They say a holiday has been successful once you start missing reality; once you have reached your capacity of relaxation and have exhausted your to-do list of enjoyable activities. In the meantime, it is helpful to use this new found free time constructively as well as lying about lazily, curled up with a book and a glass of wine.
I spent the last week doing just that at my parents’ house in the countryside. The fresh air, the warm breeze, nature, paddocks and orchards as far as the eye can see; the perfect environment for making a sourdough starter.
Sourdough uses wild yeast as a rising agent, so there is something ancient and traditional in the process; very at one with the earth if you don’t mind my hippy frame of reference. Catching nature’s own yeast particles from the rolling spring breeze is what gives the bread its unique and zingy flavour, a palate that will be specific only to that ball of dough – an imprint of the landscape in bread form, if you will.
Like most things medieval, the process takes several days and is far from methodical. Begin with ½ a cup of flour and mix with an equal amount of water. You can use any flour; because the dough will have no commercial grade yeast, it will be denser than a loaf we would expect to buy today – so fluffy, refined white flour isn’t a bad choice. I used a bag of organic flour I found in the cupboard. A shade of mousy brown, I can only assume that it was wholegrain, bran or rye, but I really have no idea – all part of the mystery I say!
Cover the bowl with cling film or (preferably) a tea towel and leave somewhere warm – near the fireplace or oven, and ideally somewhere near an open window and leave the yeast to work its magic.
The following day, add another ½ cup of water and flour, combine well and leave to grow.
Repeat again on day three, the yeast should be becoming quite strong by now, and the mixture should smell of old beer. Bubbles should be forming on the surface as small bursts of carbon dioxide begin to form.
The next day, after the fourth addition of flour, the mixture should have the consistency of thick custard and the aroma of sulphur. Like me, your first thought will probably be that it’s all gone terribly wrong and you have somehow created a bucketful of caramel coloured toxic waste; don’t panic, it’s meant to smell like that. You may want to add a little less water than flour on the last day if it looks a little watery.
Based on how much wild yeast has inoculated and environmental factors such as temperature, your starter may need a fifth day with an additional dose of flour. But if it’s nice and bubbly, and perfuming the room like the Heineken Brewery, you know it’s ready to rock and roll!
Tune in next time for my recipe on how to make the dough!