Every sourdough bakery across the land houses a bucket of gently bubbling, slowly fermenting batter made from flour and water. Some bakers call it a culture because much like yoghurt it contains friendly bacteria. I’ve also heard it referred to as sourdough mother or a starter because each and every new loaf is made using some of the original ongoing mix. Whatever you decide to call it, this simple mix is the baker’s supply of fresh wild yeasts. Adding more flour and water every day keeps these yeasts healthy and happy and it also means that the baker never runs out of culture. Bread leavened with a natural culture like this has been made for thousands of years.
Making sourdough involves a series of six or seven short processes with one or two hour interludes. This morning I fed my mother at 9am and again at 11am before going to work, then I left it warming in the sun on a south-facing window ledge. After my shift I checked the starter; it had become bubbly, giving off a sweet fermenting smell.
I deemed the starter sufficiently active to make bread with, so I put 100g, along with 500g of bread flour, 300g of lukewarm water and 1tsp of salt into the food processor for three minutes, using the dough hook attachment. Alternatively this could be done by hand, mixed in a bowl then kneaded on a work surface. The resulting dough goes into an oiled bowl with clingfilm over the top to keep in the moisture. At 5.30 I put the bowl near the radiator, then I went for a climb.
I got back from the climbing centre aching all over and excited to see how much my dough had risen. I am always slightly awed by the process, after all the only ingredients are flour water and salt. The stringy bits are where the gluten molecules have joined together to form long chains. This network of stretchy protein is then slowly aerated by carbon dioxide; produced as a byproduct when yeasts convert starch into sugar to feed on.
The dough gets stretched over a wiped, oiled table which both stretches the gluten chains and, when carefully folded up again, aerates the dough. Dad stretches each batch of dough twice at Tracebridge Sourdough, but tonight I only had time for the once.
Stretching the dough
The dough is folded up and then shaped into a boule as gently as possible; it is important not to knead the dough at this stage. Sourdough is less robust and springy than packet yeasted bread which means that it needs some tlc. At 10pm the boule was ready to go into my swanky silicone bread tin for an hour’s final prove under some oiled cling film. At 11pm I removed the cling and put the dough into an oven preheated to 200 celcius for 40 minutes.
The finished loaf
When I peeped through the oven door I found that my dough had grown and developed a beautiful golden crust. It is definitely a long process, but results like this make it worth while!