Base sourdough recipe

I’m no doubt long overdue writing up my basic sourdough recipe. But I’ve now, finally, managed it and I hope it’s useful.

I’ve been baking sourdough for almost 20 years but I still believe I have much, much more to learn. Always something new to try and test with wild yeast baking.

So, here we are… this is my ‘base’ sourdough recipe.

Follow this to get used to baking sourdough. Learn how the dough at each stage feels, moves, its viscosity, look for the amount of bubbles at each stage, how the dough reacts to your particular oven. Get happy with the rise, the crust, the flavour and crumb inside. Then, use this as a base to change up your sourdough baking – this recipe can then be adapted to incorporate other flavours and flours.

Notes – important!!

Starter/mother/wild yeast. To learn about growing and nurturing a wild yeast starter for sourdough baking read my post on Sourdough for Starters – grow your own pet yeast. You must have a lively, bubbly and strong wild yeast starter to bake a sourdough loaf or you’re doomed from the start and will only be upset with the results – give yourself the best chance of a great loaf by using the starter when it’s lively.

Timing. I’ve worked hard here to provide timings for a beginner across two days where you have left yourself free time, such as a weekend. Later on there is a table for an alternative timing over a single day. Alternatively with experience and the length of time for each stage (I’ve given timings for each stage below) you’ll be able to fit your bread into your own personal routine.

Stages. Certain stages of the process are important to follow the timing fairly rigidly and other parts of the process can be shortened or extended. I’ve marked out where timings can be made more flexible or where they are to be kept to throughout the recipe. You’ll quickly learn the key timings and also where you can relax a bit.

Equipment 1. I’ve developed a method where I use a click-top plastic food box for my early stages. I recommend you buy one (it’s also very useful for other wet doughs such as ciabatta) but you can substitute a bowl and close covering, such as a shower cap or cling film. I also find it so, so useful to write the timings of stages right on the top of the box during each bake with a whiteboard marker! The box I use is a large, five litre click top container (in fact I have several). They’re pretty cheap; often cheaper than a sturdy mixing bowl.

Equipment 2. I’ve used a banneton in this method but if you are starting out and don’t have one (or can’t get one – during the rise in bread making throughout the pandemic there’s been a shortage of bannetons) there are alternatives! Use a mixing bowl or a loaf tin lined with a linen tea towel instead. Then you can make sure you want to keep doing this before you invest in more equipment.

Banneton: eh, huh? Unsure what a banneton is? It’s a bowl-like structure normally made of rattan, cane or wood/paper pulp which holds the dough in a breathable environment while it rises and ferments. They’re typically circular, but can be oval, square, triangular or even ring shaped and come inverting sizes to accommodate different dough volumes. A banneton encourages the shape of the loaf for when it’s turned out for baking. Cane and rattan ones are woven or coiled, which gives the loaf characteristic indentations and patterns. Modern wood or paper pulp brotforms can have punched patterns in too. As mentioned above you can substitute a mixing bowl with a linen cloth – it’s not as breathable, nor does it give those nice indentations, but it’s a good alternative. Typically we’ve all adopted the French word of banneton for these, but also look for proving basket or brotform (German).

Cloche. You can bake your sourdough loaf in a cloche (an ‘upside down’ earthenware pot with a flat shallow base and a domed lid), which does give help to the rise and a crusty crust. I have not included this in the baking process here. There’s enough to be getting on with learning all of this, let alone get used to cloche baking. You can get a great loaf without one and in fact you may never decide you want one. If I’m honest I’m really agnostic about it: I actually don’t like the really thick crust that some sourdoughs have and most times I simply forget to grab the cloche when my loaf is ready to bake; I just turn it out on a baking tray. If you do want to try, move on to it later, and in the meantime I’ll try to write a post about that too.

Water temperature. Don’t stress about this – use “tepid”. Test it on your hand, if it feels close to body heat that’s perfect. I’ve left it necessarily vague as I don’t think it makes that much difference give or take a few degrees. Best not use cold nor hot though and if you want to be exact around 30-32C is ideal.

Flouring. As a learner, I’m advising you to overflour your banneton. They’re be nothing worse than having to peel or scrape your risen loaf out of the proving basket which will deflate it immediately. You can learn with time how much flouring your bannetons and brotforms need. My ideal flour for the banneton is rice flour. Semolina also works well but is more orange (due to carotene) if that colour bothers you. If you can’t get hold of these use your flour you made your loaf with. They’ll all work, it’s just rice flour is less absorbent and finer and just seems to work well.

Stretching – or kneading. You’ve made bread with dried or fresh yeast and you’re used to kneading; so why not knead here? With the incorporation of the autolyse resting process, it’s easier to stretch and fold a sourdough loaf rather than all-out kneading. (Autolysis is explained within Method below). However, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with kneading your sourdough, but it is wet and sticky and easier this alternative way. Sometimes though, depending on flour used etc sourdough bread can really do with a ‘good old knead’. Again this’ll come with confidence and practice but stick to this given stretch and wait method in my recipe for now at least as it is easier 🙂

Additional reading from this website:

Equipment

  • Five litre click top container (or mixing bowl and either a shower cap, cling film or similar)
  • Scales, measuring spoons etc
  • Clean tea towel or muslin
  • Banneton (or alternative + linen tea towel). Ideal banneton size for this recipe is a 9″ / 23 cm diameter banneton
  • Sharp knife, single-side razor blade or baker’s blade (lame)
  • Large baking tray
  • Spoon
  • Dough scraper – a really essential piece of kit, metal or plastic
  • A flat baking tin
  • Oven gloves
  • Additional – non permanent marker or note pad and pen

Ingredients

  • 30 ml lively wild yeast starter (also called sourdough starter or mother etc)
  • 280 ml tepid water
  • 8 g salt
  • Several turns of a pepper mill to get fresh pepper
  • 400 g of strong white bread flour
  • Extra flour for dusting (see note above)

Method

FIRST DAY: Start this mid afternoon/early evening.

