The staff of life. Bread connects every human, transcending continents, countries, creeds and clans. The COVID-19 outbreak appears to have encouraged a resurgence in home baking (and a run on flour amongst other basic staples). There are many different types of bread, but I’m obsessed with classic sourdough bread – the old way of baking using a living wild yeast starter, before dried yeasts were invented and mass production led us astray.
I’ll try to summarise everything you’ll need to know about creating a starter, looking after it and baking sourdough bread – please do reach out to me via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or email if you have any questions or queries.
To start, you’ll need a starter (!)
Making your very own unique starter from scratch is really straight forward and it’s something you can be really proud of – everything you need to know is right here: https://foodfitforfelix.com/2018/02/21/sourdough-starter/
I’ve been handing out cuts of my sourdough starter, Däve, to anyone who’s local enough to collect him from the wall outside.
What to do if you’re gifted a live starter?
First of all, you’ll probably want to find him/her a new home (and think of a name for your new lockdown companion!). A 600ml jar with a lid is ideal for looking after your starter as it provides enough space for it to grow if you’re keeping it around 100g.
Next you’ll want to feed/refresh it. If you’ve only been given a small amount, you might want to bulk it up in size, but generally you’ll halve the starter (discarding or baking with half) and feeding the other half with a 50/50 mix of flour and water.
Bread flour can be tricky to get hold of at the moment, and you’ll need enough to keep your starter alive, so here’s some tips for:
Reducing flour consumption
- Refrigeration: Popping it into the fridge in a sealed container will slow down the fermentation process so you can get away with feeding it once every couple of weeks (although you’ll need to refresh it a few times to get it back up to strength before you can bake with it again)
- Freezing: believe it or not, you can freeze a portion of your starter in a ziplock bag and keep it in suspended animation – defrosting and feeding at some point in the future.
- Dehydration: spread a little starter out on a piece of greaseproof paper (very thinly) and leave it on a rack to try out completely – you’ll be able to store your precious culture in a jam jar and rehydrate it when you can get hold of flour again.
- Keep your starter small!
My preferred process for baking sourdough can be found here: https://foodfitforfelix.com/2018/12/18/sourdough-2-0/ although I’ve more recently been baking my loaves for a total of 50 minutes rather than an hour, and I no longer use semolina as it becomes a little hard after baking. I’ve also decided that I prefer the flavour from wholegrain or malted flour rather than white rye; the choice of flour is yours (as long as it’s strong flour) – you’ll no doubt want to start experimenting with different kinds of flour once you’ve perfected your baking process.
Don’t overlook freezing – just slice your freshly baked bread, wrap it up and freeze it. You can toast slices directly from the freezer.
Unlike wine, this does actually happen in our house. Sourdough bread lasts much longer than processed bread. If you have some leftover which has started to go stale (but not mouldy) then you can make a panzanella salad (google it), croutons for soup or perhaps the gold dust that is pangrattato – https://foodfitforfelix.com/2019/01/13/pangrattato/
If you can (and ensuring social distancing rules are respected), share! Starters, flours, fresh bread, tips, ideas, bannetons, recipes, hope and joy.