Lockdown Lifts: Creating and Keeping a Sourdough Starter

We don't know about you, but this version of our lockdown-selves is a *little* less productive than our previous lockdown incarnations. That being said we need to find some way to fill the long weekends days, and what better way to occupy ourselves than taking on a hobby which results in freshly baked bread? 

We all went sourdough mad in Lockdown 1.0, but one member of the Ruskin family took this collective mania one step further, embarking on a new career as a professional baker. Read on for instructions from artisan baker, Will Moss, to create a sourdough starter and his top top tips for keeping it alive and bubbly!

Check out Will's recipe for the perfect sourdough loaf here.

So what is a sourdough starter? 

A starter is simply a combination of flour and water which is left to naturally ferment. It is this starter which differentiates sourdough bread from other loaves: while other loaves use commercial yeast as a rising agent, sourdough loaves use the wild yeast forming in the flour and water to fuel their rise. 

This starter contains many beneficial bacteria, missing in dried yeast, which are essential for gut health - just one of the reasons a sourdough loaf is considered better for you than other yeasted breads.

Sourdough can also be a good option for those who find that regular bread causes bloating or discomfort. During the long proving time needed for a sourdough loaf, more gluten is broken down as the natural yeast feeds itself. As most humans are sensitive to gluten in some way, the work the natural yeast does by breaking down the gluten strands can help you digest this type of bread without discomfort. 

Note: Sourdough still contains gluten and is not suitable for coeliacs or those with a gluten sensitivity.

You will need:

100g white bread flour
100g warm water
Jam jar

    1. Mix together the flour and water in the jar, and leave it with the lid loosely on in a warm place.

      Now you just have to wait for the wild yeast in the air and your room to get to work on the mixture. This may take one day, it may take 5, but you will know when the mixture in your jam jar starts to bubble.
      This is caused by the yeast releasing carbon dioxide as they feed on the sugars in the flour.
      Once you see the bubbles, congratulations - you have a sourdough starter! 

    2. Once your starter is bubbly, discard most of it until you have about a tablespoon left. Then ‘feed’ this leftover starter with another 100g each of water and flour.
      After a few hours you will notice bubbles begin to form as the yeast gets to work, and as the day goes on the starter will increase in volume, before eventually falling down again as the yeast exhausts the sugar supply.
      You will notice the smell changes - a couple of hours after feeding it will smell sweet and yoghurt like, whereas if its been a longer time since a feed it will smell more acidic and vinegary.
      Repeat this process of discarding most of the starter and feeding it once a day for a couple of days, until it reliably rises and falls when you feed it.
      This is when you know it is ready to use for bread. Check out our sourdough recipe here. 

      Top tip: You can use a rubber band to mark the level of the newly fed starter so you can check its rise and fall.

Putting your starter to sleep

If you want to bake bread only occasionally, you can keep your starter in the fridge for a couple of weeks without feeding it. 
Just make sure you feed it a couple of times over a few days at room temperature before you want to use it again.

Some notes on starter care

  • Starters like routine, so feeding it at the same time each day is a good idea. First thing in the morning or last thing before bed might be easiest. 
  • Like a dough, it will ferment faster when it is warmer and slower when it is cooler. If you keep it refrigerated for a while, your starter may separate so a layer of water sits on top. Don’t worry about this, just mix it up again before discarding and feeding next time. 
  • If black spots start to form on the top of your starter, throw it away and start it again.

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