Sourdough basics: the starter

Naturally leavened bread, or sourdough, is one of the most satisfying things a baker can wish to pull from their oven. It does take time and a little patience, but the result will undoubtedly be some of the finest bread you have ever tasted.

Sourdough baked at home. Source: DWD.
Sourdough baked at home. Source: DWD.

Sourdough’s name refers to the slight tang in flavor caused by the production of acids during the retarded (cold) final proof, which can last from anything between 10 and 18 hours.

With a good method and an attention to detail, anyone can bake great tasting sourdough at home.

The starter
The starter. Source: DWD.

First, you will need what’s called a starter. This is a small quantity of flour and water that you leave to rest for a short period of time. With the help of natural bacteria (on your hands, in the air, in the flour), a yeast culture will form and it is this that you will use to make your bread rise.

You will use this starter every time you want to bake bread, so look after it: name it, nurture it, and make sure it’s always looking healthy.

The starter:

It’s important to be as accurate as possible when measuring flour and water quantities, and if you can, try to carry out each step at a similar time each day. Working the process of feeding your starter into your daily routine will make sure it is always strong and active.

You will need:

A clear 1ltr container

A set of digital scales, with at least 5g accuracy

350g strong white bread flour

350g water

Day 1:

In your container, mix together 25g of bread flour with 25g of water, using a fork to beat out any dry clumps of flour until you have a thick, smooth batter. Cover, and place in a warm spot (22-26c) to rest for 24hrs.

Day 2:

Scatter a little (5g) of bread flour over the batter and leave to rest for another 24hrs.

Day 3:

Add 50g of bread flour and 50g water to your starter, again mixing with a fork until smooth. Cover, and place in a warm area and leave to rest for another 24hrs.

Day 4:

By now your starter may be showing signs of life! Very small air pockets within the batter, visible from the side of your container, or a slightly acidic smell are both good signs that your starter is building up strength.

If your starter doesn’t exhibit any of these symptoms yet, simply scatter a little (5g) flour on the surface and leave to rest for another 24hrs.

If your starter is looking active, it is time to ‘feed’ it.

Pour away 100g of your starter, and to the remaining 100g in the container, add 50g bread flour and 50g water, beating together as you have done on previous steps. Cover, and leave in a warm place for 24hrs.

Day 5:

By now your mixture should be active. Discard 100g of your starter and add 50g of bread flour and 50g water. Mix together and cover, leaving it in a warm place for 24hrs.

Repeat step 5 for another two days, and by day 7 your starter should be strong enough to bake with.

After each feed you should be able to notice a regular ‘rise and fall’ in the starter. After you have fed it, the starter should appear relatively inactive, as it did at the beginning. It should smell milky and slightly sweet.

The starter immediately after feeding. Source: DWD.
The starter immediately after feeding. Source: DWD.

Two or so hours after the feed you should see an increase in volume, with air pockets in the batter visible from the side of your container and on top of the starter. It should still smell sweet, but with an acidic smell starting to build.

The starter two hours after feeding. Source: DWD.
The starter two hours after feeding. Source: DWD.

Roughly four hours after your feed the starter should be obviously active, often nearly doubling in size. At this stage the starter is referred to as ‘young’ and it should still exhibit a slightly milky aroma. The further into the 24-hour rest the starter goes, the more ‘mature’ it will become.

The starter four hours after feeding. Source: DWD.
The starter four hours after feeding. Source: DWD.

Once your starter rises and falls regularly after feeding, you are ready to bake bread!

Please note:
It is important to always replace the starter that you throw away with equal quantities of flour and water.

If you struggle to find a warm spot in your house, simply increase the temperature of the water you use when you feed the starter. Anything up to around 35c is fine (a little warm to the touch) but try not to go any higher than this as it will inhibit the fermentation process.

If you have any questions, or would like a FREE tub of the sourdough starter I use, please comment below or email me at: hugohharrison@gmail.com and I will reply within 24 hours.

Cinnamon curls

For me, there is no scent or taste as nostalgia-inducing as cinnamon. It is the spice that sparked my love for baking. It’s smell can take me back to dozens of Christmases and Easters in an instant, and the flavour never fails to bring a smile to my face. I have wanted, for a long time now, to create a sweet recipe that can do this delicious ingredient justice, and I finally think I have. Scrolling through my Instagram feed on Saturday morning gave me the push I needed, as photograph after photograph appeared littered with scrumptious cinnamon. Of course, it was Cinnamon Roll Day (Kanelbullens Dag).

Cinnamon curls. Source: Dealing with Dough.
Cinnamon curls. Source: Dealing with Dough.

This recipe differs a little from other cinnamon rolls as it uses laminated (croissant) dough. Consequently the method is a little longer and takes a bit of practice, but the sweet, buttery pastry you are left with makes it worthwhile.

I roll these cinnamon curls in sugar whilst they are still hot from the oven, but if allowed to cool first, a vanilla icing would work just as well.

Ingredients: (Makes 12)

1 quantity croissant dough (my own recipe available shortly)

100g light brown soft sugar

50g demerara sugar

1 heaped tbsp freshly ground cinnamon

70g butter, melted

200g caster sugar, for topping

1 medium egg, for egg wash

Method: Tip your chilled croissant dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll your dough out to a rectangle of roughly 20″ by 12″, at a thickness of no more than 4mm. Clean the flat top of the dough, now facing you, of all flour using a pastry brush.

Mix your light brown soft and demerara sugar with your cinnamon in a large bowl, using your thumb and fingers to rub out any larger chunks of sugar. This is your cinnamon sugar for the filling.

With a palette knife, spread the melted butter evenly over the dough, making sure to reach all corners and edges. Equally scatter over your cinnamon sugar, again making sure to cover all areas of the buttered dough.

Starting from the long edge closest to you, roll the dough up tightly until you are left with a long, thick shape similar to a swiss roll.

Using a chef’s knife, divide the roll into 12 equal parts, trimming the ends off first if you’re after a less-rustic result. Once cut, you can shape them: simply grab the end of each curl, pull on it a little, and tuck it underneath the rest of the curl as a base.

Place each shaped curl onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Place the trays into a black bin bag on a flat surface in a warm area (22-26c), and tie it closed. (The bin bag creates a perfect environment for the dough to rise, as it will remain the same humidity and absorb heat from the surrounding area.)

Leave the curls to rise for between 60 and 90 minutes, until they have increased in size by at least half. Once the curls have risen, give each a generous egg wash, (1 egg beaten with a small splash of water), and bake at 190Cfan/375f/gas mark 5 for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Whilst each curl is still warm, toss in a shallow tray of caster sugar so that they are covered all over and allow to cool on a wire rack.