To me, Sourdough is the Queen of breads! When I go to a cafe for breakfast they may offer bread (boring) OR Sourdough! What is it about making bread? Since I haven’t had any real success, not even with a bread maker (now I am officially embarrassed) I have always felt in awe of people who can just whip up a loaf over their morning coffee.
I actually feel fear when I think about attempting bread making - therefore hello procrastination! And so I don’t really practice at all. I justify not making it by thinking… Really! Why would I want to waste my time making bread when I can just go and buy it for a few dollars?After all it is a basic, like milk, and I have no Jersey cows eating daisy’s out the back do I! But then there is the little voice in my head saying… Don’t be silly, wouldn’t it be great to be able to make your own crusty bread! What a sense of accomplishment when I take the loaf out of the oven in all it’s goldeness and drum it with my fingers hearing that hollow sound. Hmm yes well… So when I saw a notice at my local artisan bakehouse Three Loaves I thought this could be it!
Off I march to two hours of Sourdough making. Because our class is short, our lovely teacher Nancy, had already prepared the dough and by the time I arrived to the bakehouse, the plump dough’s were already lined up, sitting in their little warm ‘Couche’ clothes, like sleeping babies.
At this point, Nancy took us back to the beginning, showing us how to start the ‘Starter Culture.’ She explained that Sourdough is not ‘loaf’ as such, but rather a process where you use a natural leaven to make the loaf ’chewy’ and ’sour’ in taste. Yum! Basically Sourdough starts with the natural starter culture, plus flour, water and salt. Sounds easy doesn’t it! The difficult part I found was getting my head around the fact that if you use different flours or add different flavours to the dough, you have to predict and adjust measurements accordingly. Panic sets in! So much of it is about the ‘feel’ and that aspect is difficult to explain to a novice like me.
Rather than using yeast, you make a Starter Culture or a leavening agent. This is the stuff that makes the bread sour and it has a lot of good bacteria in it which is great for the digestive system. This Starter Culture is made from the natural bacteria in the air breaking down the enzymes in the flour. Therefore you get the air bubbles and the sour smell in the mixture which is perfect for Sourdough. Now luckily, Nancy gave us some Starter Culture that she has made, because it takes 2-3 week to get this stuff happening! Nancy says you need look after it like a baby, feeding it every day when you want to use it (usually 2-3 days before you want to make Sourdough,) and when you are not making bread, just store it in a covered container in the fridge.
Below are the steps with some good advice from Nancy, on the Starter Culture (this is relevant to North Queensland Summer Temperatures)
You have to plan ahead when making Sourdough – 3 days before you want to make it, feed say 100g of Starter Culture each morning with 50g of flour and 50g of water (therefore half the amount of culture and split the flour and water in these amounts and add this into the Starter Culture.) If you have say 200g of Starter Culture just do the same ratio i.e. 100g of flour and 100g of water.
When you are not making Sourdough - Hibernate the Starter Culture in the fridge and feed it just weekly, using the above ratios of flour and water.
Nancy has given us some great tips for mixing the starter:
- add good quality bakers flour and pure water directly into jar and use a lid
- gently fold (don’t overmix)
- be very accurate with your measurements
Some good signs in your Starter are:
- it should have air bubbles (see picture above) and it should rise to double in height
- Different environments cause different lengths of time but in a 24 degree temperature rising may take 4-6 hours
- when it doubles then falls again, the Starter is getting hungry and needs feeding
- Use all your senses when checking your Starter – mark with a pen where the level started from and where it peaks, listen for the ‘popping’ sound and smell to decipher at what stage it is (see below)
Start – fresh flour smell
Mid – slightly off smell
Height of feed – mild sourdough smell
Hungry starter – acidic or nail polish remover smell
Nancy’s Basic Sourdough Recipe:
405g Sourdough starter
765g Strong Baker’s flour
Mix flour and water together roughly and leave for 20 minutes. Here the flour absorbs the water and the gluten begins to act. Add the starter culture and salt and combine to form a sticky dough. The dough will be really sticky. During the rest time, the flour will absorb more water and become easier to handle. Kneading the dough is a process or continually and almost violently folding the dough by throwing it out like as if you were folding a bed sheet and slamming it down on the bench. This should make a loud noise and send the cat 10 metres into the air! The more you fold the dough, the more pliable it will become. Aim to fold for 20 minutes (very good exercise!) Rest the dough for 2 hours then divide and mould. Use Semolina to dust the loaves and prove for another 2 hours. Score/slash your loaf with a sharp razor/scalpel/knife by holding it at a 45 degree angle and slicing along the top of the loaf (see below,) This ensures that the air bubbles in the dough expand and rise the bread as it bakes.
Bake your loaf on a pre-heated pizza stone placed into your oven at its highest temperature. You can get pizza stones cheaply and easily at any kitchenware shop. The stone provides the radiating heat rather than just what you would get from a normal convection/fan forced oven. When you first put the loaf into your oven, use a spray bottle and spray a fine mist of water into the oven for 10 seconds then close the door for 2 minutes then gently open oven door again slightly and do the same. The moisture makes the crust pliable at first, so that the loaf can rise without be restricted by hardened crust.
More advice from Nancy on making the dough:
- use plastic utensils
- measure very accurately
- ensure water is at 10 degrees when mixing the dough
- knead the dough, but don’t overmix – it should not go over 28 degrees or the active bacteria will die
- rest the dough. This is when the gluten strands develop.
So when you take your ‘creation’ out of the oven it should be heavy with large irregular air pockets when you break it apart, a thick, chewy crust and a sour smell and taste.
Thank you Nancy for a great Sourdough Class at Three Loaves Bakehouse!