Making a ‘mother’ or leaven for sourdough

Don’t be scared of making a leaven for your sourdough. It’s not hard, and will take about five days: which is tedious if you want to start making bread today. However you could ask a friend – lots of people make sourdough nowadays and they might have a bit of ‘mother’ they can let you have.

Day 1:  If you can find an organic potato, wash it and clean it and peel it.If not do iwithout the peel.

Put a piece of the peel into a clean glass jar and add a tablespoon of wholemeal bakers flour and a tablespoon of tepid water, and mix together. Cover with a muslin cloth or open weave tea towel.

Day  2: Uncover  jar and add another tablespoon of water and of flour and mix well with the rest. Cover and leave in a warm place.

 Day 3: You  should notice some bubbles beginning to form and a pleasant yeasty smell, and possibly a slightly acidic smell. Add another tablespoon of flour and of water and stir.

Day 4: Fermentation should be happening by now. Add another tablespoon of flour and tepid water and mix, and remove the potato peel.

Day 5: Your leaven should almost be ready. It should be nice and bubbly and smell sweet and tangy. Add another tablespoon of water and flour and stir.

Day 6:You should have a proper leaven  by now. Leave it in a warm place and then weight it. Add equal amounts of water and flour to match the weight of the leaven. ( If you have 150 gms of leaven , add 75 gms each of water and flour. This is called 100% hydration.)

This leaven came straight out of the fridge. It will develop more bubbles as it warms up.

Use whatever you need for baking, keep some and discard the rest. If you keep it in the fridge you will need to feed it once a week, as above.

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Baking Alaskan Sourdough, revised recipe

FeaturedBaking Alaskan Sourdough, revised recipe

I have amended this recipe( November 2018) to make it slightly quicker, easier ( line the banettons with rice flour) and better. Importantly I have  added a tip on making a tight ball of dough before leaving the bread to rise finally, to make it  rise better in the oven. I also suggest you can make three loaves and leave two in the fridge to rise for up to five days before baking.

Why did I start making bread? It’s a way to drive to buy my favourite sourdough bread – all the way to Honor’s Bread in Bermagui NSW – some three and a half hours, so the next best solution, I kept on thinking,  was to make my own.

But I kept on dragging my heels, until a friend said – ‘have some of my starter. I brought it back from Alaska.’ Don’t ask how she got it through Australian Quarantine at Border Security.! We have the toughest quarantine in the world. I should know, I once worked there.

Actually the answer is she didn’t even think bringing live yeasts into the country in a tightly screwed down jam jar would be a problem, so she sailed through the nothing to declare section of Customs. Anyway all the yeasts have now been baked in bread.

This is a recipe for white sourdough – it’s has the most satisfying golden crunchy crust and big aerated holes – and the secret is – you don’t have to knead, just fold.

Because the process takes 24 hours, in which time you need to be around, I only make  three loaves of bread once a week and freeze two. Alternatively I leave two unbaked loaves in the fridge for up to four days, and bake them as needed. I am amazed at how good they are. Five days in the maximum I reckon.

Ingredients ( Half these ingredients if you think this will make too much)

For the leaven

200 gms sourdough starter fed with equal amounts of flour and water to make 400 gms(100% hydration) That is:

100 mls water ( tepid. It should be blood temperature, so when you put you finger in the water it doesn’t feel hot or cold.)

50 gms strong white flour (make sure the flour is bakers flour, not pizza or pasta flour)

50 gms wholemeal baker’s flour

For the dough

400 gms leaven

1200 mls water (tepid)

1.2kg strong white baker’s flour

400 gms wholemeal  baker’s flour

40 gms sea salt.

Timeline. This is as a guide, obviously you can start earlier if you like!

7am: Take the leaven out of the fridge and leave at room temperature, covered with a damp tea towel for an hour or so to warm up and go bubbly.(If you haven’t  got a leaven make one first. See post on creating a leaven.)

9.am: Feed the leaven. When the leaven has a decent amount of bubbles on the top add equal amounts of flour and water to leaven (as in recipe) and leave to rise for about two hours, covered with a damp tea towel.

9.00 am: Autolyse. Mix together the flour and the water for the bread, but don’t  add salt. Mix by hand until elastic and smooth.This autolysing give the gluten time to develop. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place. The leaven and the autolysed mix can both develop at the same time.

11.00 am:Mix the bread dough.The leaven should have a number of bubbles on top and if you tip it it will look active with lots of holes. Mix the leaven and the autolyse mixture together and add the salt.Combine all by hand. This is the beginning of your bread and is when the folding begins. Set the timer for half hour intervals for the next two hours.

In between read one of my short stories, or a book,  watch a video, do the cleaning or play with the kids. I even have a friend who takes it in the back of the car when she goes shopping, then whips out to fold it when the half hour is up!

11.15 pm:Beginning fold. Remove tea towel. Leave dough in the bowl, and wet your hands. Grab part of the dough furthest from you  and stretch and fold over the rest of the dough. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat. Turn again, and then once more so you make four turns  in total.Cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place.

11.45 pm: repeat

12.15 pm: repeat

12.45 pm: repeat

1.15pm: repeat and then leave the dough for an hour

2.15pm: repeat and leave for an hour

3.15pm: Divide Tip the dough onto a lightly floured board and divide into three  balls. The best thing to cut them with is a dough scraper – an invaluable and cheap baking tool. Leave the balls to rest for 20 minutes to rest the gluten.

3.35pm: Shape dough Flip balls over on bench. Shape by pulling and stretching each corner into the middle of the ball. It’s very important to create a very tight ball of dough – this means it will rise better, so keep on pulling and stretching and folding until its no longer possible.

Shape and put into a well floured banneton( the best non stick flour there is,is fine rice flour,I  suggest you use this so your bread doesn’t stick in the banneton)or a well oiled tin with the seam the seam at the bottom if in a tin and at the top if in a banneton ( as you reverse the loaf out to bake it.)

Put in fridge to next morning Cover the bread with a damp tea towel and leave overnight in the fridge or alternatively I leave mine in the garage in winter because its almost as cold as the fridge. I have left mine as long as five days in the fridge and it still bakes well, albeit with a harder crust.

OR  If you are running out of time you can bake the bread after letting it rise for an hour but it won’t be as good!

Baking:

Early morning: Take the bread out of the fridge or garage and bring to room temperature for about an hour.

Put a large pizza stone in the oven, or failing that a number of bricks in a square,with the flat sides uppermost. On the rack below the stone put a metal baking tray.

Heat the oven to 250C.

Sprinkle some fine semolina onto a steel baking peel. (You can buy these for making pizzas, if you don’t have one use a stiff piece of cardboard or a metal tray upside down without any edges.)

Spray the inside of the oven using a plastic spray bottle and boil the kettle.

If you bread is in a banneton upend the bread gently onto the baking peel. With a razor blade slash the top of the bread into three or four even cuts.

Slide the bread onto the pizza stone with the peel. Pour the boiling water into the metal tray underneath the stone. The steam will create a nice crunchy crust.

Cook the bread for 20 minutes at 250 C then turn down to 220 C to ensure the inside is cooked. Test if it is cooked at the end of 40 minutes by tapping the bottom. If it sounds hollow it is cooked

Wait an agonising hour for the bread to cool down, then cut, spread with butter and jam, and eat. If you cut it when it is hot it will go a bit rubbery and not quite so delicious.