Like puppies at Christmas, sourdough starter deserves enduring love and care – the starter you made, bought or were gifted during the coronavirus lockdown will actually live on, in perpetuum. I fear that a significant number of those who developed a newfound love of home baking during the unprecedented Covid-19 restrictions will all too quickly revert to mass-produced pappy, low-nutrition loaves from supermarket shelves as people start returning to their hectic working lives. After all, good sourdough is all about the devotion of time and attention to detail.
There’s hope though. If you baked enough sourdough loaves during the lockdown, developed your process and timing, and savoured the unique flavour that’s only achievable to the artisan baker, you’ll be hooked. Once you’ve tasted the good stuff and appreciated the undeniable magic that is transforming flour, water and salt into open, tangy crumb, you’ll no doubt want to persist with your endeavours.
But, alas, my bet is that most of the sourdough cultures that thrived during the height of lockdown, will have now sadly perished; neglected, and simply starved to death.
So how might we be able to save these vulnerable lives? Read on, my flour dusted friends.
- Refrigerate – covered over to protect it from the cold, dehydrating air of the fridge, your sourdough starter will easily survive for a couple of weeks without feeding. The cold will slow down the activity of the culture, so if it’s been fed just before going into the fridge then it’ll have enough food to keep it going. It may develop a layer of hooch on the top, but you can just mix it all up and feed it over a couple of days at room temperature to get it back to peak performance.
- Freeze – the extreme cryogenic option. Pop some of your starter in a ziplock bag, seal it up, label it and chuck it in the freezer. I’ll admit that I’ve not yet tried to revive any of my own backup starter from the freezer yet, but in theory it’ll just need to be defrosted and then given a good feed, air and warmth (I’ll update this post in due course)
Dehydrate – take a little starter and spread it out very thinly on a sheet of greaseproof paper or a silicone mat. Leave it on a wire rack in a warm, airy environment until it has dried out completely. Once it’s brittle you can pop it into a labelled glass jar and store it for ages. This is an ideal option for transporting a starter.
- Share – keep sharing cuts of your starter with friends and colleagues with instructions on how to look after it (just like the traditional Amish Herman the German friendship cake https://hermanthegermanfriendshipcake.com/). This is the ultimate in offsite backup options – especially if your friends and family keep some in their freezer.
- Perfect – I’m convinced that once you’ve mastered a routine and timing which you can literally ‘work around’, it makes it so much easier to just keep baking! It’s of course sage to retain a backup starter using one or more of the above methods.
In an ideal world, we’ll return to a place where the deep knowledge and experience of baking at home is commonplace once again.
As always, do get in touch if you have any questions.
As promised, here’s the recipe I’m generally following to make sourdough loaves. It assumes that you have a dutch oven, but if you don’t, you can use a large cast iron cooking pot with a tight fitting lid.
The story begins with a sourdough starter. If you don’t already have your own, you can find my recipe here.
- 80g sourdough starter
- 580g strong white organic flour, plus extra for dusting
- 380g water
- 15g salt
- Rice flour for dusting
- Semolina for dusting
Equipment that will help:
- Digital scales
- Measuring jug
- Dough scraper – good for shaping and moving your dough
- Large bowl
- Shower cap/cling film/cloth
- Banneton – wicker basket for proving
- Greaseproof paper
- Lame, razor blade or bread knife
- Water mister/sprayer
- Dutch oven or cast iron pot
- Cooling rack
Sourdough is all about time. You can’t rush flavour.
- The night before you want to bake, combine 80g of your sourdough starter, 80g strong organic white flour and 80g water in a bowl or tupperware container, mix thoroughly, cover and leave at room temperature. This will be your sponge.
- The following morning, add 300g water to your sponge and very roughly mix in 500g strong organic white flour. Cover with a shower cap and leave for an hour to allow the flour to absorb the water. This stage is called the autolyse.
- Mix in 15g salt and knead the dough on a clean surface for about 10 minutes. It will hold its shape and become less sticky as the gluten develops.
- Shape your dough into a ball, lightly dust with flour, and place it in a bowl. Cover and leave it to rest for 1 hour.
- Remove the dough from the bowl, knock it back and reshape it into a ball by working the outer edges into the centre. Cover and leave it to rest at room temperature for a further hour.
- Knock the dough back and reshape a further two times, until it has spent a total of 4 hours fermenting.
- Dust your banneton or bowl liberally with rice flour, shape your dough for the last time, place it inside and cover with a shower cap or cloth. Leave your dough to prove for 4 hours.
- Preheat your oven to full temperature with your dutch oven or cast iron pot inside. I wait around 30 minutes for everything to heat up sufficiently.
