Sourdough Starter

When you are self isolating at home during these very unsettling times, you can take the time you would normally spend in commuting to do some of the things around the house that have been on your list for a while. I took this opportunity to start a sourdough starter – not only because of my love for sourdough bread, but also in the event that we may not have access to grocery stores if a mandatory stay at home order is given.

Sourdough is the perfect staple because of it’s nutritional content. Prebiotics are a type of indigestible fiber that keep your gut healthy by feeding the good bacteria, called probiotics, that live there. The presence of prebiotics in sourdough is thought to make it easier to digest than many other breads and the presence of probiotic cultures have shown to increase vitamin and mineral absorption. The probiotics themselves don’t survive the baking process, but the lactic acid bacteria produced during fermentation remains and provides the benefits. The presence of lactic acid bacteria in sourdough has shown to also contain antioxidant benefits, safeguarding your body against illness. The perfect recipe for these strange times!

Last week when I did a final shop before deciding to stay home, the shelves at the store were very bare due to the amount of panic out there. The only flour I could find was at London Drugs and is a basic unbleached all purpose flour. I normally would look for something organic and a bit better quality, but unfortunately the options I normally have are not available right now.

You can start your starter with any kind of flour as it’s the wild yeast in the flour that starts the ferment. All purpose is probably the most predictable, but if you do a quick search on line you will find numerous articles on mixing rye or whole wheat into the batch. Making the starter takes about 6-9 days. You know it is ready when it is 100% predictable in it’s behaviour. then is when you are ready to make bread.

One thing you do want to keep in mind is to always use glass containers during this process. Metal can affect the ferment and plastic can contain harmful bacteria if it is scratched. Always wash your utensils and keep your working area clean. The second thing to note is that chlorine can inhibit the fermentation process. For this reason, I run some water into a jug and let it sit out overnight. Chlorine will evaporate off and the water will be safe to use the next day.

Day 1. Mix 1/2 cup flour with 1/2 cup of water in a glass bowl until the batter is smooth. You can cover this bowl with a tea towel or you can transfer it to a clean mason jar with a loose lid. Let the mix rest for 24 hours at a temperature of about 26-30C out of direct sunlight. It’s the time of year I am also germinating seeds for my garden, so I was able to place my starter on the seedling mat to keep it at this temperature. Another good spot would be on top of the fridge.

Day 2. After 24 hours, mix up another 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup water. Remove 1/2 of the rested mixture from the mason jar and mix it into the new fresh flour mixture. Discard the other half. Clean the jar and pour in the refreshed mixture, then follow the resting procedure from day 1, letting the mixture rest at 26-30C for another 24 hours out of direct sunlight. On day 2 I actually saw signs of fermentation by bubbles in my starter. You may or may not see this at this early stage. Stick to the routine and it will happen!

Day 3-5. Repeat the process from days 1 and 2, removing half the starter mix each day and mixing in a fresh 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup water to feed what you have in the mason. Removing half of the starter is important (although may seem wasteful) but for this first week unfortunately it is mandatory. If you don’t discard half the starter, you will end the process with a starter that is not mature enough to leven your bread. But don’t worry! By day 4 you should be able to use some of this discarded “young” starter to make pancakes or cookies.

Day 6 & 7. By this time, each day you should have seen your starter rise and fall in the 24 hour time period. We are almost ready to make bread! On day 6 and 7 you are going to feed the starter the same way you have up until now, but every 12 hours instead of every 24. If your starter has not yet become somewhat predictable, you may want to continue with the 24 hour rest until such a time that you have a more predictable rise and fall. If your kitchen is a bit cooler, you may need a bit more time, but if you have seen the action, then now is the time to move on to a 12 hour feeding schedule for the next two days.

Day 8. Bread day. if you are seeing a very predictable rise and fall of the starter, it’s time to put the starter into action. And also any time you are removing starter from now on, it can be used to make bread, cookies, english muffins, pancakes etc.

After you have reached the mature date of your starter you will need to maintain it to keep it alive. There are several maintenance routines out there if you say only bake once a week, or if you are in the kitchen more often. This article is a good one to understand how to maintain your starter going forward.

I don’t bake often, but when I do, it’s making good quality and nutritions product such as sourdough bread. Happy baking and enjoy!

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