GUIDE TO STARTING A SOUR CULTURE

By Paul Barker

Sourdough baking has been a method for making breads for thousands of years. It is a lengthy process, but the resultant sourdough breads are more flavoursome, digestible, have lower GI and require no preservatives. Thus, sourdough breads are also far more nutritious.

The process of making sourdough breads can often be over-complicated which may seem daunting to novice bakers! This guide is intended to simplify the process for you. Once you have your culture established, making sourdough loaves is not difficult, it just requires time. Keeping the sour culture alive takes only two minutes of your time each day!

Sourdough breads are made from flour, salt and water only. Compare this to the ingredients list on mass produced bread on which you may find up to 13 ingredients! Rather than using yeast to rise the bread, sourdough loaves use a sour culture made from just flour and water.

At Cinnamon Square, we have made sourdough bread since we first opened in 2005. Our philosophy has always been to offer our customers wholesome, nutritious real bread. We continue to use the same sour cultures started in 2005 to make all of our sourdough loaves to date. In 2010, we won a Gold Great Taste Award for our Wheat and Rye Sourdough.

 

Wheat & Rye Sourdough

STARTING YOUR SOUR CULTURE

A Sour Culture is made from just flour and water, and is used to leaven bread instead of fresh or dried yeast. It will take around two weeks for your Sour Culture to achieve the stability to survive indefinitely, and be active enough to rise bread. You will only need to make a Sour Culture from scratch once, after which it will be kept alive by feeding it daily with flour and water.

A Sour Culture will remain fresh as it is naturally very acidic, preventing any mould or bad bacteria from growing in it, yet allowing certain strains of wild yeast in the air and flour to enter and flourish in the culture. These wild yeasts will leaven the bread by producing carbon dioxide, just like commercial yeast. However, wild yeasts produce carbon dioxide at a much slower rate, and so far more sour culture must be used in a loaf to give it rise, and the loaf must prove for much longer.

To start a Sour Culture, combine equal quantities of organic flour and water, and then feed it daily with half its weight of flour and half its weight of water. See the table below for a day-to-day feeding regime.

You will see I have used wholemeal flour on day 1 only. This is optional, but I find it introduces more yeast to the Sour Culture, which is useful to make it active.

Your Sour Culture will be ready for use when it smells acidic, looks really bubbly 4-6 hours after feeding, and has a steady consistency. Continue daily feeding and discarding when necessary to keep the total weight to a usable amount.

DAY BY DAY FEEDING SCHEDULE

Total Weight
Day 1 50g Wholemeal 50g 100g
Day 2 50g White 50g 200g
Day 3 100g White 100g 400g
Day 4 (should now smell acidic and look bubbly) 200g White 200g 800g
Day 5 Stir, then discard 700g into compost and feed the remaining 100g
50g White 50g 200g
Day 6 100g White 100g 400g
Day 7 200g White 200g 800g
Day 8 Stir, then discard 700g into compost and feed the remaining 100g
50g White 50g 200g
Day 9 100g White 100g 400g
Day 10 200g White 200g 800g
Day 11 Stir, then discard 700g into compost and feed the remaining 100g
50g White 50g 200g
Day 12 100g White 100g 400g
Day 13 200g White 200g 800g
Day 14
Stir, then discard 700g into compost and feed the remaining 100g
50g White 50g 200g
Day 15 100g White 100g 400g
Day 16 200g White 200g 800g

A FEW NOTES ON SOUR CULTURES

  • Don't be surprised if your Sour Culture attracts fruit flies, they seem to love it !
  • If a clear liquid is present on top of your culture it probably needs feeding, and may indicate that you have missed a feed or two. It should come back to life after a few days of regular feeding. If the liquid is grey in colour your Sour Culture will probably be starving and may not come back to life, especially if it smells bad.
  • You can refrigerate and even freeze your Sour Culture. When you wish to use it again it may take a few days or more to get fully active.

PREPARING YOUR STARTER FOR BAKING

Before using your Sour Culture to make bread, it will require feeding twice a day for the three days prior to use. This allows the culture to become extremely active with wild yeasts. Try to feed the Sour Culture at 12 hour intervals, and time the final feed 12 hours prior to when you start to make your sourdough loaf.

TOP TIP - I would suggest that when you start the daily twice-feeding process, you take a fresh container and place only a small portion of your sour culture (ie 50g) in it. Keep the rest of your Sour Culture in it's original container and feed twice a day as normal.

DON'T continue to twice-feed the Sour Culture for more than a few day as it will start to become less acidic.

PLANNING THE TIMINGS

You will need to plan when you want to bake your bread, and from which work backwards to establish when you need to start twice-feeding your Sour Culture.

The following table outlines the timings for baking a loaf of bread on Saturday afternoon. The entire process below takes 78.5 hours in total, but is well worth the wait!

Bake 0.5 hour Saturday 2:30pm
Final Proof 4 +/- hours Saturday 10:30am
Bulk Fermentation of Dough 2 hours Saturday 8:30am
Dough Preperation & Mixing 0.5 hour Saturday 8am
Day 3 Twice Feeding 24 hours Friday 8am and 8pm
Day 2 Twice Feeding 24 hours Thursday 8am and 8pm
Day 1 Twice Feeding 24 hours Wednesday 8am and 8pm

NOTE - the dough can be made at night and then refrigerated until the morning, when it can be removed and allowed to warm up and gently proved. This offers some flexibility on your timings. The crust of the resulting bread will be richer in colour and have an abundance of tiny bubbles in called 'fisheyes'.

 

 

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Naturally Fermented Bread cover

 

Your Botanical Baking journey begins here...

Learn to bake healthy, gut-friendly loaves and sweet fermented buns using wild yeasts and bacteria cultivated from fruits, vegetables, plants and flowers. Like sourdough baking, botanical baking draws on the amazing process of fermentation and the ancient art of breadmaking to produce consistently delicious, nutritious results and some surprising flavours and aromas. Chapter by chapter, Naturally Fermented Bread will take you through: unique botanical baking methods; basic breadmaking techniques; a range of fermented bread and sweet bun recipes, sourdoughs, and essential tips on edible and poisonous flowers. Authoritative and definitive, this is the perfect introduction to an innovative baking technique and a must for any baker's library.

RELEASED 14TH OCTOBER 2020

Published by Quarry Books, an imprint of The Quarto Group. Released 13th October 2020. £19.99 Hardback.

 

For further info, review copies, extracts, author interviews, or any other request please contact:

Melody Odusanya | melody.odusanya@quarto.com | 07951 309 363

Naturally Fermented Bread p9 breads (pic credit) Joanna Good
Naturally Fermented Bread p79 buns pic credit Joanna Good
Naturally Fermented Bread p91 hot x buns pic credit Joanna Good