When I started to read about the lockdowns happening in Italy and China, January 2020, I knew it was only a matter of time before it would happen in the UK. Being the Italian that I am, my first thought was ‘food’. I worried about our household’s food supply and my being able to feed my family. I didn’t bother with the toilet paper, so I rushed out and bought whatever seeds I could find that would grow green vegetables within weeks. And yes I was one of those people who stocked up on flour, I instantly thought I needed to make my own starter and start making my own bread.
Although we have had a bread machine for many years now, we go through phases of using it to supply us with homemade fresh bread. But I have always used commercially bought yeast. My mother has been making her own bread for years now using her own starter, and it’s something I have always wanted to do myself. This seemed like the perfect opportunity. With 4 kids at home and lunches to make, we would be going through lots of bread, and I couldn’t see how I would have the time to line outside the supermarket every day to buy a fresh loaf.
My mother suggested to speed the process of being able to use my starter, I could add some grape juice. She uses the grapes from her 40 year old vine in her own garden. I don’t have the luxury to pick grapes from a garden vine, so I decided to make it using Dan Lepards method.
Using a handful of rye flour mix it with some warm water to form a soft dough that you can form into a ball. Put your dough ball in a bowl and cover it with more rye flour, cover it and leave it for 4 or five days. You then mash it to a soupy consistency and put it in a super clean jar, add some flour and the same amount of water (5ogm) and mix this so it looks like a soft paste.
If you commit to nurturing a starter you will need to give it some tender love and care. Each day, you should discard or use your starter for making bread (look online for other great recipe ideas for starter discard) and feed it with 50gm to 100gm of white flour and the same amount of water. Give it a good stir and loosely cover.
My first attempt kind of worked. I noticed as the first week went by, my bread improved in looks,shape and flavour. I slowly got into a routine of fitting my bread making into the homeschooling day. Sometimes we were even lucky to have a fresh loaf that just came out of the oven, for our lunch. As I grew more confident with my starter I experimented with flours and mixtures.
Dan Lepard suggests using ¾ white flour and ¼ wholemeal or brown flour. My basic recipe which I now do with my eyes closed is 200gm starter + 300gm strong white flour + 100gm brown / wholemeal or rye flour + 200ml warm water. I kind of judge the water content, depending on how liquidy your starter is you might need less or more. Sometimes I even add some linseeds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. I haven’t found my favourite mix, but the one above never fails me and always works, provided my starter is in top shape.
As the days and lockdown restrictions eased, I carried on making my bread. As a family of 6, we were basically getting through almost a 1kg of flour a day as we would go through two loaves, when you add toast for breakfast and slices for sandwiches. I knew what was going into our bread and we didn’t have that bloated feeling you sometimes get when you eat bread that is mass produced. Now I realise not all people have the time or even physical energy to be making their own sourdough daily. And there are some great local artisan bakers who have started baking during the first lockdown. I think my main reason to share this post is 1. To say thanks to my starter and the chemical reactions that are taking place as the local air does it’s magic and 2. We don’t have to be professionals to make our own bread, one only needs time, a bit of patience and the enjoyment of smelling and eating fresh bread.
As my first year of sourdough making has gone by, there are times when I can’t be bothered making bread or simply run out of time. If you know this is going to happen, to prevent your sourdough from having to be discarded, you can leave it in the fridge. When you want to use it, discard half and feed it with flour and water and when bubbling, it’s ready to use again. I still have days when my bread turns out flat or is in a funny shape, but it still tastes good. I think I enjoy not knowing what I am going to get as the bread bakes in the oven.
If anyone has ever fancied making their own sourdough, there are so many online tutorials and youtube videos of how to make it. I recommend watching a few to find the method that suits your lifestyle and the time you have to dedicate to making bread. You can even buy a starter(levain) online nowadays. So if you do decide to try it out, good luck and do contact me if you find it too much, happy to nurse you through the process. It’s so amazing what one can make from something I started nurturing a year ago. I’m so proud of the loaves I create daily after a year of actioning my idea to make bread.