Today’s activity takes just over 2 hours overall with hands on time at about 10-15 minutes.

Stage 1 – mix and autolysis (action of enzymes in the yeast breaking down the starch in the flour, which releases simple sugars. The yeast then feeds on these sugars and within the warming, wet environment gluten strands form and begin to stretch and relax).

  • Place the container on your scales and weigh out 30g of the starter
  • Pour in the water and agitate it so that the starter is dispersed
  • Add in the flour – all 400g of it – and mix it into the water and starter mix as best as possible
  • Put the lid on
  • Mark on the top of the box what the time is
  • Leave it as a rough, shaggy mess for ONE HOUR

Stage 2 – Gluten development (stretching or kneading process)

  • After one hour sprinkle the salt and grind the pepper over the top of the dough mix
  • Now, using one hand, SCRUNCH the dough, pinching the salt and pepper into dough as you do it. See images below
  • Using your fingertips, incorporate all the little bits of dough and flour that didn’t get mixed in properly. As you scrunch, make sure you squeeze in any bits of dough that feel a bit harder. You’ll notice the smoothness of the dough has almost immediately changed and is much smooth and silkier – this is great!
  • Scrunch the dough for about 1 minute
  • Now do some rough stretching and folding (see images and video below) – you don’t have to do much at this point, you’re only trying to bring it together a little. Grab the side of the dough and lift it up and back on itself, so you’re almost wrapping it. Rotate the container so that you do this around the dough – repeat this stretch up and lay-over move about eight or so times. Grab a portion of dough at the side, lift upwards and slightly outwards and then stretch over the ball of dough and pat down. You’re aiming to end up with a ball shape

Place the lid back on the box, write down the time on the top and leave for another hour

After the hour is up, you have a choice! Sometimes, (depending on the autolyze efficacy, flour quality, room temperature etc) your dough will be very shiny, smooth and stretchy just after a single stretch-and-lift-over and one hour’s rest routine. If this is the case you can move straight on the Stage 3. (Also, if you are short of time or trying an alternative timing from the list below there may only be room for a single routine).

If the dough still looks a bit shaggy round the edges or you want to be sure the dough has been stretched enough, you’ll need to do another stretch-and-lift-over. Do 8-10 of these lift, stretch and fold-over actions. Again, aim for a ball shape

Place the lid back on – wait for another hour (and mark it on the lid)

After the second hour is up, you need to stretch and lift-over again. You’ll notices the dough is visibly and physically much smoother and stretchier. Again do 8-10 of these lift and fold actions on your dough and leave it in a ball shape

Place the lid back on

Stage 3 – first ferment (some call this bulk rise)

  • You now don’t need to do anything until tomorrow morning
  • Leave the lidded container somewhere that is anywhere between cold to an ambient, mild temperature
  • Do NOT leave it anywhere hot (this speeds up the ferment and is a useful tool to change proving times but we’ll stick to the beginner’s plan here!). if it is hot it’s better to go in the top of a fridge

NEXT MORNING

Today’s activity takes just over 4 hours overall with hands on time at just about 30-40 minutes.

Stage 4 – shaping

  • This does not matter very much what time you leave the dough until. An hour or two shorter or longer doesn’t matter, but do it by about 9-10am.
  • Your dough should have spread outwards and upwards overnight
  • The plastic container will allow you to see that it is full of air pockets – some large, some small. Perfect! It will be about 3-5cm up the side of the container and have spread out to fill it. (If you had to put it in the fridge and it’s not at this stage, leave it out for an hour and re-check on it)
  • You now need to get the dough out of the container with as little disturbance of these holes as possible (squashing it somewhat is inevitable)
  • Flour your countertop/table lightly
  • Have your banneton to hand. Flour the base generously and up the sides as much as you can. If your banneton comes with a linen liner, do use it. If you are using a mixing bowl, line it with the linen tea towel and generously flour the insides
  • Wet your fingertips on your dominant hand and flick off the excess
  • Tilt the container towards you, so that the dough starts slipping downwards, and, using your fingertips encourage it down and out of the container onto your floured surface. Use your dough scraper as you feel necessary to help. Get all of the little bits of dough out – you want these (better in your loaf than down the sink or in the bin!)
  • You don’t need the container anymore
  • You now need to repeat that stretch and lift-over method you used yesterday – we need to shape the dough. This tightens the exterior surface of the dough, tensioning so. A shaped loaf becomes even more taught as it expands during the final ferment/rise. This allows for a great crust and a good spring (when scored) and stops it spreading out unevenly in any direction once you’ve tipped it out of the banneton
  • If any time during shaping your dough sticks, use the dough scraper to lift it where it’s sticking and dust with extra flour and place back down
  • Grab a side of the dough, stretch and lift upwards and outwards and pick the ends in place in the middle of the dough ball. Turn and repeat – you’ll need to do this about 6-8 times. Take a look at the dough from above – you’re trying to get a fairly accurate circle (any ‘corner’ sticking out will spread in the oven). Pinch call the ends together in the middle into a seam so they don’t unravel
  • Make sure your surface is floured and turn your dough over, so the seam is underneath. Using your floured fingers or the dough scraper, go round the loaf gently but firmly stretching down the sides to the underneath of the loaf, turning it as you go in a scooping motion, to continue making the rounded, tightened shape:
  • A note here – don’t stretch and tighten the dough too much – it will eventually tear (it’s not endlessly elastic). You’ll get used to this level. If it does tear it’s not the end of the world, just that’s where the loaf probably will expand in the oven, and expand unevenly
  • Take your loaf and gently place it in the banneton, seam side up this time
  • Gently lifting/pushing the dough in at the side (being careful not to damage it), dust down the side of the loaf/banneton with some flour. Do this all all the way round so that the loaf does not stick as it rises
  • Cover with a clean tea towel, making sure it’s a little domed/lifted at the top (to leave space for the bread to rise

