Making sourdough bread from scratch is a commitment, no doubt about it. But – it’s also an incredibly satisfying process that can evolve into a long-term hobby, resulting in loaf after loaf of beautiful, homemade bread. It’s good for your family and something to be very proud of! We here at The Mill House Kitchen are just beginning our own sourdough journey. With 60+ years of milling Australian flour in our history, we thought it was about time we learnt the art of sourdough baking. Because, really, what better way is there to celebrate the beautiful flour we produce, than with the most simple yet complicated of breads!
There are three basic ingredients in sourdough: flour, water and salt. And like all ‘living’ foods ie foods that have their base in live cultures (in this case your starter), every single loaf is a unique reflection of time and place. The air, the flour, the water, the temperature – all these elements play a role in the flavour of each loaf of sourdough.
So how do you begin?
There are three main steps in the sourdough process – creating a starter, maintaining that starter and baking the bread. So we are going to break these down into three separate blog posts – and we really hope you join in and come along for the ride! It’s going to be delicious. We’ll be posting photos and updates over on IG along the way, why not join in the conversation by using the hashtag #millhousekitchensourdough and we can follow each other’s progress?!
What is a starter?
A starter is basically just fermented water and flour. Wild bacteria on the flour and in the air feeds on base mixture and creates a fermentation that helps bread rise and gives it that beautiful sourdough flavour. This flavour and the starter’s rising-power will increase and take on its own life with time.
And how do you make one?
Well – if you start googling how to start a starter, prepare to be overwhelmed and a bit terrified by the myriad of information out there. Some of it is pretty scientific and intimidating, some is conflicting with other advice and some just falls straight into the ‘too hard basket’. The way you make sourdough will be, like everything about this whole process, a true reflection of you and your home. If you are a meticulous, careful person you’ll go for that kind of approach (see recipe below – this will be your cup of tea). If you are more fast and loose with your baking and don’t mind a bit of trial and error (I’m putting my hand up here), then you can try the first recipe below. The key thing to remember is – we are doing this for fun. We are not commercial bakers, we are not selling our loaves and it doesn’t matter if we have the odd flop. This is a baking adventure and we will take a few wrong turns. You may produce a few loaves with canon-ball-qualities and you may have moments of unplanned genius. Don’t worry! The failures can always be used somewhere/somehow (toasted, breadcrumbs, chook feed etc.)
The other thing before you start – if you have kids, please involve them in the process. Mine have a jar of starter each now, with names and needs. They feed them every morning (with gentle reminders sometimes) and love watching the way the mixture froths and bubbles as it becomes ripe and ready for use.
So here’s how you start a starter – choose your own adventure!
FAST AND LOOSE APPROACH
This is the fast and loose approach. It’s easy, it worked for us and it was inspired by a recipe given in the latest issue of Lunchlady magazine (which by the way, is a really fantastic read). Before you start – mix up 900g Healthy Baker plain flour with 100g rye flour. This is what we will use for our starter.
Day 1 – Mix 1 cup flour mixture with 1 cup of water in a jar with a wide mouth or container with a lid. Leave at room temperature
Day 2 – whisk in 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water.
Day 3 – whisk in 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water
Day 4 – You should see some bubbles appearing on the surface now. There might also be a bit of a yeasty smell to your starter-in-waiting. This is all good. Discard half of the starter and whisk in 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water
Day 5-10 – Every day, discard half of the starter and whisk in 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water
Day 11 – You should have a ripe, frothy starter that’s ready to go towards your first loaf.
From this point onwards – you need to feed your starter every day, equal parts flour and water. If you are baking every day, feed after you have poured out the amount of starter you need. The days when you aren’t baking, tip out half of the starter (feed it to the chooks, give it to a friend, use it to make crackers or other good things) and feed again. You can keep your starter in the fridge, in this case it will only need feeding every couple of days. But we’ll get more into this in the Maintenance post.
THE MEASURED APPROACH
This is the way to go if you are nervous about not getting perfect results the first time and/or you aren’t so used to bread baking; the way dough feels and should feel. The recipe was given to us by a great friend of the Manildra Group; Brett Noy. Brett is the managing director of Uncle Bobs Bakery and Creative Crusts Baking Company in Queensland and a true expert in sourdough baking. His starter recipe below is tried, tested and highly recommended.
Day 1- Mix together in bowl 50g Rye Flour with 50g of filtered water @ 30c and leave to ferment for 48hours days covered with plastic. A warm environment is best around 25c-30c, this will encourage the fermentation process to begin.
Day 3 – Blend into your existing mixture a further 100g Rye flour and 100g of water @ 30c and mix together, this is called the first refreshment. Leave to ferment for 24 hours covered with plastic.
Day 4 – Repeat day 3 only this time add 200g Rye flour and 200g of filtered water @30c and mix together, this is called the 2nd refreshment. Leave to ferment for 24hrs covered with plastic.
Day 5 – If you wish to change your culture to white flour this is a good stage at which to do this. Discard all but 50g of the sourdough culture, and place into a clean bowl. Then add 100g of White Bakers flour and 100g of filtered water @30c and mix together, leave for 24hrs.
Day 6 – Repeat day 5 feed in the morning, then again in the evening around 8pm. This will ensure that your culture will be active enough to make your first batch of bread at around 7am the morning of day 7.
Day 7 – When ready you will need to calculate the amount of culture required to make your batch of sourdough bread. The feed from the evening of day 6 will see you with a total of 250g of culture. Take out 50g of Culture and repeat day 6, this will re-feed your culture and help maintain it’s health. This could be used the next day by repeating day 6 or stored in the refrigerator for later use. You will now have 200g left to utilize for your 1st batch of bread, this would give you enough to use in 400g of flour if using at 50%. If you require more then simple increase the levels on the day 6 feed.
Note: Always hold back at least 50g of culture and repeat Day 6 to create a fresh batch ready for baking. If you are not going to use your culture daily you can feed it as in Day 6 and leave it for 2 – 3 hours and place in the refrigerator to store for your next batch. When you are ready to use it remove it from the fridge and allow it to sit out for 2 hours to become active. Then feed it as per day 5 and after 8 – 10 hours it will be ready for use.