Capturing your own sourdough

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Capturing your own sourdough

Introduction to sourdough starter

As flour contains very few natural yeast cells it would be impossible to make well-leavened bread by just mixing flour and water together. So the first breadmaking step is to obtain a liquid dough containing a high concentration of yeast cells this process is refered as creating a starter or chef.

It was our ancestors who discovered by accident that if you left a mixture of flour and water in a warm environment it would inevitably ferment and the resulting "starter" added to the dough gave to the bread a whole new dimension. Not only did it increase in size and become lighter but it was also more flavoursome and easier to digest. So the sourdough bread of our forefathers was born.

Such was the significance of this "culture" that in France a starter is known as "une mere" or mother and it is from this "mother" that each of your loaves is created. Every bread created is unique but it will carry the cells of the mother for as long as you maintain it.

In colonials times a future bride was often presented with a starter from which she could bake the daily bread. You may be lucky enough to have inherited an heirloom starter, if not you have simply to follow my advice and process to make one.

I came to the conclusion that some flour are richer in natural yeast than others and in the same environment it is faster to get a working sourdough using Rye flour or wholewheat Spelt flour than standard wheat flour. After the type of flour the next important facteur is to respect the recommanded temperature. Many people believe that the season', low altitude etc... are also very important factors but I wouldn't attach too much importance to those points.

Once you have a Spelt or Rye starter you can feed it with wheat flour to obtain a wheat starter.

If you want to make a Rye loaf you must feed your rye starter with rye the same applies to spelt but if you want to look only after one starter to make wheat, rye and spelt you have to keep a pure rye starter.

To finish with this introduction it is important to note that you can judge your sourdough on two criteria when your bread has cooled down : Volume and Taste.

Even though you can acquire dry natural sourdough, I think for better understanding of the whole bread making process you should make your own starter at the beginning. Some people believe that you should use fruit or yogourt to create your starter I am a firm believer in keeping it simple and my advice is to use only wheat, rye or spelt flour in your starter at least while you are learning

Making your starter:

Start by mixing 30 g of spring water at 25/30°C with 20 g of flour in a glass container covered with a loose lid or woven cotton cloth so the air can circulate freely preventing contamination from insects or other foreign particles. Spray water on the cloth if the air is dry this will prevent crust forming on the starter. Leave it in a warm place (30°C Hot water cupboard) for 24 hours.

Then feed your starter every 12 hours. Mix well the starter then discard some of the starter keeping only 50 g then proceed to feed the starter with 25g of water and 25g of flour.

Repeat the process 6 or seven times

Reduce the temperature to 22/24°C once you can see bubbles otherwise your starter could become too acid and it would loose some leavening power.
Your starter may not show activity for 2 to 3 days please feed it regardless.

After 6 days if there are no signs of life just start all over again.

Remember your starter is fragile; if you forget to feed it correctly it will starve and become quite liquid or smelly. Not only is it possible to keep your leaven for a lifetime but also it will improve with age and become more resistant to the outside environment.

Rye starter should be more liquid than wheat starter 30g flour and 20g water instead of 25g flour and 25g water when you feed it.

Spelt starter is very easy to make but you must use wholewheat spelt.

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