Stage 5 – second fermentation

  • Leave for about three hours (though if it’s hot, check first after 90 minutes)
  • Your loaf should have risen and have a sort of ‘thick jelly’ like wobble to it. the way to test if it’s ready is to gently make an indent in the dough (at the top, just in from the side) with a finger
  • Does it spring back about 70-90% into place, leaving the tiniest of dents? If so this is perfect!
  • If it fills in completely it needs much more time to rise. Give it another hour and try again
  • If it doesn’t spring back at all and you’re left with a large indentation, oops – did you leave your loaf longer than three hours? Did you leave it out when it was hot indoors for too long? Did you leave it out in a hot place last night (when it should’ve been in the fridge? Don’t despair: you’ll still get a loaf and you can bake it, it will just be more dense and won’t rise.
  • Assuming you’re at that Goldilocks stage with your dough – it’s just right, now stick it in the fridge for half an hour to slow down the ferment and help it ‘set’
  • Turn your oven on to 140C fan / 160C conventional
  • Put your large baking tray on a rack at the bottom of your oven. Make sure that there is plenty of height between the bottom rack and the top rack – you may want to only leave the bottom oven rack in. If they’re too close your loaf may rise into the top rack!
  • Place the flat baking tin at the bottom of the oven, under the rack you’re going to use
  • Have your knife/blade.razor/lame ready + a little extra flour + a cup of water

See my YouTube post about making your own lame:

Stage 6 – scoring and baking

  • After half an hour retrieve your loaf
  • Take out the warmed baking tray from the oven (wear your gloves!) and dust it with a little flour
  • Invert the loaf onto the baking tray (where the flour is) and smooth out the flour that’s left on the top of the loaf, after it was tipped out of the banneton
  • Take your blade or knife and make a swift and decisive cut across the top of the loaf – as a start for this loaf, do just one single one from one side to the other. Cut depth should be about 1 cm at its deepest (any less and there won’t be much spread, too much and you’ll cut into the air holes and deflate the loaf). See my post on nine top tips for bread scoring
  • (If you’re feeling adventurous immediately, do four cuts in a criss-cross pattern as in the main bread image for this recipe)
  • Now your bread is ready to go in. But, first tip the cup of water into the flat baking tin at the bottom of the oven – this is to create steam
  • Immediately put the baking tray + loaf in the oven and close the door
  • Increase the temperature to 240C fan oven or 260C conventional oven (or if not using fan setting)
  • Set a timer for 45 minutes
  • As soon as your oven gets up to temperature, turn it down by 20 degrees (to 220 C fan / 240 C conventional)
  • What to look for: when baked your loaf should be a nice rich warm brown colour. Where the slashes/scores were made these will be darker. The crust should look dry
  • To test it’s done tap the bottom of the loaf and it should sound hollow and feel fairly rigid. To test throughly, if you have a digital probe thermometer, the bread should be 80C or more
  • Not done? Put it back for another 10 minutes

Alternative timings

Here are some alternative times for your sourdough method:

Bake in a day – you need to be an early bird!

Refresh your starter last thing before going to bed the night before (note the timing change here works as your bread is doing the main ferment in the day when it’s warmer – at night it’s colder and the ferment takes longer)

5.30 am stage 1: mix and autolyse – autolyse for 30 mins only

6.00 am stage 2: gluten development. Only perform one lift, stretch and fold routine

6.20 am stage 3: first ferment – leave, covered, all day

6.00 pm stage 4: shaping

6.15 pm stage 5: second ferment

9.30 pm stage 6: score and bake

Changing your sourdough up after practice

Alternative flours, inclusions and flavours – please see the list on my ‘simple yeasted bread‘ recipe. The advice and suggestions there for swapping out flours, adding extra ingredients, making the bread enriched and for adding flavourings and colourings go just as much for wild yeast sourdough as they do for bread leavened with commercial yeast.

A gallery of just a few of my many wild yeast loaves (these are made using this base recipe, some with slight change-ups, such as the addition of Marmite and cheddar, cider apple vinegar or beetroot):

My ‘best’ pizza dough – with a garlic bread recipe

While you can use almost any ‘standard’ bread recipe with a glug of olive oil to make pizza or garlic bread, with a little extra effort you can create a pizza base that’s really special.

You may think that it’s a bit pointless to make a tasty pizza base, given that most people drown their pizzas in toppings. However, this makes awesome garlic bread and if you use restraint with your pizza toppings, making something more classic Italian than loaded American-style, you’ll definitely notice the difference.

