These last few months have had everyone on edge and our lives turned upside down, myself included. There have been no shortage of things to find new ways of doing. They have been busy months – keeping me away from writing my blogs. So I decided to get myself moving with a somewhat easy one.
As many may know I wrote a small piece for SooToday highlighting a colleague and friend who has been making Sourdough bread for quite some time. James Smedley was gracious enough to share with the readers his recipe.
But we all know making Sourdough is a lot deeper than that. It must start with the growth of the natural yeast that is used to leaven the bread. There is a very lengthy history in making it and after being inspired by James I decided I should give it a go to see if I could get one started.
After seeking information on the web I settled on a Facebook group – Start Your Own Sourdough Starter Challenge!. It was created during the Covid-19 Isolation measures by Heather MacMillan of Heather’s Hearth – to help people concentrate on something else. I find the group to be very helpful, informative, welcoming and inclusive. The article on James Smedley’s bread was very well received which prompted a deluge of newcomers to Heather’s group and I am grateful for her patience and expertise. Many thanks and kudos to her.
Heather teaches to incorporate weighed amounts of water and various flours starting on a twenty-four hour feeding schedule then quickly moving to a twelve hour feeding schedule.
So since I began writing the story on James Smedley’s Sourdough Bread I had to begin my journey in order to understand the process.
That starter making journey began on May 2, 2020. To say that it was easy would be a lie. It required persistence and planning.
I won’t go into a day to day account of my observations but I will give you some tips and observations I made in order to attain my goal.
Firstly white flour – all purpose is what I used and started with because that is what I had and all I could get – is very difficult to use and extends the length of fermentation time. Heathers’ teachings indicate to use half whole wheat or some other brown type flour for the first little bit then switching to all white.
After about Day 10 of no progress I was able to find some Spelt Flour and switched up to half All Purpose and half Spelt flour.
Secondly city water – I knew at the time of starting that some city water is just not recommended to use for starter because the the additional chemicals do not allow for the good bacteria to grow. I can’t say enough how accurate that is.
I started with city water that has sat out on the counter for about 12 hours to let the chemicals dissipate. After a further 10 days or so of no progress I switched to warmed bottled water.
Thirdly temperature – in the beginning I started keeping my starter jar on the hearth near the pilot light. After a short few days I thought maybe it needed more heat so I began keeping it on the heat register. And when still no progress I finally went with the suggested – keep it in the oven with the light on.
All these things being said, I think speak to the point of following instructions to the T. I am not saying I didn’t because I did and there are folks in Heathers’ group working in all kinds of situations including Gluten Free. In my case I think I was too patient trusting in the fact that I knew I was moving in the right direction so I never gave it up.
Be observant. Pay attention to color, smell, consistency and volume. Those things were constantly changing. It was very interesting to observe the textures.
This and the fragrance are things that evolve. The fragrance can go from pasty to acidic to yeasty and back.
Heathers’ recommendations were to use two clean wide mouth mason jars, alternating between them with each feeding. They should be no smaller than 500 ml. Should you end up with mold growth in your starter – It’s a sign that your jar was not clean. You need to start over since this is not in the plan and it is not a good thing so make sure your jars are clean.
Other important tools would include a spoon, spatula, measuring cup and digital kitchen scale. Ideally well water, distilled bottled water or bottled mineral water should be used before tap water that has sat out on the counter overnight to dissipate any chlorine. It’s better to go with tap water after your starter has been established. Plan appropriately for your schedule. Feedings should fall early morning and evening. (something like 8 am and 8 pm).
It’s very helpful to record your observations by feedings. Make yourself a little log. I know I have received a lot of encouragement and help from other folks who shared with me their journey so I was able to get a better understanding of what I might expect.
- With your empty jar on your kitchen scale tare to zero
- Measure 150 grams of water into it (26 C ideal temp). Always add water before flour. ( Be consistent with the way you measure. Use the same method each day.)
- Add 100 grams of the flour of your choice – Heather uses half white (can be all purpose or bread or your choice) and half Rye. It must equal a total of 100 grams. Others who are working with gluten free choose their own flour.
