Sourdoughs

Sourdoughs

By
Leiths School of Food and Wine
Contains
4 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
978 184949 548 6
Photographer
Peter Cassidy

Artisan breads from all over the world are made using varying types of starter doughs. These doughs have different names – bigas, poolish and levains to name a few – and they are prepared with different quantities of ingredients according to their country or region of origin, but the principle remains the same.

Breads made using a starter dough have a characteristic chewy texture, thick crust and slightly sour, complex flavour, hence the name ‘sourdough’. They also have better keeping qualities than loaves made using just yeast. The classic sourdough loaf is made with a starter that uses natural wild yeasts. Also included here are loaves made from a starter that uses commercial yeast, namely rye bread and ciabatta.

Starter doughs

Some starter doughs are made using commercial yeast, and some using only the naturally occurring yeasts present in the air around us. Using commercial yeast makes the result more predictable and we think this is the best place to start when making these sourdough type loaves for the first time. Using natural yeasts is a project in which you will need to invest some time, and learn as you go. The starter dough you make can be nurtured and kept alive for years!

MAKING A STARTER WITH COMMERCIAL YEAST

When making a starter dough with commercial yeast, roughly half the yeast used to rise a loaf of bread is mixed with some of the flour to make a batter, sometimes with sweetening ingredients such as sugar or honey, but never with salt which slows down the yeast. This starter is stirred and then allowed to ferment, at least overnight. The remaining ingredients are then added and the bread is mixed, kneaded and risen as usual.

You can experiment with all the yeasted recipes in this and any book, by adapting them and making a starter dough with some of their ingredients.

MAKING SOURDOUGH FROM A WILD YEAST STARTER

We are not going to pretend that making sourdough is always easy to master. The speed with which the starter matures can vary and you will need to spend some time getting to know your starter, so there may be a few mistakes along the way. However, it is one of the most rewarding and satisfying things to cook – well worth a little trouble.

We use organic flour here as we want to do everything possible to encourage the wild yeasts to flourish in the starter dough. Rye flour seems to result in a more lively starter dough and so we use some along with the higher gluten white flour in order to be able to use the starter to make bread after only a week of development. Some natural starters made without rye may take several weeks to be ready. (Once you have mastered the basic method, do try this; the flavour is more highly developed as the starter has matured for longer.)

It is possible to make a wild yeast starter dough in the middle of a city as we have done often, but it is easier in the countryside where the air naturally contains a better mixture of yeasts.

TIPS FOR MAKING AND USING A WILD YEAST STARTER...

If ever in doubt about whether your starter is ready to bake with, do the float test.

Use the starter when it is active and hungry, rather than when it has just been fed. So, take out the quantity you need and then feed the remainder.

If the starter has been in the fridge for a long time, a liquid may form on the top. Just pour it off before using the starter.

If the starter has been in the fridge for a long time, when you take it out, transfer it to a large bowl to allow a greater surface area to come into contact with the air.

Recipes in this Chapter

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