So, while I use a little added sourdough starter in this to add a tang and help with the rise (as I reduce the amount of dried yeast used) you can just use all dried yeast if you do not maintain any wild yeast yourself. The wild yeast does, hand on heart, truly make a difference to the taste but its still quite a nice dough with just 100% fast acting dried yeast, and I’ll indicate the swap in the recipe.

For this recipe I have also produced a YouTube video, in which I go on to cook two garlic breads. I have included the additional garlic bread recipe below, after the dough recipe.

As ever, do please leave a comment if you’ve made this or ask me any questions about it – I’m happy to answer recipe and technique questions.

Video – the full recipe and instructions for this!

Notes

  • Makes two 12 inch pizza/garlic bread bases
  • If you can’t get hold of Italian tipo 00 flour use half plain flour (‘all purpose’ flour in the US) and half strong white bread flour.
  • If you don’t make sourdough bread and therefore don’t have a yeast starter culture, use 7g of dried fast acting yeast (instead of the wild yeast + dried yeast).
  • Don’t substitute dried herbs in this – fresh herbs make such a difference here and also look amazing through the dough.
  • If you have those pizza trays with the punched holes in, to crisp the base as it cooks, you will need to line them with baking paper first. I use these trays and you cannot rest the pizza dough for the second proof in them without a baking paper insert: the dough will sag through the holes, so do prepare them. Solid pizza trays, baking stones and baking trays will only need a light dusting of flour or semolina.

Equipment – for the dough

  • Large mixing bowl
  • Pizza trays or large baking trays
  • Scales, measuring cups and spoons, sharp knife
  • Something to cover the bowl (a shower cap, a clean tea towel, cling film etc)
  • Dough scraper or large knife
  • Rolling pin

Equipment – for the garlic bread

  • Knife
  • A mandolin is useful, although not necessary
  • Small bowl, spoon

Ingredients – for the dough

  • 435g of tipo 00 flour (see notes above)
  • 4g of fast acting dried yeast
  • 1 large teaspoon of wild yeast starter culture (see notes above)
  • 10g fine salt
  • Handful of fresh herbs (I’ve used rosemary, flat leaf parsley, curly parsley, broad leaf thyme – but you can use whatever herb/s you like or have available)
  • 1 tablespoon of good quality extra virgin olive oil – I’ve used Filippo Berio here
  • 255ml of tepid water
  • A little extra of the olive oil for the kneaded dough

Ingredients – for the garlic breads

  • 150g unsalted butter, at room temperature or lightly softened
  • Half a teaspoon of rock salt
  • Two tablespoons of fresh herbs (I used parsley and basil)
  • Half a ball of mozzarella, finely chopped
  • Two or three garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
  • One large waxy potato (such as Jersey Royal or Charlotte), very finely sliced

Method

  • Mix the flour, dried yeast, wild yeast starter culture (if using), salt, olive oil, herbs and water into a rough scraggy mess in your large bowl
  • You can use a fork, a dough whisk or your fingers – make sure all the bits of dough stuck to fingers or implements are put back in the bowl
  • Cover the bowl – using a tea bowl, cling film, a shower cap etc
  • Leave for 20 to 30 minutes
  • Tip out the dough onto a clean surface and knead for about 6-8 minutes, until the dough becomes glossier and smoother. You should not require any additional flour for your surface (if you feel you must use some, please use as little as possible)
  • When the dough becomes glossy and smooth, oil your palms a little and work it into the dough for the last couple of kneading movements and for shaping the dough into a ball
  • A final little olive oil on the hands is required to rub the shaped dough, so that it does not stick when rising. Turn the dough back into your bowl, so the seam side is facing upwards
  • Cover again, and proof for up to 1 hour [30 minutes in very hot conditions, to 60 minutes for cooler]

Please note that because you are not using traditional bread dough, this dough does not rise much during either proofing stage

  • After the dough’s first proofing and resting stage, have your pizza trays ready – see notes above for preparation
  • Tip out the dough onto you clean surface and chop in half (you can weight it out exactly if you prefer)
  • Start shaping the dough with your hands and move on to using a rolling pin once you’ve stretched the dough out. Flip the dough over at least once to work the other side while shaping. Stretch and roll the dough to fit your pizza tray; as mentioned, this will make two 12 inch circular pizzas
  • It’s likely that you will not require any additional flour while shaping, not even for the rolling pin. However, should it really stick, use as minimal an amount of flour as possible on the table and rolling pin
  • Once each pizza base is prepared, lay them on your prepared pizza trays
  • Cover the dough and rest for 30 – 60 minutes (depending on how hot your environment is: 30 minutes for a very hot day, 45 for a typical home environment and 60 minutes if it’s cool)

Again, do note that the dough won’t have risen much due to the type of flour used

  • While the dough is proofing, heat your oven to 240 C fan or 260 C convention (top and bottom heat)
  • If you are making the garlic breads (or are going on to make pizzas), prepare your ingredients and toppings now. For the garlic breads:
  • Mix the herbs, salt, garlic and butter together. Chop the mozzarella up finely and slice the potato as thinly as you can (this is where a mandolin slicer would come in handy if you have one) – keep these separated
  • After this final proofing stage, slather half of the garlic butter on each dough base, leaving a 2cm/1 inch rim around the edge
  • On one dough base, layer over the sliced potato and on the other sprinkle over the chopped mozzarella
  • Bake in the oven for 14 minutes. The crust should be puffed up and brown and the garlic butter bubbling. On the potato garlic bread the sliced potatoes will be cooked and starting to crisp at the edges, on the cheesey garlic bread, the mozzarella will be fairly liquified but starting to brown
  • Serve immediately, although it can be eaten cooled

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Sourdough flatbreads

sourdough flatbreads - copyright Lynn Clark, Ink Sugar Spice

These are my gorgeous, tangy flatbreads but they do take some commitment as they are fully sourdough, with a pre-ferment stage.

