Before commercially available dry yeast became common, bakers used to prepare starters to have a healthy supply of active ‘wild yeast’ on hand for baking. Thus, a starter is an active yeast mixture, made of bread flour and water, which is used to ferment the dough of the bread. Wild yeast is more temperamental than commercial yeast, and needs constant nourishment to thrive. But once you get a hang of it, it is easy to manage.
To prepare a starter, all you need is a:
1. Clear bowl with an air-tight lid
2. 100g of flour
3. 100g of water
4. 7-10 days
It is not a difficult process but to a beginner, it can certainly seem daunting. But be patient, follow the recipe and trust your intuition.
In a clear bowl, measure out 100g of lukewarm water, add 50g of wheat flour and then add 50g of all-purpose flour. Mix them all together to create a pasty-thick mixture. Now, mark the level of the mixture, close the lid and put the bowl in a warm place to rest for at least 24 hours.
Next day, uncover and check if the bubbles have appeared in the mixture, accompanied by a fruity smell. If not, then give the mixture some more time to rest. If yes, that means your mixture is done and you can now proceed to the next step.
Take another clear bowl, add 100g of water, take two tablespoons of the starter batter and dissolve it into the water. Next add 50g of wheat flour and 50g of all-purpose flour. Let it rest of 24 hours, once the mixture rises, take a third bowl, and add two spoons of starter batter from second bowl, and then repeat this process 4 to 5 times, until at last, you have a bubbly, frothy, thick and sweet smelling starter. It’s imperative to feed the yeast in the batter with fresh water and flour to strengthen it continuously, until it is ready to act on the bread dough.
How quickly the yeast will become active depends on temperature of the room, so ensure that the starter is always kept at a warm place. Now that you have your starter ready, preparing the sourdough bread will seem like a breeze.
How To make your sourdough bread
1. Water- 250 gms
2. Bubbly Starter- 150 gm
3. Oil – 2- 3 tbsp
4. Bread Flour- 500 gms
5. Salt- 1/2 teaspoon
1. Take a large bowl and add water, bubbly starter and about 2-3 tbsp of oil and mix all the ingredients.
2. Then add about 500g of bread flour and ½ tbsp of salt to this mixture, and combine to form the dough.
3. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel, or a plastic wrap, and let it rest for 30 minutes. Then, shape the dough into a ball without kneading it too much, and cover it once again.
4. Keep the bowl at a warm place and let it rest for 7-8 hours (or overnight) to allow the dough to rise without interruption.
5. Once the dough has rested and risen sufficiently, remove it from the bowl, dust it with some flour, again shape it into a ball and add it to the bread pan. Be sure to coat the pan with cornmeal, or use non-stick parchment paper.
6. Now, let it again rest for 30-60 minutes, until the dough becomes puffy. Also, make an inch-long slash down the center of the dough before putting it into the oven for baking, to allow steam to escape while baking.
7. Bake the bread in the oven at 400 F for 40-45 minutes until the bread takes a golden brown color. Once done, take out the bread and let it cool down completely before you slice it.
There you have it- Perfect, crusty sourdough bread! Though the recipe is simple to follow, it does require patience and punctuality to get to the next step. However, ask any chef and they will agree that all the effort is completely worth it. Once you get used to the taste of starter-fed sourdough bread, you will never want to go back to commercially available sliced bread again.