What 2020’s greener living style blog could not mention sourdough? A few months ago it was a topic reserved for bakers, hipsters and anyone living The Good Life. Then, cue pandemic, lots of people have spare time trapped at home. There’s a shortage of packaged yeast and you can’t get to the shops. Before you can scowl and say ‘gentrification’, sourdough is the new sliced bread.
I love the idea of sourdough. The idea that I can feed myself something really tasty from just flour is pretty amazing. All you need is a sourdough starter: essentially a really un-fun pet. A gloopy, living, homegrown mix of yeast and bacteria.
What put me off sourdough for ages was that most recipes say you have to either bake every other day or discard big lumps of your starter. What, seriously? I do not have time to constantly bake bread. So I’ve gone to the trouble of getting a starter going and now you want me to throw some of it away? That is utterly gutting. And even more than any attachment I may have to the yeast culture, what a horrendous waste of flour.
Luckily I have an answer. In this article I’m going to take you through my lazy method of establishing a starter. Also our low effort, low waste format of caring for it. Skip to the end for a sourdough pikelet recipe.
Making a starter
There are loads of great recipes for this. Mine was a case of forgotten dough but has resulted in a lovely starter and I see no reason why it won’t work for you. It does start with bought yeast though which to some is sacrilege. (There’s a hilarious and wonderful twitter thread here on doing it totally from scratch).
My way of doing it was as follows. The quantities are rough:
- In a large bowl combine 500 g flour, 1 tsp fast acting yeast and 450 ml lukewarm water.
- Stir the gloopy mess for 10 mins. Hold the spoon near the scoopy end or it can snap (I’ve added this advice as my partner didn’t do it and now we have less spoons).
- Cover with a wet tea towel and put out of reach of children in a warm place (we have a airing cupboard, which is super cozy for bread and seedlings!).
- Forget you did any of this. After roughly 5 days go to check if your courgette seeds have germinated. Remember the bread and swear a bit.
- Retrieve your dough. It might have dried out a bit- stir in any chunks. Add around 250 g flour and add enough water to make it into thick batter consistency. Put back in the cupboard.
- This time remember it and get out again 2 days later. Is it bubbly and still looking like bread dough (i.e. not brightly coloured or furry)?
- If yes (fingers crossed for you): Well done! You have a living starter that will be a combination of shop bought yeast and any microorganisms hanging out in your airing cupboard (that’s a good thing by the way). Proceed to baking and caring for your starter.
- If no: Sorry. Try and a more established, albeit higher effort recipe for making a starter. Or get some from a bakery.
Once you have a starter you can use some to bake or make pikelets straight away.
The rest, the keeping bit, you need to bung in a jar. I keep about 400 ml in my jar. You need to allow air but not stuff to get in. I use a kilner jar but without a rubber seal and the lid down but not clipped. You can also use a bit of muslin held on with a rubber band.
Put it in the fridge.
Low effort sourdough starter care
Your sourdough starter is a mix of friendly microorganisms. It will have yeasts, probably Saccharomyces cerevisiae which is ‘bakers yeast’ and a few others. It will also have bacteria in it, mainly lactobaccilli. These are the bacteria that are also used to turn milk to yoghurt. The point though is that it is alive so it needs food. It eats the sugars found in flour.
This article is a good read if you want to properly geek out on what is living in your sourdough.
Many recipes I’ve seen suggest keeping your starter on a shelf. If you do this the yeast will be really happy and grow quickly but you will need to feed it daily. When you feed your starter you will increase the volume of your culture. That’s a lot of dough and a lot of faff.
I keep mine in the fridge. The microorganisms will still live at colder temperatures, they are just really slowed down so don’t need feeding as much. Give it a go as follows:
About once a week, usually first thing in the morning:
- Take your starter out of the fridge and stir it. There might be some liquid on the top, this can just be stirred in. (The liquid by the way is a sign it’s hungry).
- Pour half out into a bowl and set aside for baking or making pikelets. Don’t throw it away.
- Use a fork to stir in 1 cup of plain flour and ½ a cup cold tap temperature water. Don’t worry if it’s lumpy.
- Put back in the fridge
Every 2 or 3 weeks I let it stay out on the worktop overnight after feeding as a treat. Sort of like a trip to the seaside but for yeasts. It should be nice and bubbly by the morning. Reinvigorated and reassuringly alive.
Find what works for you.
I tend to be a bit of a bucket scientist/cook/gardener. I research best practice then go wildly off piste. It’s a weird mix of wanting to cut corners through laziness and a desire for efficiency. The thing to remember is that your starter can work around your life. If you want to have a play with the conditions and timings to make your life easier, then do.
Here’s some of the basic ‘facts’ to keep in mind when you experiment:
- Your starter will grow best at 37 C (body temperature). The colder it is, the slower it grows.
- Temperature changes should be gradual; don’t add really cold water to a room temp starter or warm water to a starter straight from the fridge.
- It may survive freezing but that’s probably an extreme ‘care’ option.
- Over around 40 C it will die (yes baking is microorganism murder).
- It needs to be fed tasty flour but any flour can do – whole, plain, strong etc. (I haven’t researched non-wheat flours).
- If it spends too long without food, it will die.
- It doesn’t matter how big or small your starter is as long it gets enough food.
- Your starter needs to somewhere between a moist dough and a liquid. The wetter, the more often it needs feeding.
- Yeasts don’t like salt added.
- When it’s alive and happy it makes bubbles. This is due to fermentation. The yeast is converting sugar in the flour to carbon dioxide (what makes bread rise) and alcohol (not loads). The bacteria will be be converting the sugars to lactic acid, which is the sour bit.
Sourdough pikelet recipe (aka fry your waste)
Even if you aren’t going to make bread, I’d say having a sourdough starter is worth it just for these beauties. They are so easy and really delicious. I keep my starter at the consistency of a thick batter and use it straight as following:
This recipe is enough for my breakfast (one pan sized pikelet).
- Put around 150 ml of your excess starter in a bowl.
- If you need to, add flour or water/milk until it’s the consistency of a thick batter.
- Grease a frying pan with butter or a mild flavoured oil. Preheat on quite hot.
- Add 2/3 tsp bicarbonate of soda to the batter and stir in thoroughly with a fork. This is an alkali and will react with your sough batter to make bubbles. (Optional: add a pinch of salt and/or sugar for taste. To be honest, I’d try without first time.)
- It should start to bubble in a few seconds, get it straight in the pan when it does so you catch it mid reaction. I dollop it all in at once to make one big pikelet. You can also plop it out with a tablespoon if you want to make smaller ones.
- Gently tip the pan around to help it spread out a bit. It’s pretty stringy stuff so won’t spread as much as a pancake batter.
- Turn the heat to medium and let it cook until bubbles form and burst in the middle of the top of your pancake. The middle should look cooked rather than wet.
- Then flip it and cook the other side until golden brown.
- Eat with whatever you want. I like them spread with butter, jam and yoghurt.
If you have crumpet rings you can fry the batter in these to make actual crumpets. Grease them well though and block a day out of your schedule as they take an absolute age to cook through.
If you want to make these more than once a week then great – just dip into your starter when you want it and make sure you replenish with flour and water. If you do it loads though it might be worth giving your starter more table top holidays just so it can keep up.
Don’t eat the whole starter though or you’ll have to go back to the beginning…