I’ve been making sourdough since 2001… I was already making bread by hand for many, many years before this, but started as my twin baby sons began weaning. I was a little obsessed with making everything as naturally as possible for them; as they had been very premature I was trying to do my best nutritionally. I don’t often post sourdough recipes, despite how long I’ve been making bread with wild yeast starters. This is because there are plenty of resources out there and there are a few ‘formulas’ for sourdough that can be learnt and used repeatedly and then adapted at home, why add another to confuse people!? Where I have added a sourdough recipe it’s typically for something very unusual that I’ve started from scratch to create the end result I wanted, such as the sourdough pan d’oro I posted about four years ago. There is also my article on looking after and maintaining your starter: Sourdough for starters (or growing your own pet yeast) (which was written in early 2016).

What’s in a name?

If you are scratching your head at all the terms used for the different stages in sourdough making, don’t worry as you’re not alone! There are various terms for the different stages, yet most names appear interchangeable and it’s not clear if there is indeed any differentiation.

For instance, the wild yeast starter – that bubbling mix produced by nurturing just flour and water and naturally occurring yeast present in the air and the flour – has many names. It can be referred to as a starter, mother, chief, chef, head or leaven (and there’s possibly more), though starter and mother seem to be most common.

When making a sourdough bread, it’s typical to take part of that starter and, mixing it with a little flour and water, create an early fermentation stage before you go on to add the remaining full ingredients to make the bread dough ‘proper’ and let it ferment and prove (the wild yeast takes longer to make the bread rise and it’s also this length of time which creates the sour taste). See my article on The science of bread making: how yeast works.

This particular stage has confusing names – is it a biga, a sponge, a pre-ferment, a poolish, a pouliche? Have you come across any other terms in a recipe? They all mean this particular stage and are roughly interchangeable. Some places cite that a biga is firmer (ie with less liquid) than a poolish, but I’ve also read recipes where the hydration for a biga is quite wet and some dry for a poolish. Confuzzled? I’m not surprised.

Modernist Cuisine looked into this and found too that there “seemed to be no universally accepted hydration levels for each variety”. It conducted some experiments about whether it made a difference to have a wetter or dryer pre-ferment stage and concluded it really makes no difference – or any difference was very subtle. Please read the interesting Modernist Cuisine article “Are biga, Poolish and Sponge Interchangeable” here.

An easy conclusion to make then, is that these names are regional – certainly, biga is Italian and poolish is a French nod to immigrant Polish bakers, but again this isn’t a cut and dried answer. Before commercial yeast became available, it appears in the UK that this stage was ‘sponge’ (most commonly) but confusingly now a sponge seems to generally refer to this stage but only when commercial yeast (blocks of live yeast or dried yeast) is used, not a wild yeast starter.

I think then, what does it matter what it’s called? I don’t name my stages when I’m making my sourdough breads at home – I just get on with it the process of bread making. I’ve used “biga” here just because this recipe owes more to Italian cuisine through the use of olive oil and the accompaniments I ended up serving it with. Follow any sourdough recipe, enjoy the process and the delicious results and don’t waste any thinking time on what’s in a name in that particular recipe 🙂

Timing

To make this within a 24 hour period/same day in order to eat fresh with an evening meal, my suggested timings are:

Mix the biga about 6:00 [or do this the night before, leaving it in the fridge until the next stage]

Mix the dough ingredients into the biga and autolyze at 11:00 and then knead

Leave to ferment and rise until 17:00

At 17:00, divide and roll out the dough into flatbread rounds

At 18:00 fry off the flatbreads

one of my wild yeast starters, ready to use - Lynn Clark, Ink Sugar Spice
Bubbly, ready to use wild yeast starter

Equipment

  • Medium bowl (for the biga) plus something to cover it with (a shower cap, cling film or tea towel etc)
  • Large bowl and a cover
  • A dough hook or large fork if you want to use one (or just your hands)
  • A bench scraper or heavy knife
  • Frying pan or cast iron skillet
  • Spatula or tongs for turning the flatbreads whilst cooking

For the biga:

  • 70g of a lively sourdough mother/starter
  • 70g strong white bread flour
  • 70g lukewarm water

Biga method

  • Mix together the starter, flour and water
  • Cover and leave for about five hours or overnight in the fridge

For the dough (results in 75% hydration):

  • 220g strong white bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 165g warm water
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

Also…

  • Extra olive oil for the bowl and frying
  • Handful of fresh parsley (or mixed herbs), finely chopped

