How good is a fresh crusty sourdough loaf? The only thing that makes it better is knowing that you made it yourself. What sets sourdough apart from other breads is that you don’t use yeast, you use a live and active starter. The starter is basically fermented flour that hosts a colony of wild yeasts and bacteria – lactobacillus to be exact. In fact, it is these yeasts and bacteria that is responsible for the fermentation, and for the ‘sour’ taste. Before you all turn your noses up at the idea, it’s similar process to making yogurt which we are all familiar with.
These little guys are not only good for your gut, but they digest the flour making it easier for you to digest, and making any nutrients more readily available to be absorbed. If you find bread makes your gut feel heavy and sluggish, give sourdough a go. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Shockingly, many sourdough loaves that are sold are fake! They just have something added to give it a sour taste, but contain none of the good guys. Besides bread, the starter can be added to all kinds of baking and gives it that extra flavour kick, to say nothing of the pro-biotic benefits.
If you are lucky enough to know someone who makes sourdough you can get some starter off them. Failing that you can make your own, or if you are impatient you can buy some online (click here).
- 400g starter
- 500g bakers flour
- 1 cup water
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
*note – to make pizza bases just add 2TBSP of olive oil to the mix and herbs if desired.
It’s up to you the kind of flour you want to use, it’s all about experimenting and finding what you like. Blends work really well. I recommend beginning with an unbleached white flour for two reasons. 1. Its easy to work with. 2. It’s cheap and readily available and if you make a mistake it doesn’t matter (you will want to cry if your Himalayan organic spelt hand-ground-by-monks-loaf doesn’t work out). Different flours soak up different amounts of water so its just a matter of getting to know what the right consistency is and adjusting the water accordingly.
The method is easy once you understand what your doing. Simply put its;
- Knock back and shape
- Bake…and then eat
Add all ingredients in a bowl and mix until it comes together to make a rough dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Starter pictured below. Make sure your starter is well fed and bubbling before you use it.
Add all ingredients in a bowl and mix until it comes together to make a rough dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Make sure your starter is well fed and bubbling before you use it.
This is where the skill comes in. Most loaves fail because they have not been adequately kneaded. The dough should be quite sticky. Don’t be tempted to add more flour. Flour your hands so it doesn’t get stuck to your fingers and start working it into a neat ball.
Kneading by hand may take anywhere between 10-20 min depending on your technique. Don’t be gentle – aim to really stretch the dough. I totally cheat. I knead it in the bread maker until it is done. No sweat. I still do all the other steps outside of the bread maker. It’s good to knead by hand to begin with so that you can feel when the dough changes.
As you knead, there will be a point that you notice the dough goes from being firm and rough, to smooth and silky. If the dough can pass the window test it has been kneaded enough.
Break off a golf ball sized piece of dough and roll it into a ball. Try to stretch it between four fingers to make it as thin as possible.
If it tears and looks shaggy on the edges it needs to be worked for longer.
If it spreads out thin, almost see through like a window, it’s ready!
Tuck all the edges under to make a neat little mushroom like ball and place in a bowl. Cover with a clean tea-towel, or some cling wrap with a few holes and leave for two hours to rise in a warm place (bench top, on top of fridge etc).
A sourdough loaf will rise, but nothing like what you would expect if you had added dry yeast.
Knock Back, Shape and Rise
After the two hours, turn dough out onto a floured surface again. Lightly knead it and fold into itself, shaping as you go. This should only take a minute or so. You can put it on a baking tray or in a loaf tin for a more structured shape. Lightly cover again and leave for another 40min.
Make a few slashes on top with a sharp knife (this allows even expansion while baking) and put in the oven. Bake at 180ºC for 30 min or until the top is a golden brown. A loaf that is ready will sound hollow when tapped. I also put a ramekin of water in the oven to stop the loaf from drying, but that is optional.
There is more than one way to skin a cat of course, and if you look online you will find a myriad of ways to make sourdough. What I’ve outlined is the “mum with kids and other things to do” way. Certain family members have even declared it ‘the best tasting bread in the world’ so don’t think I’ve compromised on taste or quality.
I’ve streamlined the process so much so that I make a fresh loaf every day for the kids lunches the following day, and believe it or not, my day does not revolve around making bread.
The only thing I haven’t included here is how to make and maintain a starter. A full article dedicated to this will be coming soon.
There is something about making your own bread that is heartwarmingly satisfying. Give it a go, experiment and have some fun.