We produced our own starter by following the excellent instructions in "Crust and Crumb" by Peter Reinhart.
The starter lives in a covered bowl at an ambient temperature of about 17°C on our kitchen widow-sill, and is fed daily. A back-up culture is kept securely in a Kilner jar in the fridge, and is fed about once a month. The starter is a 50:50 mix of wholemeal and white flour (175g in total), with 175ml of lukewarm water.
We feed the starter in the morning, so that it is lively and happy by the evening, when we incorporate about 85% (300g) of it into the dough. The dough is then placed in an oiled plastic bag and left in the fridge overnight to prove.
The 15% of the starter which is left remains in the covered bowl until it is fed the following morning. And so the cycle continues. Any excess starter (Some people call this sourdough discard, although we would never contemplate discarding it.) is used to make sourdough crumpets, for which a recipe will follow.
Our pattern of production and consumption is such that we prepare one bag of sourdough every day. That is nearly 400g of sourdough per adult per day in our household.
By the next day the dough in the fridge has proved itself. It has expanded to between 1.5 and 2 times its original size, and is ready to be used.
• 500g flour
This is a mixture, depending on what we have in the baking cupboard and what the cook fancies making. Usually it will be 300g strong white flour, 100g strong wholemeal, 100g rye or spelt flour.
From Shipton Mill, I have had success with 300g Finest Bakers White Bread Flour - No 1 (101), 100g Heritage Blend - Stoneground Wholemeal Organic Flour (712), and 100g Organic Dark Rye Flour - Type 1350 (603) or 100g Organic Spelt Wholemeal Flour (407)
• 7.5g fine sea salt
• 300g sourdough starter
• 300ml lukewarm water
• Olive Oil to oil plastic bag
In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt and then stir in the starter. I use a flat wooden spoon. Make sure that the starter is broken up into smallish pieces which are all covered with flour. Then stir in the lukewarm water and mix to a smooth dough.
Oil a plastic bag by shaking some olive oil into it, making sure that the bag is thoroughly oiled on the inside by folding and scrunching it a few times. I then place the oiled bag in a jug, and fold it back around the outside of the rim, so that the dough can be dropped into it.
Using a bench scraper, transfer the dough from your large bowl into the oiled bag. Seal the bag with a twist tie and put it in the fridge overnight.
This recipe produces about 1110g of sourdough, at 69% hydration. Depending on the types of flour in your mixture, you may wish to alter the percentage hydration. Experience will be your best guide here.
To shape and prepare your sourdough for each recipe, you will need either a flour shaker or an olive oil serving bottle. To divide and manipulate your dough, you also need a couple of bench scrapers.
To make flatbread, preheat your frying pan or griddle as hot as you like. We measure out 50g portions and roll them into oval shapes on a floured work surface using a lightweight roti roller rather than a heavy rolling pin.
Cook flatbreads on the hot griddle for 1-2 minutes on each side. Serve hot. You can keep them warm by wrapping them in a tea towel on a plate.
Loaves in Loaf Tins
Grease your loaf tins with some olive oil. Do not skimp because you want the loaves to slip out of the tins. If they stuck you can try to free them with a silicone (NOT metal) spatula. Good luck with that.
In each mini loaf tin (16cm x 12cm x 4.2cm), use 250 g sourdough. Make sure that it is distributed evenly in the loaf tin. Before you put it into the oven you should make sure that you have cut a cross in the top of each loaf with a sharp knife. Cook for 20-25 minutes at 210°C in the centre of the oven.
When you knock the base of the loaf tin you should hear a hollow sound if the loaves are ready. Leave on a cooling rack until they are no longer hot. Cooling is part of the cooking process, so you have to be patient.
For a 1lb loaf tin, use 500g sourdough. Make sure that it is distributed evenly in the loaf tin. Before you put it into the oven you should make sure that you have cut a cross in the top of each loaf with a sharp knife. Cook for 25-30 minutes at 210°C in the centre of the oven.
For a 2lb loaf tin, use 1kg sourdough. Make sure that it is distributed evenly in the loaf tin. Before you put it into the oven you should make sure that you have cut a cross in the top of each loaf with a sharp knife. Cook for 30-35 minutes at 210°C in the centre of the oven.
Measure out 80g of sourdough per roll. Put a few drops of olive oil on your palms and rub them together. Coat each sourdough lump with olive oil from your palms and roll them into spheres.
Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and place the balls on it, leaving enough space to allow for expansion. With a sharp knife, cut a cross on the top of each ball. You can scatter seeds (Sesame, caraway, poppy, etc.) on each dough ball as you prefer.
Cook for 20-25 minutes at 210°C in the centre of the oven.
Leave on a cooling rack until they are no longer hot. Cooling is part of the cooking process, so you have to be patient.
There is a lot of mystique to the making of baguettes, with many people using a baker's couche cloth as an adjustable bed in which the dough for the baguettes can prove. I have tried this method, but now I just use a special perforated French stick baking tray which makes 4 baguettes at once.
Measure out 250g of sourdough for each baguette. Lightly flour each lump of sourdough and stretch and roll it into a baguette shape. Place each prepared piece of dough onto your baguette baking tray. I use a cradle of greaseproof paper for this.
Traditionally, bakers cut two parallel shallow lines along the top of each baguette, but I don't bother. The 'oven spring' caused by the rapid expansion of sourdough in a hot oven will naturally produce small tears in the surface of the baguette.
Cook for 20-25 minutes at 210°C in the centre of the oven.
Leave on a cooling rack until they are no longer hot. Cooling is part of the cooking process, so you have to be patient, if you can.
To succeed with home-made pizza you need one thing above all: practice. A skilled pizzaiolo (pizza maker) has made thousands of pizzas over many years, and it shows.
Since beginning our sourdough journey we have been making pizza about 4-5 times a week, and alongside developing our technique we have learnt that superior ingredients make superior pizza.
To make the process easier, we use coarse ground cornmeal or polenta.
Use 300g of sourdough to make each 30cm diameter pizza base.
We have a carbon steel non-stick pizza tray. Coat the ball of dough in polenta and then press and stretch it on the pizza tray to make the pizza base. Add more polenta as required to stop the dough sticking to the tray (or to your hands).
As you get more confident you can start to use the backs of your hands to stretch the dough, but you need to be relaxed and unstressed.
We bake the pizza base for 4 minutes at 250°C in the top of the oven before adding the toppings.
We make a tomato sauce by blitzing the contents of a tin of Italian tomatoes with lots of Catalan oregano and salt and pepper. We sometimes make a fermented tomato sauce from quartered ripe tomatoes rubbed with sea salt and left to ferment for a week or two, weighted down in their own brine.
Other popular toppings are: thinly sliced onions, peppers, mushrooms, olives, and chillies.
Anchovies of the highest possible quality can only serve to further enrich this dish.
We buy grated Mozzarella cheese. So far, we have found that Mozzarella balls are too moist for us. Even after careful straining and pressing, they leave the pizza too wet.
After completing the toppings, we return the pizza to the bottom tray of the oven for another 8 minutes.
Our oven cooks up to a temperature of 260°C, and has a special setting for pizza. Your mileage may vary.
A large loaf in a Dutch oven
I think that this is the most challenging aspect of sourdough baking. I have only tried this after mastering all of the other recipes, and I still feel that I have a lot to learn. I will post a separate recipe for this at a later date, when I have reached an acceptable level of competence.