I wanted to bake my own sourdough bread using organic sourdough methods. To help me achieve this, I used one of my favourite cookbooks ‘Bourke Street Bakery, The Ultimate Baking Companion‘; from one of my favourite bakeries in Surry Hills, Sydney – Bourke Street Bakery. As the authors are quick to point out, the path to making bread is not for the impatient. So, this post was all about journaling my foray into baking sourdough bread.
Day 1: I mixed 50g of organic plain bread flour (000 flour or strong flour) and 50ml of clean water in a very clean container. I used a container that seemed too big at the time, but looking ahead, I could see I would need the space to allow for growth and fermentation. I did not mix it too much, just enough to combine the water and flour into a paste. I sat the container with it’s lid on the bench in the kitchen which was relatively cool, dry and out of the sunlight.
Day 2: I mixed another 50g of flour and 50ml of water in a separate bowl and then mixed it into my starter from yesterday. The starter appeared smooth and even in texture with a few bubbles – signs that the natural yeasts were emerging. I could not smell anything at the time. I left the container in the same place in the kitchen and there was little change in the temperature. Spring was in the air, but outside, the air still had the chill of winter.
Day 3: The starter appeared smooth and even but with several bubbles breaking the surface. They resembled the bubbles you get when cooking a pancake. There was a noticeable condensation on the walls of the container and, when I put my nose close to the starter, I could smell the faint aroma of fruity yeasty. It was not very strong, but it further hinted that the natural yeasts were developing. I mixed 100g of flour with 100g of water (100ml of water weighs 100g) and made a smooth paste. I combined it with the starter until it looked evenly mixed. Sealed in the same container, it was returned to the same place in the kitchen.
Day 4: The aroma of fruity yeasts was much more evident today; so was the condensation on the walls and lid of the container. The starter was smooth and even, just like the days before and the bubbles were still present. The mixture was notably more elastic in texture. I mixed 200g of flour and 200g of water into a paste and mixed the fresh feed into the starter. There was a noticeable colour difference between the starter and the fresh feed. The feed was much more pale than the starter which appeared slightly darker.
Day 5: The starter was definitely developing as the yeast was much more obvious when I lifted the lid. I discarded 700g of the starter, reducing the total weight to 100g. The Bourke Street Bakery authors suggest that if I don’t discard some of the starter, I will have too much that is not active to use. I mixed 50g of flour with 50g of water and added it to the starter; effectively taking my starter back to day 2, but with a more naturally developed yeast.
Day 6: The yeasty fragrance was still evident but not as strong the day before. The bubbles were smaller and evenly spread throughout. I felt sure that the natural yeasts were still developing. The most notable change was the fluidity of the starter. The texture was still elastic, but more relaxed than previous. The colour also seemed to have darkened just slightly. The fresh feed was mixed with 100g of flour with an equal amount of water. I then mixed the feed into the starter. The container was placed back in the same spot in the kitchen.
Day 7: As faint as it was, I thought I could smell a sourness in the starter – the yeasty notes I experienced did not seem as obvious. The starter was evenly covered with small bubbles, each roughly the same size. To feed the starter, I mixed 200g of flour with 200g water, and then, mixed it into the starter.
Day 8: I discarded 700g, reducing the starter’s weight to 100g. Reducing the starter felt contrary to the idea of growth and development and discarding such a large amount of the starter was not done without anxiety. I returned to the guidance of Paul and David to remind myself of the objective. The aim is not to grow the starter’s macroscopic size, but rather to grow the microscopic yeast. And so, size does not matter. With 100g of starter remaining, I added a mixture of 50g of flour and 50g water. For the first time I wondered if the project would end with a delicious crusty loaf of home baked sourdough or end up in the bin. I followed the cookbook strictly, and all seemed to be going to plan, but nonetheless, I was left pondering…
Day 9: The bubbles seemed scant compared to the previous days, but the sour aroma remained. I mixed 100g flour with 100g water and mixed it into the stater. I wondered if the stone bench top was too cold, prohibiting the starter’s development. The weather was still full of winter, despite the warming sun; so I decided to move the container to the dining table. I hoped the sun would add a little warmth in the morning, and hopefully, a small boost the wild yeast.
Day 10: I placed the starter on the dining table as planned but the day was cold and overcast with no sun. So, my attempt to give my starter a boost did not go according to plan. The starter had a stronger sour aroma and the bubbles had increased in size and number; reassuring me that the natural cultures were still present. The starter was fed with 200g of flour and 200g water.
