While I am more of a cook than a baker, the one exception is bread and yeasted dough. However, the one thing I'm still a relative novice at is a sourdough starter. I've never failed at a bake using a package of yeast, but spontaneous fermentation? Where all you need to make your dough rise and to create natural yeast is flour, water and something with natural yeasts? This is something I've only just started to make work. With the help of my bread bible, James Morton's Brilliant Bread, below I've put together an easy step by step which for me has absolutely always worked to make your own starter, how to bake your first 100% homemade sourdough loaf, and some details on how you can use your starter to support a fantastic cause, too.
A sourdough starter is also probably the most community minded thing that could potentially come out of your kitchen. My first sourdough starter I did not actually start myself. It was a gift from my boss, who had started it and had been feeding it with his family. Sharing your sourdough with someone else is pretty simple; he just poured a bit of his starter into a jar for me, which I then took home and started feeding myself with flour and water just as if I'd started it myself. It takes a few days for the starter to settle down somewhere new, but after that, you're good to go!
Now this is where the part where you can help disaster relief victims with your sourdough comes in. Shine for Shelterbox is a great initiative being run at the moment by Shelterbox, a disaster relief charity who work to send essential shelter, tools and materials in their signature green boxes to areas which have been hit by natural disasters (and some people displaced by war, too). The concept behind the Shine for Shelterbox campaign is to throw candle lit dinner parties this winter to raise money. However, I wanted to unpackage it a bit, and dig more into the concept of sharing. So, all I ask is that if you use the directions below to make your sourdough starter, you give a little to Shelterbox via their Shine for Shelterbox Just Giving Page. Also, once it has matured, I ask that you share your sourdough starter with a friend, colleague or a family member and ask that in return they give a little to the charity, too.
My loaf is a little rugged (I've always been awful at shaping loaves), and I know my starter will improve over time, but I'm proud of the results. We had this on the table on Saturday night, alongside a fridge clearing out riff on this 'Winter Cure' Kale, Barley and Root Vegetable Soup. Oh, and a little more on the soup? You know that trick where you add a leftover parmesan rind to the soup while it is cooking for added flavour? It is very amazing, and really works. Just remember, it will make the soup no longer vegetarian!
For the Sourdough Starter
- 200g (7 oz) Strong White Bread Flour, plus extra for additional feeds
- 200g (7 floz) Tepid (not quite hot and not quite cold) Water, plus extra for additional feeds
- Small Handful Raisins
For the Sourdough Loaf
- 400g (14 oz) Strong White Bread Flour
- 2 tsp Table Salt
- 200g (7 oz) Sourdough Starter
- 250g (8 floz) Cold Water
- Additional flour and semolina for dusting
To start your starter, combine half of the flour and half of the tepid water in a large, lidded jar (I always make my sourdough in Kilner jars) with the raisins. Seal the jar, and leave it at room temperature for 24 hours. Add the rest of the flour and water, and leave it again for up to three days, until there are loads of bubbles appearing through the mixture, and it is grown at least a little. Pour three quarters of this away (along with the raisins!), before feeding it with enough flour and water to make it up to its original size. From then, just feed it with a little flour and a little water each day. If you need to go away for any reason, you can just stash it in the fridge for up to 10 days without a feed.
To make a loaf, use your starter when it has not been fed for 24 hours. Weigh out the flour and the salt, and rub the salt into the flour with your fingertips. Create a well in the middle, and add 200g of your starter and the water. Mix the dough until everything is combined, and has been brought together in a wet ball. Flour a clean work surface well, and knead the dough for at least 10 minutes until it is springy.
Leave it to prove for at least 4 hours at room temperature in a covered bowl (I like to use cling film, but a damp tea towel also works), until it has at least risen a bit, if not doubled (because all bread recipes ask for your to leave the dough until it doubles in size, right?) Turn the dough out again onto a floured surface, and shape the loaf. (There are some great step by steps on how to knead and shape bread here). Return it to the bowl, and cover again, leaving it for at least another 3 hours.
When you're ready to bake, pre-heat the oven, as well as the tray you plan to bake your loaf on in the oven at 240 degrees (or as high as your oven will go). Once the oven is up to temperature, drop it to 210 degrees (410 fahrenheit), and slide the bread onto the hit baking tray. Bake for about 40-45 minutes, until the loaf is golden, and if you turn it over and tap the bottom it sounds hollow. Allow the loaf to cool before you slice it.
I really hope you'll get involved in supporting such a great cause, and perhaps learn something more about baking your own bread along the way - I'd love to hear how you get on. You can find more out about Shelterbox here, and more about how you can take part in their Shine for Shelterbox campaign here.