- Carefully turn your dough out onto a piece of greaseproof paper dusted with semolina.
- Slash the top of your dough with a lame, razor blade or sharp bread knife.
- Very carefully place your dough inside your dutch oven and spritz with water.
- Bake for 10 minutes before turning the temperature down to 230 degrees centigrade and baking for a further 40 minutes.
- Carefully remove your bread and leave it to rest on a cooling rack.
- Admire and devour.
I find that a dutch oven creates a great environment for the bread to bake in the absence of a professional oven. The reality is that there are many, many variables in play when it comes to baking bread. Literally everything makes a difference, from the water, air and flour temperatures, to brand of flour and type of oven. For this reason, regular practice, keen observation and confident intuition are what truly makes great bread. The more you bake, the more you’ll learn and develop that all important feel for what’s going on with your dough.
Quite a few people have been asking me about Däve recently. This household pet that brings so much joy to my life isn’t a cat or a dog, it’s actually a natural yeast culture, cultivated right here in the Cotswolds. I made him by exposing an organic flour and water mix to the elements to collect the wild yeast spores that blow around on the wind. It really is as simple as that. The crossing of fingers helps a little too, but these dormant spores are even present in the flour itself.
Starters or leavens like this are beautiful things, as they’re unique to their surroundings in terms of their taste and behaviour. They’re also alive, and as such require a degree of husbandry. My sourdough bread is merely a combination of Däve, flour, salt and water. The most vital ingredient in good bread is without doubt, time. All bread used to be made with wild yeast, but mass produced commercial yeast is faster and much easier to store and control.
Now, I skip over the fact that our starter is called ‘Däve’, as I’m quite used to it now, but I must stress that it wasn’t my choice of name. Much akin to Boaty McBoatface and Brexit, be careful when asking children to make important decisions.
Fancy making your own starter? Just follow these basic instructions.
- organic flour of your choice (spelt, white, wholemeal, rye)
- Thoroughly mix together 50g of flour with 50ml of water in a bowl and cover it with a cloth or a shower cap. Leave it at room temperature for about 24 hours. (covering it will prevent a dry crust forming).
- Feed your starter with another 50g of flour and 50ml water, whisk thoroughly to incorporate plenty of air, cover and leave for another 24 hours.
- By this point you should see small air bubbles forming and notice an odour developing. Don’t be alarmed by what it smells like – it will change dramatically as your starter culture matures.
- Tip half of your starter away and feed it with another 50g flour and 50ml water, mixing well. Cover and leave for another 24 hours.
- Transfer your starter to a large glass jar or Tupperware pot. As your starter becomes more active it will froth up and expand, so make sure your receptacle isn’t too small… otherwise you may find yourself in this position:
- Feed your starter each day for a week, discarding half before whisking in another 50g flour and 50ml water.
- At this point you’re good to go.
- If you’re baking frequently, you’ll want to keep up this daily routine of tipping half away (or using it to make bread, pancakes, whatever) and then feeding your pet with a 50g/50ml flour and water mix, however you might want to pop it in the fridge (with the lid tightly secured) as this will slow the fermentation process down so that you only have to feed it once every week or so. You’ll save plenty of flour this way, but you’ll need a couple of days of feeding at room temperature to get it back up to speed. This is all about yeast farming, and to make really good bread you’ll want your culture to be really active and lively.
Remember that keeping your starter small (in volume) means that it’ll be easy to manage; the bigger the volume, the more flour it will need at feeding time.
I’ll write a further post covering my favourite bread recipe (at the moment), but please do make good use of your sourdough starter instead of dried yeast in whatever bready adventures you embark on.
Check out: https://foodfitforfelix.com/2018/12/18/sourdough-2-0
With everyone keenly penning their New Year resolutions, it’s inevitable that healthy eating is right up there in the top five. As ‘eating more fish’ always seems to feature, here’s a slightly less obvious recipe for packing in the omega-3 fatty acids.
There are a couple of variations on this dish; one is to take the natural, raw sashimi-style approach, and the other, akin to ceviche, is to include citrus juice to ‘cook’ the fish as per below.
- 400g Salmon, skinned and boned, diced into 1cm cubes
- 2 tsp Shallot, finely chopped
- 2 tsp Parsley, finely chopped
- 2 tsp Capers, finely chopped
- 2 tsp Gherkin, finely chopped
- Sprig of Dill
- Dash of Tobasco
- Dash of Worcestershire Sauce
- Juice of 1 Lemon
Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Leave it to stand for 10 minutes.
Garnish with Dill fronds and serve with triangles of granary toast.
You can also serve it as an elegant canapé in these lovely little croustardes.
You could also try it with Trout or other oily fish.
Happy New Year. Give it a go.