be ready in about three days in the summer and about five days in the cooler weather. On stirring you will soon see some little bubbles and frothing with a faint aroma that will come from the mixture. The starter can then be used when it’s ready.
When storing a newly made starter it is best to add some flour to feed the organisms to stay happy for at least 6 weeks.
Whenever a starter has been sitting in the fridge for over six weeks, it’s best to refresh the starter a day or so before bread-making day. Simply add some fresh flour and water and leave out of the fridge overnight. This will give all those hungry little organisms the fresh food they are starving for so they can go on doing the job they are supposed to do.
There are many other recipes that will give you a sourdough starter such as fermented apple juice mixed with flour, or by using mashed potato. These different starter cultures might make a slight change in taste in the sourdough bread, but after using your starter for a while, the yeasts and other micro-organisms that are in the air in your kitchen will alter its characteristics back to your own environment. Isn’t it wonderful to experience the natural forces at work?
Oh, one more thing about starters, and it makes me cringe when I hear of a starter that has been passed down for many generations! It is nothing special, believe me. It just shows that some people have been making sourdough bread for generations, but the starter is not precious at all. I would easily make another starter if I had an accident with mine and lost it.
This is the preparation for making the sourdough bread and it is also the first rising.
The consistency of a sponge is in between a dough and a batter, and the yeasts will have a better chance to work in a more liquid environment.
The second rising can only occur by the offgassing of the organisms during the feeding process. You will be feeding the organisms in the sponge by adding more flour to turn it into a dough ready for the second rising in the bread tins.
- Start with a large bowl and place some starter culture in it. (Quarter to half a cup is ample.)
- Add some water to dissolve it and then add the flour, some salt, and any other ingredients that you might care to add. (See suggestions below.)
- It is very difficult to give measurements as different types of flour will absorb differing amounts of water. As a rule of thumb, 500 gram of flour will make one small loaf of sourdough bread. It takes 4 cups to make up 500 grams of flour, so use three cups of flour to mix up the sponge and reserve the fourth cup to knead the sponge into a dough the next day.
After mixing the water into the flour, give the bowl a shake and see if the whole lot wobbles. This is called the wobble test. If it doesn’t wobble, add more water to make it more like a soft sponge. As you can see this is very technical!
There is so much you can add to your bread to give it extra taste, texture and nutritional content. I always feel it’s important for my daily bread to be the staff-of-life bread, just like bread used to be. Value adding as suggested below will truly make your sourdough the best it can be.
- Sprouted grains such as buckwheat, rye and wheat
- Flaxseed oil
- Sunflower seed
- Pumpkin seed
I recommend adding carob powder – not only does it make it look dark like a rye bread, but it influences the texture and the softness of your loaf.
Anything else you wish to add is up to you. I often grind some linseed in a coffee grinder and throw in some whole seed as well. This gives the dual action of acting as a cleanser of the intestinal tract and giving you the essential fatty acids from the ground linseed. If you have ever had a close look at a linseed you will notice a round end and a pointy end. You may also have noticed that the seed comes out the same way it goes in. Now can you imagine the pointy ends of the linseed acting like little shovels picking at all the accumulated gunk built up over the years.
I also use sweet whey instead of water if I have been making cheese. Not only is there more nutritional content but it turns out a stronger bread with the extra proteins found in the whey. If you would like to add other types of flour into the bread mix you will need to keep in mind that the loaf will turn out a lot denser and heavier. Rye and barley flour will have less gluten than wheat, and other grains will have none. I suggest you try making sourdough with wheat first before attempting to use other grains. Oh, and don’t forget to add some salt.
The next morning add enough flour in the bowl to turn the sponge into a dough. Remember this extra flour will be food for all the microorganisms that have been multiplying in the growing sponge overnight. The rising process will now be much quicker, and this second rising will only take a few hours.
Butter your bread tins generously for a nice crusty loaf and take enough dough to ¾ fill a tin. Knead, adding flour as required to keep the dough from sticking to the bench. Take care not to add too much flour or the result will be a dry and boring bread. Aim for flour saturation, i.e. add just enough to prevent the dough from sticking to the bench, and you will soon be able to knead the dough without adding more. Keep the bench and your hands clean so you can gauge when you get to that saturation point. I find that twelve kneadings of the dough without having to add flour to prevent it from sticking is a good indication the dough is ready for the second rising. Any more flour added after this will result in a dry bread that is not very interesting to eat and only toasting will save it.
Place the kneaded dough in the bread tins two to four centimetres from the top of the tin. This should be enough to give a nice rounded top after the bread has risen. Be careful not to underfill or overfill the bread tins as a small loaf will give you very short slices and get lost in the toaster, and if too much dough is placed in the pan, there will be a messy overflow with the rising process. Allow the bread tins to sit undisturbed with a tea towel over them until the loaves have risen enough to give them a slightly rounded top. This will take a few hours in hot weather and the best part of the day in cold weather. I have found from experience that sitting the loaves in the hot summer sun will rise them too high and the gluten will have limited stretch left due to the fermentation. This can create a huge hole in the centre of the bread as the gluten cant stretch as much anymore.
Have a pre-heated oven ready at 210ºC. Take the tins to the oven taking care not to bump them as they can collapse. Bake for 45-50 minutes and the bread will look done and have that hollow sound when tapped on the bottom. The sides should be firm to the touch and not feel doughy when pressed and the colour should be just coming onto a golden brown.
N.B. Use only the smaller size bread pans as the larger ones tend to undercook the bread inside. Sourdough is denser than conventional bread due to the breaking down of the gluten.
The bread you make will be unlike any other, as the organisms in your kitchen environment are unique to your surroundings!
- Two cups of white high gluten flour (bread baking flour)
- Any spices of your choice (Moroccan spice works well)
- 3 eggs
- 2 dessert spoons liquid coconut oil
- ¼ cup runny sourdough starter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- In the evening place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix into a dough
- The next morning add more flour if needed and around lunch time add some tapioca flour to achieve the right firmness in the dough to roll out into wraps
- Have a medium hot dry frying pan ready and cook quickly on both sides
- Place a large lid over the wraps as they come out of the pan to keep the moisture in while they cool down. The dough will keep in the fridge for around 6 weeks. Just take off a small bit of dough to roll out and bake into a wrap