Sunday, 14 February 2016

How to feed a sourdough starter

I've really come to love baking all types of bread. The only bread I regularly buy nowadays is two loaves of everyday sliced bread for sandwiches and toast each week. I bake everything else, either by hand or with the help of my trusty Panasonic breadmaker.

Sourdough has always been one of my ultimate bread making goals. I've been on a sourdough baking binge these past few months after acquiring a cup of starter and accepting the challenge of keeping it alive. After much experimenting, I think I've found a stress-free way to make it work.

You'll need to find a recipe and make your own starter. It's probably easier and more reliable to ask a regular sourdough baker for a cup of their starter that you can maintain. My starter came from a bread making class I took late last year. I scrawled copious amounts of notes on my recipe sheet, putting instructions in order then crossing them out or reordering them as someone remembered another vital step. I got dreadfully confused so ended up just jumping in the deep end and trying it a few times for myself at home.

I'm pleased to report that, after successfully maintaining my original starter for about three months now, it's not too hard after all - even though I'm yet to find a name for it. (The theory is that you're more likely to look after something that has a name - but seriously, what do you call flour and water??)

I use a one litre glass jar with a hinged lid to store my starter. The jar easily stands upright to hibernate in the fridge. It's possibly too big for one cup of starter but the extra space is handy if you decide to 'grow' your starter to nearly double its size (like I did). You grow your starter by feeding it twice (a half measure at a time) without using any of it.

Sourdough starter, freshly fed
After just a few hours at room temperature, or even quicker on a warm day, you'll see your starter grow and begin to activate. You'll know it's been activated when it expands in size and bubbles. It'll also smell like it's starting to ferment. The more the starter activates, the more sourdough flavour your bread will have.

Activated sourdough
Remember that I'm not a professional baker and these instructions are based on my entirely unscientific sample size of one.

How to feed a sourdough starter

  1. Remove jar from refrigerator and leave to activate at room temperature for at least six hours, or overnight.
  2. Use however much you need. Most recipes require 1 - 1 1/2 cups of starter.
  3. Pour remaining starter in a large bowl. Feed it with equal portions of high grade (bread) flour and warm water and whisk until smooth. (To replace one cup of starter, feed with approximately 125 grams each of flour and water.)
  4. Wash and thoroughly dry your glass jar. Use a spatula to refill the jar with your starter.
  5. Put the lid on and leave to grow for at least six hours, then refrigerate to hibernate.
You should aim to use or feed your sourdough every 10-14 days. Mine has survived being accidentally frozen in the fridge, then revived at room temperature. Most importantly, it's still alive and well.

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