Dough method

  • Mix and autolyze for 20 minutes
  • Knead for 10 minutes – it is a wet dough but will come together eventually. Only add a little more flour to your hands (not the table) if you are absolutely sure you need to
  • Smooth the dough into a ball using your hands and a bench scraper
  • Wipe a little olive oil into your bowl before placing your dough in and cover the bowl
  • Rest for four to five hours somewhere warm, but not very warm (flatbreads don’t need to rise that much so the dough does not need to be rested fully overnight). Alternatively if you want a very sour sourdough, leave up to eight hours
  • Take the dough and chop into eight equal pieces
sourdough flatbreads - copyright Lynn Clark, Ink Sugar Spice
  • Flour the surface you’re working on and your rolling pin
  • Take one of the pieces of dough and start to roll out, flipping it over as you need to
  • The dough will be able to be rolled out to about 16-18cm in diameter
  • When it’s rolled out, sprinkle over some of the chopped herbs, flip it over and sprinkle more on the other side. Pat down or lightly roll
  • Move this dough to the side (on a floured area, on a linen cloth/couche or a piece of greaseproof paper) and finish rolling out the other seven pieces of dough
sourdough flatbreads - copyright Lynn Clark, Ink Sugar Spice
  • Once they’re rolled out you can chill in the fridge, but you can cook these immediately
  • Heat some olive oil in a large frying or griddle pan over a medium to high heat
  • Once hot, lift up a flatbread carefully and place in the pan
  • It will sizzle – keeping an eye on it, leave it for about four to five minutes on one side. It will bubble up immensely. Lift up an edge and see if the flatbread has browned nicely – if so, flip over
sourdough flatbreads - how they look after frying on the first side - copyright Lynn Clark, Ink Sugar Spice
Frying off, this is how frying on the first side looks
  • Cook the flatbread for four to five minutes on the other side and then transfer to a plate or board and cover with a clean tea towel to keep warm (alternatively pop on a plate in a very low oven)
sourdough flatbreads - how they look when cooked on the second side - copyright Lynn Clark, Ink Sugar Spice
This is the flatbread, fried off on the second side
  • Cook the remaining flatbreads as above
  • They’re best eaten warm and soft, but get a nice crunch to them when they are fully cold
  • If you want to use them as wraps after they have cooled, say the day after, just pop them in a microwave for a few seconds or warm up in a oven and they’ll soften again
sourdough flatbreads - copyright Lynn Clark, Ink Sugar Spice

I would welcome your comments, feedback and likes on this recipe (as with all my recipes). Did you make it? What did you pair it with? Did you use different herbs? Did the photography help you? Have you a question in regards to the recipe?

Thank you, Lynn

Sourdough for starters (or grow your own pet yeast)

Colin2.0.jpg

I recently began a new wild yeast starter as I lost my long-lived one. I have been making sourdough bread since my children started weaning onto solid food, right back in 2001. This post details how to ‘grow’ and look after a wild yeast starter yourself with some tips to keeping it going.

My last batch of wild yeast had been cultivated for several years and my children have helped me to nurture various starters, including that batch. They had learnt about micro organisms, baking and some food science in the process of looking after the yeast, even from a very young age (kitchen science is a great thing to get your kids involved in).

They had also decided to name that last batch ‘Colin’ for some reason, though starters are often labelled as ‘mothers’ and thought of as female (despite not really needing to be assigned a gender!). However, about two months ago I knocked over the lovely glass Kilner jar that Colin had been residing in. It teetered and toppled and then tessellated into little pieces all across the floor.

Damn.

I couldn’t resuscitate Colin – he was covered in shards of glass. He was good too – what lovely bread Colin had helped me create over the past few years. I shed a tear over his passing. I even contemplated making a little chalk line all around where he’d lain to mark where I’d accidentally finished him off.

But life goes on – and so to the rebirth of Colin mark two. Or is that Colin 2.0?

This time I’ve taken precautions. Colin 2.0 is housed in a modern apartment: a nice tall plastic, bounce-able tub. I did stash a bit of him in the freezer before the catastrophe but I made a new batch nonetheless and kept what was left of Colin on ice just in case. Yeast will sit nicely in stasis in a freezer almost indefinitely.

Cultivating your own wild yeast is easy peasy. All it takes is some decent flour, a bit of water, a tall lidded container and a couple of days of patience. Then it just needs a bit of attention every few days and it’ll be happy. I’ve seen “recipes” for starters that include live yoghurt or milk and any number of other additions. You do not need anything other than strong flour, water and something with a lid to keep it in to begin with.

What also puzzles me is that I’ve seen pre-packed starter for sale at alarming prices: if you can’t be arsed to take a couple of days to wait for a starter to begin to ferment, then you’re not going to look after one you’ve paid for. What a chronic waste of money – I worry many people who pay £14 or so for the starter will only make one or two loaves, possibly binning them if they haven’t worked. Another reason to cultivate your own starter, as it’s virtually free – if you go on to love making sourdough bread, fantastic, and if you don’t, you’ve wasted far less money.

I’ve written a previous blog post about the science of yeast, which is of course not written with any scientific expertise, but from what I’ve learnt through breadmaking for years and quite a lot of library researching (to improve my understanding of breadmaking and therefore my bread; the write-up was a happy additional extra). You can take a gander at my science of yeast post: it covers what is yeast exactly, how yeast ‘does what it does’ and looks at what affects yeast during the baking process.

Make your own starter – the ingredient list

You need a tall jar with a lid –  at least 1 1/2 litres. A Kilner jar does the job nicely, but as you’ve just read, this will smash if you’re as clumsy as me. I now use a tall plastic pot with a screw top lid I found in a pound store (result!)

A large ladle full of decent flour. Many sources will tell you to use rye or good wholemeal, but actually a good quality stoneground (organic if possible) strong white bread flour will start you off nicely. Cheaper and easier to get hold of too. This is because it is choc full of complex carbohydrates which yeast loves to eat. Those specialist flours contain less, although they do impart a much nicer flavour. My advice when starting your starter is to begin with good white flour, then as the yeast matures and becomes more vigorous then continue to feed it with rye, emmer, spelt, whatever you prefer to build up that nutty rich flavour.