- Stir with spoon and scrape downward on the jar sides to keep it all together. Add an elastic band around your jar to mark the level. This makes it easier to see if there has been some activity. (There are other methods of marking. Use what works best for you.)
- Cover jar loosely either by sitting lid on top or covering with a damp tea towel. (It needs to be able to get a little air but not dry out.)
- Leave in a warm place for 24 hours. ( Ideally the best place is in your oven with the light on.)
- With a clean jar placed on the kitchen scale tare to zero.
- Spoon 75 grams of the starter mixture from the other jar into your clean jar.
- Add 125 grams of water next to your new jar.
- Add 50 grams of Rye flour and 50 grams of White flour.
- Continue with the same stirring and scraping and covering and set the new jar aside for 24 hours.
- The remaining substance in the old jar is what is known as discard. You can do any number of things with it. It can be composted, fed to chickens or you can store it in a container in the refrigerator. There are recipes available for its use so it does not have to be wasted. I will share some recipes at a later time – likely my next blog. This discard will keep in the refrigerator for a few months. It can also be frozen but it’s suggested you measure for your intended recipe and store in those portions.
- Wash and dry the old jar for the next feeding.
- Follow the same instructions as given for Day 2.
Starting on this day your feedings will now be every twelve hours. ( twenty-four hours must have passed between Day 3 and the beginning of Day 4 feedings.)
Follow the same instructions as given for Day 2 but you will need to feed again 12 hours after. This means that if you have fed in the morning at 8 am you will need to feed again at 8 pm.
- This is exactly the same as Day 4. Remembering your clean jar and two feedings.
- Day 6 is exactly the same as Days 4 and 5.
If your starter has shown progress with bubbling and rising start with this procedure until it is ready to use. Starter becomes ready to use when it consistently doubles in volume. If you have not seen progress continue with the previous amounts until you see some progress.
- Place your clean jar on the kitchen scale and tare to zero.
- Spoon 50 grams of the starter mixture into it.
- Add 75 grams of water.
- Add 75 grams of whatever flour you will maintain your starter with. ( she went to all white here)
- Continue with the stirring, scraping and covering.
- Place in a warm place for 12 hours.
- Feed your starter once a week if you are not baking with it.
- Store it in the fridge between feedings
- Take the starter out of the fridge.
- Have a clean jar ready on the scale that is tared to zero.
- Measure out 30 grams of starter into the clean jar.
- Add 60 grams of water to the new jar.
- Add 60 grams of flour to the water and starter.
- Mix together until no dry flour remains.
- Leave on counter for 2 – 3 hours.
- Put starter back in fridge.
- Use discard as desired.
- Repeat the feeding every week.
- If you are baking with your starter use it approximately 6 hours after feeding it. ( When it doubles in size it is appropriate to use. May not be 6 hours.)
I finally attained a viable starter May 29, 2020 almost twice the expected time of normalcy but not totally unheard of. I’m beginning to think I like to take the long way around.
My first attempt at a true Sourdough bread took place using James’ recipe. The dough was very easy to mix and the loaf looks good. You will find his recipe in the article attached. The rise time can be and usually is much longer that with bread that has been leavened with traditional yeast. It can even be up to twenty-four hours. Be patient and develop your rhythm.
With that said I can tell you I still have a long way to go. I have not yet found my proper timing. The first loaf I made was left to rise for 9.5 hours. It only made the top of the pan. The texture as you can see in the photo was great and it was not really heavy but it was sturdy with great taste. It reminds me of Ciabatta.
The second loaf is looking pretty much the same. That loaf was left to rise for 20.5 hours. It was an overnight thing however I feel it rose and fell during the night. It makes wonderful sandwiches. I now have to learn how to do a refrigerated rise and get my timing right.
In my husbands words Pink Floyd had a song for that. “Another Brick In The Wall” I will keep trying. I can assure you the goodies that came from the discard look far better than my bread. Stay tuned for my next blog where I will share those and the recipes.