Someone is in the habit lately of leaving dough in bowls ‘out and about’. He is hoping that they will attract some natural yeast and then we can start a sour dough culture. I was initially totally grossed out by this – my exploration into culinary health and safety when I had my teeny patisserie on the market lead me to believe that such activities were almost always fatal. Thinking back though, this isn’t the first time I’ve come across this bizarre practice – I’m pretty sure that Eyðbjørn and Tjóðhild my Faroese buddies were doing this last time I went to see them in Lund and I’m pretty sure their bread was damn good.
Some bakeries have been using the same starter colony for up to 100 years. I’m talking heirlooms now. My kids will inherit the starter that someone grew in the backyard of our first home together (puke). Ok I can admit it – I still think this all sounds a bit unhygienic.
This method for making bread harks from the ancient Egyptians who after a week of heavy drinking and not dealing with their houshold duties, discovered some of their unleavened bread dough -carelessly left in the garden- was ‘bubbling’. Sour dough was born and until the middle ages almost all bread was made this way – via a natural yeast culture. After that yeast skimmed from beer took over and much later commercially produced packaged yeasts arived on the market.Well, given that someone is a brewer, I’m rather surprised he went for growing new yeast over dangling over his brew with a skimming ladle. Mind you, that sounds rather dangerous. Perhaps food poisening is better than falling into the mash tun or wherever it is those yeasties grow.
You start you sour dough culture by mixing a cup of your choice of flour (bread flour, rye, wholemeal) with enough water to make it into a runny dough. Flour naturally has some of the yeasts and bacteria you want – going for unbleached, unbromated flour makes for a better start and wholemeal has the most different organisms in it. Leave it covered in a cosy place.
The next day, chuck half of the now bubbling slop and with the remainder mix a cup of flour with enugh water to keep it runny and then back to the cosy place it goes.
Keep this up day by day until your starter has doubled in size and is bubbling a bit. – There you have it – your starter.
The sour dough starter is ALIVE with the yeasts you need to get baking – it can live in the fridge indefinitely providing you feed it (double the mix with 3flour:2water) every 3 days or so – hence the 100 year old starter. Whenever you want a loaf of bread, you take a chunk from your starter and add flour and water to make a new loaf.
From starter to bread – I’m not going to lie, this is pretty time consuming – or at least you have to be ‘around’.
- one fine morning, mix 1starter:2flour and adding enough water to make a dough. Leave it all day to mingle.
- In the evening add another :2flour and enough water to get a nice bread dough consistency, a big pinch of salt and then leave it to rise in a cool place until the morning.
- The 2nd morning, knock your bread back, give it a good knead, and leave it this time in a warm place in a flour lined round bottomed bowl or if you are feeling fancy, into a proving basket.
- When it has doubled in size its ready to go – turn it out onto a preheated, floured tray, slash the top with a very sharp knfe, then into a preheated oven with a dish of water (to make it steamy in the oven) at gas mark 9 – 250ish degrees it goes. After 15mins, turn the oven down to gas mark 6 – 200 degrees and leave it for a further 25-30 mins till it sounds hollow when you tap it.
om nom nom