Water, use the same amount of water as flour every time you ‘feed’ your starter and you can’t go much wrong. There are a lot or arguments about the quality of water – I’d say in the UK as long as you’re using fresh drawn water from the tap (transferred or measured out in a clean container) you should be OK. Elsewhere where tap water is not drinkable or unreliable, then bottled spring water is your best bet.

What to do

In a large bowl, put a ladle (or a half cup full) of flour and the same of tepid water. Whisk it up with a massive balloon whisk or a hand mixer. Don’t worry – it loves it! As yeast is present all around us, in the flour, in the air, you’re practically beating more yeast in.

After a few minutes of vigorous whisking, tip it all into the container and pop on the lid.

The container needs to go somewhere a bit warm (but not hot) and that has a fairly constant temperature. For the last few times I’ve begun a new starter I’ve stuck mine in the airing cupboard.

You now need to wait for the yeast to start its anaerobic activity and begin kicking out bubbles of gas. This will take anything from a day to three or four days. Keep checking your starter every twelve hours.

slashedLeafSourdough
Sourdough loaf: made with sponge method. Wholemeal flour at 55% hydration
Once it’s started to bubble, now is the time for your pet’s first feed!

Your first few feeds will be pretty much the same as all subsequent feeds, although you may want to vary the type of flour you use later and once established the starter needs feeding much less frequently.

Tip in a ladle full of each of flour and tepid water. Mix it vigorously with either a fork or a slim whisk. Put the lid back on and stick back in its warm spot.

You should feed it in the same way for another two days – a ladle full of flour and one of water and a good mix.

After three to four of these feeds your jar will be getting quite full and hopefully very bubbly (like the photo of Colin 2.0 above). Now you can use your starter to make bread!

I’m not going to give you a recipe in this post. I’d actually suggest you try a normal bread recipe first and just add a ladle full of your starter to it, to test the yeast’s vigorousness and flavour. However, you can just dive straight in and make a sourdough loaf with your new pet if you prefer.

Tips on keeping your pet alive

Please note, I look after my starter(s) as someone who only makes a sourdough loaf about once a week (twice at most). This means I am feeding my starter and keeping it’s size in check as I don’t use it that often. For other home and professional bakers who make sourdough very regularly – even daily – they don’t need to temper it’s size or withdraw and discard any starter, as they will be using it up as quickly as they can cultivate it. They’re also unlikely to leave a starter for any length of time (ie when going on holiday) or need to find a way of storing it for future revival. There are plenty of online resources which give fuller instructions for more frequent wild yeast use.

Don’t forget, when making bread with your starter NEVER use it all up or you’ll have to begin from the beginning all over again. Keep a bit in the bottom of the jar and carrying on feeding it.

Feeding your starter should now be about three times a fortnight (when you have it in the fridge – see below) – that is more than once a week, sometimes twice. Use equal amounts of flour and water, about a ladle full of each and whisk it in lightly with a fork.

When you have the wild yeast established and get into a routine of feeding it, you may need to scoop out a little of the starter before a feed if you have not depleted it by making a lot of bread (you don’t have to do this at every feed, just when your jar is getting towards being full). The reasons are twofold: firstly you’ll quickly get much more starter than you need and it’ll fill up your jar if you’re not a very regular sourdough baker. Secondly, it seems to invigorate the yeast a little more if there is a more even ratio between the amount of existing starter and the water and flour you’re putting in – this is just my own cursory observation (I’ve no hard proof) but it seems to me to be more active if it has to work harder.

Slow your wild yeast’s activity down by keeping it in the fridge once it’s got past its first few days, unless you intend to make sourdough every couple of days. The cold inhibits yeast (though doesn’t kill it) so will slow it’s biological process down. It’s now best to not have the lid completely tight on the jar too.

When you want to make a loaf, you need a little prior planning. Bring your pet wild yeast out of the fridge to let it warm, give it a small feed (about half what you would normally – just enough to encourage a bit of vigour) and leave it to get a bit of a wriggle on before you bake with it. Ideally get the starter out and feed it the night before you want to bake, but at least 4 hours before.

If you’re going on holiday you can help your pet survive by feeding it a bit more flour than usual and a bit less water – this drier environment slows the yeast as there is more carbohydrate to eat through but it’s a bit more difficult. This, combined with sticking in a fridge will allow it to last much longer between feeds.

Don’t panic if you’ve not fed it for a few days and it’s all ‘gone a bit watery’. That’s the yeast excreting alcohol as it respires, because it’s run out of carbohydrate (flour) to eat. Just pour this liquid (called hooch) off and then immediately feed the yeast – all should be well. I have (ahem) done this many times to my yeast and it’s always come back well.

I’ve read that if your yeast forms a crust (from lack of feeding) that this can be prised off and the yeast revived easily – I have never seen this so I can’t comment.

Also dozens of sources on sourdough say that if your starter starts to really smell, then all is lost and you should start again as unwanted bacteria has got in. This hasn’t happened to me either, but I would say approach this with caution as if you are new to this sourdough does always smell – however it is pungent but NOT acrid. When your starter has got going and is bubbling take a good long sniff and get used to the smell – you will get this smell often as you bake bread with your starter and get used to it. This familiarity will enable you to detect when it is past all redemption and needs to go down the sink. If it does smell bad then it will be irretrievable and you will have to cultivarte a new starter (and if this is the case I’d suggest a very thorough clean of the jar afterwards, even sterilisation).

