I regularly get comments from previous sourdough workshop participants that they have had problems with their starter or that they have given up on making sourdough bread. This also applies to market customers who have tried to make sourdough bread in the past and have not mastered it.
This is a real shame as the most likely cause of their problem is so easily fixed.
- The first key to making a good sourdough loaf is all about the condition of the starter. I feed my starter only with Four Leaf organic rye flour from South Australia. The reason for this is that this particular rye grain is a dryland variety and, when you consider that sourdough bread first started in the Middle East, where the growing conditions resemble those of dry South Australia, you will begin to understand. There are dozens of rye varieties, just as there are dozens of tomato varieties and dryland rye has the best characteristics for feeding sourdough starter.
I feed my starter twice during the day I intend to make the bread. That is, I feed it at about 10am and 3pm and make a loaf at 8pm, leaving it to prove in a bowl on the kitchen bench overnight. Between bread making, I never feed the starter. I recently went on holiday for 3 weeks, leaving my starter sealed in a zip up bag, in the fridge, and when I returned I simply fed the starter as normal and made my bread without any problems.
- Another key point to remember is that sourdough is the ultimate slow food; try to hasten the process by kneading or by proving in a warm place will result in a less good loaf. In fact, the longer and slower the initial proving, the better is the flavour and texture; 24 hours in the fridge is another option if you are making bread in a hot climate.
- To test if your starter is ready to be made into bread simply drop a little bit into a bowl of water. If it sinks solidly to the bottom, it is not ready. Feed again and wait 3 – 4 hours to test again. It should float on or just below the surface.