IN these challenging times, trying out a little baking can help to boost your spirits. Steve Russell, Head of Food and Drink at Moulton College certainly agrees and shares his top tips on creating the perfect sourdough loaf.
Step One - Grow Your Starter
Find a large plastic or glass container to begin. Avoid using a metal tin here, as your starter will have a negative reaction with this surface.
For a traditional white starter, you only need two ingredients: stoneground flour and water. Ensuring you have a good-quality flour is important, as this will encourage the wild yeast to form.
Measure out 150g of stoneground flour and 150g of water (at 28 degrees). Then, whisk the mixture together well. Once mixed, cover with a tea towel or another breathable material - this will allow any air to permeate the towel and react with your starter, which is what you want.
Step Two - Location
Find a warm room for your starter to grow. We're looking at temperatures of around 22-24°C here. Leave your starter to sit in your chosen place for 12 to 24 hours.
Step Three - The First Feed
Next, divide and throw away one half of your starter. With the remaining half, add 75g of stoneground flour and 75g of water (at 28°C). Once again, stir vigorously and cover for a further 12 to 24 hours.
Note: If you uncover your starter and find that there is a layer of grey water on top, don't panic as this is completely natural, and if anything is a great indicator of a reaction. Simply mix this back into your starter and you're ready to carry on.
Step Four- Maintenance (to be repeated once a week)
Divide out half of your starter and mix in 75g of stoneground flour and 75g of water (28°C). Again, stir vigorously and cover. We discard half of the mixture to improve the growth of the organisms in your starter.
So when can you use your starter to make a loaf?
The temperature in which your starter is growing in can have an impact on how quickly you can bake it. In a consistently warm environment, your starter can be ready to use within three to four days. The idea is to achieve a beautiful surge of bubbles - an indication that the process of fermentation is occurring. At this point, you should be able to smell a sour odour, which is what you want.
Once fermentation has occurred, you can refrigerate the starter for use, however, remember if you won't be baking it for a while, you'll need to refresh and maintain the starter once a week.
Baking your sourdough
1. In a large bowl, mix together 250ml of water, and the starter. Then add 500g strong flour, 10g brown sugar and 10g salt and mix until all of the ingredients come together into a large ball of soft dough.
Cover the mixture with a clean damp cloth and let it rest in a warm area for two hours. Every 30 minutes make sure to lift and fold your dough over. Repeat this action three more times. Cover and rest for 15 minutes.
2. Shape the dough lightly into a ball, then place into a round colander lined with a clean tea towel dusted with flour.
3. Dust the top of your dough with flour and then cover with a damp tea-towel. Leave your dough to one side until it has doubled in size before transferring to the fridge. You should allow your dough to prove until the next day.
4. The next morning preheat your oven to 220°C. Place a large pan of boiling water at the bottom of your oven for at least 30 minutes before you bake. This helps to create a crisp crust.
Once the oven is up to full heat, turn out your dough onto a lightly dusted baking tray and slash the top with a knife. Bake for 25 minutes.