I remember when I first tried sourdough. I happened upon it at a farmers market, with my girlfriend at the time, and bought a large loaf. I couldn’t tell you what made us decide to buy it; perhaps the recommendation of the stall-holder, perhaps it just looked delicious. But I remember toasting a slice, slathering it with butter and Marmite (a fairly typical litmus test for me), and being completely blown away by the fullness of its flavour, and the chewy, firm texture. I also remember that we consistently failed to get to the market in time to pick up a sourdough loaf, before they sold out, in the months that followed. I blame shift work and a lifestyle it would not be entirely wise to describe in any detail in the public domain.
Though it made a lasting impression, it was a while before it cropped up on my radar again, and only relatively recently has it made anything other than an occasional, rare appearance on my menu. But when I realised that it was not only possible, but enjoyable, to bake my own loaves, it wasn’t long before the notion of making a sourdough loaf began to seem really rather appealing.
Not that I had the first clue about how to go about doing such a thing. I was fairly sure it involved a fair amount of floury alchemy, and probably a ritual sacrifice of some kind. Google filled in some of the detail, but – once again – it was Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf that provided me with a method I could trust.
For those that have gone before…
Before I get into any detail about the start of my starter, I propose a moment’s silent reflection. You see, this is not my first sourdough starter. No. I got Dan’s book for Christmas this year, and with giddy, childlike, excitement, I began – almost immediately (or rather, almost immediately after I regained the ability to walk) – to make a starter following his method. On Day 5, on the eve of having a usable natural leaven, a terrible fate befell my new-found effervescent friend. My error was doubting the necessity to remove a whole 75% of the starter before refreshing (adding fresh flour and water. Incidentally, how many Hail Marys is it for doubting the Word of Mr. Lepard?). Needless to say, the jar overflowed with lively leaven, and the resultant mess necessitated a wipe-down, to appease the kitchen overlord. It was then, while I pontificated on the wonders of fermentation, that my jar slipped from my hands, and landed on its corner on the draining board, shattering utterly, and rendering the still-so-young starter dangerously shard-infested and, to all intents and purposes, unusable.
I’m not afraid to tell you I shed a small tear that day, but not before I shouted some things, rather loudly, of which I am ashamed. In front my mother and everything (surely more Hail Marys).
So: now my period of mourning is over, I begin again, determined to succeed, and with a new-found fear of draining boards.
Much has been written, said, argued, counter-argued, counter-counter-argued, and generally fussed, about how one begins a sourdough starter. And, indeed, how nature takes care of its side of the bargain. Yeast from the air, yeast from the flour, bacteria from the white mould occurring on a white grape, the list is seemingly endless. Even in the scant few months I’ve taken an interest, I’ve encountered more opinions than I can count about the process. All I know is that, on my first, prematurely ended, attempt, my starter was bubbling like a badman on day 5, with relatively little effort. So I shall be changing nothing about Dan’s method. Well, besides a crash mat or two underneath my accursed, clumsy mitts.
The ingredients on Day 1 are:
- 2 rounded teaspoons of organic rye flour
- 2 rounded teaspoons of organic strong white four
- 2 rounded teaspoons of raisins or currants
- 2 teaspoons of low-fat organic natural yoghurt
I placed the dry ingredients into a Kilner jar (though any jar/container will do), and added the yoghurt.
At this point, I did something not mentioned in Dan’s method: I boiled some water, and allowed it to cool down to the specified 20°C, in order to boil off any chlorine from the water. This may not be necessary, but having read about it elsewhere, it seemed a sensible precaution.
Once the water (50g/ml) was at regulation temperature, I stirred it into the other ingredients, reasonably vigorously (so as to allow plenty of air into the mix), and then closed the lid.
Say hello to starter: the sequel!
More natural leaven news tomorrow. Do try and think about other things. I know it’s hard, but we all have lives to lead.
Away with you!