How To Make Easy Sourdough Starter – Dan Lepard

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Since I intend to carry on baking sourdough and post about it I wanted to make my own starter from scratch to make sure I was capable of producing it and show how easy it is.  If I can…anyone can produce some.  For a sourdough novice like me when I first received my hand-me-down leaven I was expecting to be dealing with something incredibly difficult, something temperamental, something that’s always on the edge of dying.  When I made room for this living thing on my kitchen top I was convinced it was going to be my worst child to look after.  The words volatile, unstable, neurotic, fiery, highly-strung, sensitive, irritable, came to mind...urmmmm..but enough about me now….For those of you who have Dan’s starter I’m sure will agree it’s incredibly easy to make and to maintain.  I was led to believe this organism was hellish, it doesn’t help the vivid words still imprinted in my brain from reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential where he describes his unreliable but amazing breadmaker  ringing him after another absence to say “…feed the bitch…feed the bitch”.

I follow just a couple of simple rules, always use cold water, always put it in very clean containers, make sure nothing contaminates it, I only use clean spoons to divide it up, I have no idea if these are essential but it’s my method and it seems to be just fine on it.  I’ve read people having problems with creating starters but they were referring to starter just using flour and water, Dan uses raisins and tiny bit of yoghurt.  Dan states in his Handmade Loaf book there is a high chance of yeast being on the surface of raisins and the yoghurt contains lactic bacteria, lactobacilli which is responsible according to wikipedia for the sour taste.

I mess up the recipe…but it still worked.

I had read through the instructions fully carefully before starting the process but when day 4 came to throw away three quarters of the mixture before feeding it with fresh flour and water I forgot…what can I say…I was distracted…it had been a long day…I also forgot to remove the raisins too.   I was hoping it wouldn’t be the end of its world since I was feeding new flour to keep it ticking away and I was right it did just fine.  I’m giving you the correct method as Dan has it but realise my photos of the process will be distorted somewhat, they should look lame in comparison to the right way.  I think subconsciously I do this kinda of thing wrong on purpose, that way I can prove even the most absent minded of us can produce the illusive Sourdough Starter!

By the way, if it so happens you make the foolish mistake of mine of just adding flour without taking some old mixture out first  (day 4 onwards) then once you’ve added the fresh flour and water remember to remove some of the mixture and throw it away….otherwise you won’t have room in the jar if you keep on adding but not taking  away…yes…I had a Homer Simpson moment there!

Now realise I’m a novice at all this sourdough…I can produce a good white loaf or even a brown loaf but when it comes to reducing the hydration percentages of your starter or other such stuff I’m still a newly wed bride here, there is good help on Dan’s website if you head to the forum section and just post your question, the help may be a little slow but it’s friendly and experienced folks on there will help.  My starter is kept at 100% hydration; whatever the amount of starter I feed it with double the amount of water and flour, easy to remember.

Water Temperature 20˚C

The water for whole process should be at this temperature but I just did not have a thermometer that would take a low enough temperature, my sugar thermometer starts at 40˚C.  Instead I relied on using the temperature I use when making a sourdough bread, water that is cold to the touch, not freezing cold but the coldness you would find if you left water at room temperature.

Jar Size

Use a 500ml jar, Dan suggests to use a kilner jar but all I had was my very large 1 pint jam jar.  I filled it with 500ml of water and could see there was plenty of room for the mixture to bubble up.

Day 1

  • 50g water 20˚C
  • 2 rounded teaspoons of rye flour
  • 2 rounded teaspoons of strong white flour
  • 2 rounded teaspoons of currants or raisins
  • 2 rounded teaspoons of live low-fat yoghurt (I don’t think mine was low fat, couldn’t find any so grab a plain activa)

Mix everything together tighten with lid and leave for 24 hrs

DAY 2

  • 50g water 20˚C
  • 2 rounded teaspoon rye flour
  • 2 rounded teaspoon strong white flour

Add the water first and then the flours mix well and leave for 24 hours.

DAY 3

I was interested to see by now a few bubbles appearing on the surface.

  • 100g water 20˚C
  • 4 rounded teaspoons rye flour
  • 4 rounded teaspoons strong white flour

Add the water followed by the flours mix well and leave it for 24 hrs.

DAY 4

  • 100g water 20˚C
  • 125g strong white flour

Before adding water and flour make sure you first remove three quarters of the mixture and throw it away.  Strain the raisins or currants from the remainder quarter and put the mixture back into the jar and then add the water and flour!  Yes….this is where I went a little wrong…doh!

DAY 5

  • 100g water 20˚C
  • 125g strong white flour

Now this where my photos don’t match your starter because you should have more bubbles bubbling away…but I could tell there was something going on here with tiny little bubbles.

Again like day 4, first throw away three quarters of this old mixture and then add the water followed by the flour mix well, leave for 24 hrs.

DAY 6

This is it now you should have a nice bubbling mixture.  Mine here is lagging behind because I kept forgetting to remove old mixture before adding fresh flour and water, but it was still active.

Still On Day 6

  • 50g of my new starter
  • 100g water 20˚C
  • 100g strong white flour

Put all of the above into a clean container large enough for some bubbling expansion, and leave it for 24 hrs.

DAY 7

And here is the proof my new starter in the small container (right) is not far from my hand-me-down starter (left)

From Now Onwards

  • 100g starter
  • 200g water 20˚C water
  • 200g flour

I use the above ratio for my baking.  This gives me 200g of leaven for say a white sourdough and just over a 100g for either a semi-sourdough or some pitta breads or a slow proving bread…whatever I’m doing And still having a 100g of starter to feed again for another batch of baking.  If you don’t bake that often you can keep it in the fridge, leave it out after feeding.  The mixture being colder I suspect will take longer to start bubbling away.  For safe keeping I have 100g of starter in the freezer which apparently can stay there for a year.

I leave my starter on my kitchen worktop and then refresh every week to the above mixture.  I didn’t realise in the beginning that the best time to use this leaven was between 8 hrs – 24 hrs after feeding, there should be lots of nice bubbles and the mixture should be gluppy.  I have used leaven that is 3 days old but don’t expect the rise to be as good.  When I’ve been stuck, forgotten to refresh the leaven for baking and I’m desperate for a loaf I’ve used the 3 day old leaven, but I add 2g of fast dried yeast to make sure it rises…your leaven will have a sourer smell and produce a slightly sourer bread.