Survival techniques

You can save some of your wild yeast as a back up, reviving it in case you lose your starter. To do this your starter should be in a fairly lively stage (ie don’t use it just at the point it needs feeding as it is most weak then). Freezing is my preferred method. It’s also useful to prepare a back up of a starter that is a particularly great batch.

  • Freezing
  • Put a piece of baking paper on a baking tray that is small enough to go in your freezer drawer or compartment. Drop tablespoon-sized amounts of your starter on the baking sheet and flatten them out a little. It doesn’t matter how many you do. Pop in the freezer and once frozen (leave about 4-6 hours or overnight) you can peel these disks of frozen starter off and pop in a freezer bag or container. You can keep this almost indefinitely, but I’d replace with a new batch after 6 months.
  • To revive, place three or four of the disks in a clean, lidded jar and allow it to thaw. Then, once thawed, start to feed it as from the instructions for the ‘first feed’ above. It will only take a couple of days to get your starter back up and bubbly.
  • Drying
  • You can also dry out your starter in a low oven or dehydrator. Again, use a piece of baking baking on a baking tray. This time, spread out a layer of starter across the baking paper. Either pop in a dehydrator (you may need to cut up the baking paper and place smaller pieces in) and follow your equipment’s instructions. If you’re using an oven, put it on its lowest setting, place the baking tray in the bottom of the oven (the coolest part) and leave for an hour. If the yeast isn’t fully dry, turn off the oven and close the door back up. Leave for a couple of hours or overnight. Once dried, crunch up the yeast into pieces and store in a clean jar or container. This again lasts pretty indefinitely but do replace after six months to be sure.
  • To revive, place half a cupful or so of the dried yeast in a clean, lidded jar and add in roughly half the amount of tepid water. Leave to dissolve a little and then go on to the first feeding stage.
  • One benefit of drying yeast, is you can grind it up and use it as an umami powder within some recipes, and it’s a great way with a little water, to create crackle coating for bread.

Enjoy your new pet!

August 2019 – I’ve created a new carb lovers’ area on my Facebook site, if you have any questions you can leave them here in the comments or in this Facebook group area:

Inksugarspice on Facebook – Carb lovers’ group

Spinach gazpacho with ham ‘crisps’ and butter croutons

I was lucky enough to have been sent a gorgeous hamper of mediterranean ingredients from Lurpak (very chuffed – thanks!) and this is the first dish that I’ve made from the ingredients. A nice light lunch for two or a starter for four.

Spinach gazpacho

Equipment

  • Two baking trays – one must fit inside the other
  • Baking paper or greaseproof paper
  • Blender
  • Small frying pan
  • Bowl

Ingredients – ham ‘crisps’

  • One or two slices of Parma, Serrano or other thinly sliced ham

Method – Parma ham crisps

  1. Turn the oven on to 180C fan / 200C conventional
  2. Line the largest baking tray with a sheet of baking paper and lay the ham slices on it – make sure they are flat and do not touch
  3. Draw a knife gently down the ham to make two to three long slices – you do not have to cut all the way through
  4. Cover with another sheet of baking paper and then weigh down with the smaller baking tray
  5. Put a heavy oven proof pan or dish on top of the baking trays
  6. Pop in the oven for 18-20 mins
  7. Remove all the weights and trays and carefully snap the ham down the lines where you scored it earlier
  8. Set aside to use as a garnish

Ingredients – buttered croutons

  • Two slices of a good quality bread – sourdough or baguette, etc cut into cubes
  • Butter (obviously I used Lurpak here!)
  • Olive oil
  • Rock salt
  • Mix of fresh herbs, chopped – I used parsley, basil and thyme

Method – buttered croutons

  1. Put a large knob of butter (about 20g) in a small frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil
  2. Put over a medium-high heat and heat until just about to bubble
  3. Throw in the cube bread and coat throroughly in the butter and oil
  4. While frying keep moving the bread cubes to stop them from burning on any one side. It’s actually a bit easier if you have two wooden spoons/spatulas – one in each hand – and ‘flick’ the bread cubes into the middle with both at the same time
  5. When nice and brown, remove from the heat and sprinkle over a little rock salt, some freshly cracked black pepper and the chopped herbs

Ingredients – spinach gazpacho

  • One large shallot or two small shallots
  • One large beef tomato or two medium-sized ones (don’t use cherry tomatoes for this)
  • Half a large cucumber
  • One spring onion
  • One garlic clove
  • A quarter of a green pepper
  • Spinach – about 100g
  • Chilli pepper – about a 2cm piece of a medium hot chilli
  • A few ice cubes
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh thyme
  • Sherry or cider vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Tabasco or other hot sauce

Method – spinach gazpacho

  1. Boil a kettle and mark a small slit or two on the skin(s) of the tomato(es) with a knife
  2. Put the tomato(es) in a bowl and pour over the boiling water
  3. After a few minutes you will be able to easily peel the skin off the tomato(es). Discard the skin
  4. Pulse the tomato, cucumber, garlic, spinach, spring onion, pepper, chilli, a sprinkle of thyme, a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of vinegar together in a blender until smooth
  5. Taste the gazpacho and add as much salt, pepper and Tabasco to your own taste
  6. Add the ice cubes and pulse briefly
  7. Pour into serving bowls

To serve

  • Place the ham ‘crisps’ on the gazpacho and sprinkle a few of the croutons over the top