Day 11: There were plenty of bubbles of various sizes throughout and there was a more developed sour and fruity aroma. I left the container on the dining table, but again, there was very little sun to influence the starter. So, I felt sure the natural yeasts were developing of the own accord. I discarded 700g and then mixed in another 50g of flour and 50g of water.
Day 12: Perhaps I was a little too eager, but I was sure I could smell the hint of yeast when I lifted the lid. The sourness was much stronger than yesterday, and the fruity tones were bold. I noticed the texture of the starter has changed quite markedly in 24hrs. It appeared smooth, elastic, with an almost liquid consistency. To feed the starter, I added a mixture of 100g flour and 100g water. I returned the container to the dining table.
Day 13: When I lifted the lid from the container, the aroma of yeast was immediate. I could also smell the very fruity aromas of banana, which dissipated quite quickly, only to be replaced with a hint of alcohol. I felt confident the signs suggested the wild yeasts were still growing. To feed the starter, I added a mixture of 200g of both flour and water.
Day 14: There were plenty of bubbles throughout the starter, more than any other day; and the fermenting aromas were much more pungent. I could definitely detect the scent of yeast and alcohol. The warmth of spring had me wondering if I should have delayed the start of the project for more temperate weather. I discarded 700g and added the 50g each of flour and water. I did not want to retard the cultures that seemed to be developing quite well by throwing cold water over them, so I used warm water instead.
Day 15: Compared to yesterday, there has been no significant change in the aroma or texture. The aromas remained strong and fruity and the texture was full of bubbles. A mixture of 100g flour and 100g water was added to the starter, and after a quick but thorough mix, the container was returned to the dining table.
Day 16: The warmer weather appeared to be making a difference. The starter had plenty of bubbles and the fermented scents had increased. The aroma was very fruity, sour, and yeasty. The bag of flour that I had been using was empty and I was unable to find the same brand; so I had to choose a different one. The feed was a mixture of 200g water and 200g flour.
Day 17: The aroma of fermentation was quite strong. The bubbles were numerous and spread throughout the starter. The note of yeasty bread seemed to be overwhelmed by a stronger scent of alcohol. The texture was much firmer and the beige colour remained unchanged. The feed was a mixture of 100g flour and 100g water, added to the starter and mixed in well. I continued to use warm water, confident it was adding to the overall improvement in quality.
Day 18: Another 200g flour and 200g of water was mixed into the starter. The starter was more firm than previous. It seemed to have lost it’s fluid-like consistency. The aroma remained pungent and alcoholic and the fragrance of bananas had returned. The bubbles were larger and noticeable throughout the starter. It seemed obvious that some had burst, because small craters were scattered across the top.
Day 19: The starter was noticeably more elastic and firm. The scent of bananas was less obvious, but the warming aroma of yeast was pungent; more so when I added the feed. As I was mixing the feed into the starter, the fragrance reminded me of adding warm water to dried yeast. Because the starter was 800g, I discarded 700g. To the remaining 100g I added 50g of both flour and water.
Day 20: The aroma of yeast was still noticeable and so was the obvious alcohol. The texture of the starter was elastic and had lots of little bubbles which were not as large as previous. The feed was a mixture of 100g of flour and water. I continued to use warm water and left it to rest on the dining table.
Day 21: The starter seemed to have grown quite significantly. There were plenty of bubbles throughout and the texture was thick and elastic. The aroma was typically fermented and fruity with a subtle yeast scent. I removed 700g again and then added a mixture of 50g flour and 50g water.
Day 22: The starter seemed to have increased further in size as did the strong aroma of fermentation and I was confident the wild yeasts were still developing. The texture was elastic and small bubbles were evenly distributed. The feed was a mixture of 100g water and 100g flour, and it was returned to it’s familiar place on the table.
Day 23: The starter continued to ferment with all the familiar signs – the bubbles, large and small, the strong aroma of fruity yeast cultures, the change in texture, and the increase in size. The starter was fed with 200g flour and 200g water, taking the total weight back the maximum 800g.
Day 24: According the Bourke Street Bakery cookbook, I reduced the starter by discarding 700g, taking it’s total weight back to 100g. I added a mixture of 50g flour and 50g water. Before I went to bed, I fed the starter with a further 100g flour and 100g water.
Day 25: First thing in the morning, I fed the starter again with 200g flour and 200g water. Later in the evening, I commenced making my first loaf of sourdough bread. See next post.