The perfect challenge for those of you who are already competent bread makers, but want to try something a little different. Making sourdough bread is also easy enough even for beginners, so don't be intimidated by the length of the process.
Getting a sourdough starter going takes time rather than any particular skill - if you can read these instructions, and have access to some basic kitchen equipment, then you can definitely get a sourdough starter going, and before you know it, you'll be making amazing sourdough bread.
Large mixing bowl.
Wooden or plastic spoon.
Measuring cup or scales.
Something to cover the bowl with - a lid, a plate, or some clingfilm.
Bread flour - preferably wholemeal
Yes, that's it, just two ingredients needed to get your sourdough starter going. When you're ready to bake with the starter, then you'll need oil and salt as well as more flour and water.
Check out the list of ingredients on the nearest sliced loaf, and you'll see how many additional nasties you'll be cutting out by making your own sourdough bread.
Day 1 -
1. Put a cup of flour (around 120g) in the bowl, and mix with enough water to make a thick, pasty batter (the amount varies with the type of flour used, but it's usually a little less than a cup full).
2. Mix well.
3. Cover the bowl - use a lid, a plastic plate or some clingfilm.
4. Put the bowl somewhere at room temperature, where you'll remember to look at it often (mine lives next to the kettle, so that I can peek at it when I make my coffee).
5. Watch and wait - you know that the sourdough starter is working, when you start to see bubbles on the surface, and it begins to grow - this is the work of all the natural yeasts floating around in your kitchen.
Day 2 -
1. Check your starter - if it's not bubbling yet, and starting to look 'alive', then just give it a stir, cover it up again, and come back to the 'day 2' instructions tomorrow.
2. If it is bubbling, then it's good and active, and ready to be fed.
3. To feed your sourdough starter, add another cup full of flour (around 120g), and some more water - just enough to maintain that thick, pasty consistency.
4. Give the starter a good stir, cover it again, and set aside until tomorrow.
Day 3 onwards -
1. Scoop out half of your starter, and discard it (I know - so wasteful! but you only have to do this while you're getting the starter going, once it's active, you'll be using it to bake sourdough bread)
2. Add another cup of flour and enough water to make a thick, pasty batter.
3. Mix well, cover and set aside.
4. Repeat the 'day 3' instructions for the next five days.
By this stage, the sourdough starter should smell, well, sour. There should be a distinctive sour smell, almost beer-y in nature, and it should be bubbling up nicely with each feeding.
1. My starter isn't bubbling -
If it's been less than a week, then be patient. Sourdough relies on the wild yeasts present in the air in your home, so the time scale is variable. Throw away half of your starter, and then keep feeding, stirring and checking. If your kitchen is very cold, then it might be worth moving it somewhere a little bit warmer, just to try to get things going.
2. There's an icky brown/grey liquid on the surface of my sourdough starter -
That's not a problem, it happens sometimes. You can either stir it in, or pour it off - doesn't make much difference. Just make sure that when you feed the starter, you're keeping it at that same thick, pasty consistency.
3. My starter has gone mouldy -
Eww! Throw it away and start again!
4. It's still not bubbling -
OK, you evidently have a stubborn starter. Try feeding it twice a day for a few days, and see if that gets things moving.
5. Anything else I can try to get my sourdough starter active? -
You could try switching to organic flour - I don't have a problem with using non-organic flour, but there might be chemical traces in your flour that are affecting the activity of the sourdough starter. You can also try changing the water you use - if the water from your taps is heavily chlorinated, then you might be killing off your sourdough. Try switching to boiled and cooled water, or just leave tap water to stand overnight before using.
You've made a sourdough starter, and you're now ready to use it to bake delicious sourdough bread - watch this space for instructions on how to start baking!