I started to take interest in sourdough bread through a colleague of mine at work, he would often show me photos of his bread, the sort of bread you see in bakeries like Poilane and dare I say it, Gails. He would say to me 'Go on, have a go, I'll bring you in some of my starter' and there it all began.
Sourdough bread for those who don't know is bread made with natural yeast. The beauty of sourdough is that the yeast is already in the flour and the air we breath, all you need to do is mix flour and water together and let nature do its work.
The basis of any sourdough bread is the starter - a quantity of flour and water mixed together to make what resembles a semi-think porridge consistency. Leave this out over night and in the morning you will find it riddled with holes with a fresh yeasty smell. Throw three quarters of this away and feed it with more flour and water to make the same semi-think porridge consistancy as you had the previous day. Repeat this process for a total of 5-7 days and your starter will be ready for action.
There are lots of sourdough recipes out there on the net and in books. It's just a case of finding something that suits you. I find that trial and error is the best way, bread making is not an exact science. The temperature and humidity of your kitchen, how active your starter is and how much time you work your dough all makes a difference to the outcome. From my experience, no bread comes out exactly the same twice.
As promised my colleague gave me some of his starter from which he got from a French bakery in the south of France. Most books will tell you to keep feeding the starter every day to keep it going, if you only make bread once a week then bread making will undoubtably become an expensive hobby. So after the first prove take a piece of the dough, cling film it and keep it in the fridge, this will become the base for your next starter. Next time when you want to make bread, take the piece of dough from the fridge and mix it with flour and water just as you would with a starter and leave it out over night. If I was baking on the Saturday then I would take the starter out on Thursday evening and feeding it again on the Friday evening, but you could get away with feeding it the night before.
Here is the recipe I have been using the last few weeks, admittedly its rather simple but hey, it works!
3 tblsp of starter - This will give the bread some good acidity.
250g stoneground spelt flour
250g very strong white Canadian flour - This has a higher gluten content than our British counterpart
340ml water - removing 3 tblsp of water
10g good quality salt - e.g. Maldon or Cornish Sea Salt
Apart from the standard way of mixing the ingredients together and kneading it, there are several different ways of making the dough, take Richard Bertinet for example, he has a unique way of making dough. Find out which suits you best. The first prove usually takes me around 6 hours, although it does depend on the temperature of your kitchen. The second usually shorter, usually between 3 and 4 hours.
Here is a more comprehensive guide to making a sourdough from the Guardian website. One thing I aim to get out of this post is for you to discover the wonders of making your own sourdough bread, that is of course, if you haven't already.
Some very useful sites: