Sourdough the Mother of All Breads

A few people have asked me about how I make my sourdough bread. Rather than writing it and explaining what seems like a complicated process several times, I think it might be easier to put it down in writing in this little corner of the Boundary Way website.

Firstly, please remember

  • I’m not an expert baker (or anything else). I will just describe what I do.
  • Use materials that are of good quality and organic. If you are going to the trouble of home baking what’s the point of doing otherwise?
  • You can pace your baking to suit the demands of your life, yeast is very patient and given the right conditions, it will wait for you.
  • Slow and steady wins the prize.

If you haven’t made bread before don’t start with sourdough. Get the feel of working with bread dough and what works and what doesn’t. I suggest that you begin by making a “sponge” of equal amounts of flour and water plus either dried or fresh yeast. You can then just use this in the recipe. Here’s how:

  • 150g of bread flour
  • 150g of warm water
  • 6g of fresh yeast or level teaspoon of dried yeast

In a suitable sized bowl, dissolve the yeast into the warm water then mix in the flour. Cover and put somewhere ward over-night. The sponge will be ready to use in the morning.

Next day add the sponge to 470g of plain white flour, 240g water and 10g salt to produce your bread dough.

 

Making a sourdough starter (or “mother”)

The starter is a healthy colony of yeast that is ready and hungry for more. You can mix flour and water together and hope that just the sugars in the mix will set the process going and they probably will eventually. To add a little more certainty and to speed things up I use a teaspoon of organic yoghurt whey added to the water (it’s the watery bit you find in the pot when it is left standing for a while).

The water should be as clear from chlorine as possible. I use filter water that has been standing and that works fine. You can buy still spring water if you wish- it’s just for the initial starter.

The flour should be strong organic plain bread flour. You can choose any combination of white, wholemeal, spelt, rye or heirloom varieties to suit your taste.

The final ingredient is warmth, around 20°C day and night. If the temperature is variable, the yeast keeps slowing down and what we want is for the “mother” to make steady progress. I think this has been one of the reasons for some of my failures in the past. I have now started to use a yoghurt maker to keep the starter warm even during the night.

Starter recipe

Day 1

  • 30g Wholemeal or spelt flour
  • 30g Strong white flour
  • 60g filtered water with a small teaspoon of yoghurt whey mixed in

Mix the ingredients into a thick porridge. Place in a bowl, cover and keep warm (20°C day and night).

Day 2 – 3

Check the mixture for bubbles. Be patient, depending on the weather/temperature, they may be slow to appear.

When the bubbles do appear, you can start to feed “mother”. Mix in the following to the starter

  • 30g Wholemeal or spelt flour
  • 30g Strong white flour
  • 60g filtered warm water

Put back into the warm place.

On the next couple of days repeat the feed of 30+30+60 as above.

Day 4

By now you should have nearly 500g of bubbling mother dough. The next step seems a little counter intuitive; take away half of the mixture. Set this aside*.

Now mix in the following to the 250g or so of the slimmed down mother.

  • 40g Wholemeal or spelt flour
  • 80g Strong white flour
  • 120g filtered warm water

*Think of this as removing some of the worn-out troops and replacing them with reinforcements. What a waste you might think, but this orphan could be used to feed your compost heap (yes, the life in your compost heap will love it and pay you back) or you could give it to a friend. If you have no compost heap or friend, mix it into a bread dough with a teaspoon of salt and some flour of your choice. This can be a pizza base or a couple of pitta breads (and you will get an idea of how your dough is behaving).

Day 5

Mix into the starter the following again.

  • 40g Wholemeal or spelt flour
  • 80g Strong white flour
  • 120g filtered warm water

By now you should have over 700g of starter dough that’s ready for action!

Making an (approximately) 500g loaf

Put 200g of sourdough starter in a large bowl. Add 300g of strong white flour and mix into a stiff dough with a wooden spoon. Leave this for a little while and get a washing bowl of warm water ready in the sink to wash your hands. Get the salt ready. Get a baker’s scraper ready. Get the drencher of flour ready. Put an apron on. If you have another large bowl grease or oil it ready to receive the dough.

Dissolve 10g of salt into 125g of warm water.

Mix the water into the stiff dough that has been quietly waiting.

When you think it is to ready handle, tip the dough onto a floured work surface and start kneading. This is where you get to learn the feel of a good dough. There are lots ways to knead. Don’t think about it as pushing the dough around but as pulling and stretching. It’s best to start with just fingers to bring the mixture together then work to using more of you hands only when it has come together. There are lots of demonstrations on YouTube. Here is one to give an idea of what to work towards!

You may need to nuance the mixture as this is much more a question of getting the right feel for the dough not too wet but not too stiff and heavy. Obviously you only add- you can’t take away- so do it in small amounts.

You can knead for a few minutes and then rest for a little while. Do this several times or keep slogging away, it’s up to you. The end result should be stretchy and as smooth as is allowed by the texture of the flour.

When you are satisfied with the result, put the dough in the large greased bowl, cover and leave to rise. This all depends on the temperature of the area you are working in. Don’t try to rush this and don’t give up. You can go out for two or three hours or even more.

When the dough has more than doubled in size, tip it out onto a floured or oiled surface. Roll it around for a few moments to form a ball . I normally add a few seed toppings at this point (caraway, fennel or sesame) then put it into the container for the final rising. (I use a proving bowl). This should be only 40 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, prepare the oven. I place a thick flat griddle onto the middle rack. I have used terracotta tiles in the past, they work fine and are cheaper than buying a baking stone. I bake in a gas oven, that is rather inefficient. I put the oven on to its maximum temperature and leave it to get up to full heat for about half an hour.

When you consider the dough has proved enough, it should be ready to go into the oven. I use a wooden paddle. Sprinkle course semolina onto the paddle to stop the dough sticking. Invert the dough out of the proving bowl onto the paddle. Slash the top of the dough with a sharp blade.

Open the oven door and slide the dough onto the prepared griddle (or tiles, or flat tin). Set the oven timer to 25 minutes. Make a cup of tea and wait.

Howard Berry

Berry-Loubaud Baking

One Comment

  1. Hannah Boyd-Reply
    21st April 2020 at 10:42 pm

    This is both informative and entertaining, Thank you very much Mr Berry!

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