By Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
What is sourdough?
Sourdough is the most ancient type of bread and has been made for thousands of years. It’s believed to have originated in ancient Egypt around 1,500 BC and involves one of the oldest types of grain fermentation.
It is fermented and risen (proofed) with wild yeast and naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria rather than with bakers’ yeast. These microorganisms are present in the air and flour. In order to cultivate and keep them alive, a sourdough starter is used. This is simply a mixture of flour and water that naturally ferments over time. Sourdough provides us with benefits for our digestive health and adds a lovely depth to the flavour and aroma of the bread.
Why is sourdough good for us?
Sourdough contains naturally occurring bacteria along with fibre which acts as a prebiotic (these feed the good bacteria in the gut) and is therefore regarded as being a great option when it comes to gut health. Sourdough is more digestible than other standard loaves and more nutritious too. Sourdough is a good source of most B vitamins especially folate, and also iron, both of which are important in the production of healthy red blood cells. Sourdough also contains the minerals zinc and selenium which are important nutrients to support the function of the immune system and aid wound healing. Lactic acids make the vitamins and minerals in the flour more available to the body by helping neutralise the phytates in flour that would interfere with their absorption. The acids slow down the rate at which glucose is released into the bloodstream and lower the bread’s glycaemic index (GI), so it doesn’t cause those unwanted spikes in insulin levels. The acids also make the gluten in flour more digestible and less likely to cause food intolerance.
How to make your sourdough starter (to make 2 loaves)
You will need:
- 50g of strong bread flour (organic if possible)
- 50ml lukewarm water
To make your starter, mix 50g flour with 50ml lukewarm water in a jar or a plastic container. Make sure all the flour is mixed in and leave, with a clean tea towel over the top at room temperature for 24 hrs.
Mix 50g flour with 50ml lukewarm water and stir into the mixture that you made yesterday. Make sure all the flour is mixed in and leave to stand at room temperature for another 24 hrs.
Mix 50g flour with 50ml lukewarm water and mix well into Day 2’s mixture. Leave to stand for another 24 hours at room temperature.
There should be some bubbling on top of the mixture today. Mix 50g flour with 50ml lukewarm water and stir into yesterday’s mixture. Leave to stand for another 24 hours at room temperature.
Your mixture should be bubbling quite a lot by now and is ready for making your starter. If it is not bubbling, repeat feeding it with 50g of flour and 50ml lukewarm water until it does.
You should now have made your starter, which is the base for your sourdough bread – it should smell quite sweet. Keep it in the fridge until you want to use it (it will stay dormant).
The day before you want to use it, pour half of it off and feed it with 100g flour and 100ml lukewarm water. Leave it at room temperature and it should become active again. To see if your starter is ready to use, place a teaspoonful of the mixture into warm water and it should float.
To make the Levain
Levain is a portion of a starter that has been recently fed and is ready to be used in a recipe. So, the portion of a starter used in bread is considered the Levain while the portion that is kept is considered the starter.
To make your Levain you need:
40g sourdough starter
30g strong white bread flour
30ml tepid/lukewarm water
Combine the above and leave at room temperature, covered with a clean tea towel. Do this the evening before you want to make your bread, so that in the morning the levain is frothy and ready to go! It’s a good idea to feed your remaining starter at this point too as you have used some of it and may well want to make more sourdough in the coming days!
Easy Sourdough bread recipe
Here is an easy recipe to have a go at to start with and over the coming weeks we will add different sourdough recipes for you to try.
Makes 1 loaf:
500g of organic white bread flour (you may wish to substitute 100g of white flour with spelt, rye flour or whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon of fine sea salt – around 10g
380ml lukewarm water
100g sourdough starter (levain)
Optional: you could add in some seeds such as sunflower, flax or chia with some fresh herbs- or you may wish to do that in another loaf once you have got the hang of making your first!
Instructions – how to make your sourdough
Place the levain into a large mixing bowl and then pour in the lukewarm water. Mix well with your fingers, then add the flour(s) and combine really well with both hands. Set this mixture aside to rest for between 20 minutes and 1 hour and covering the bowl with a clean tea towel. This stage is called the autolyse (the Greek word for this means ‘self digestion’).
Next – add the salt and mix it into the dough.
Leave the dough covered with the tea towel and, every 45 minutes, ‘stretch and fold’ the dough. Wet your hands, take one side of the dough, stretch it up (being careful not to tear the dough) and fold it over on top of itself. Turn the bowl by 90 degrees and repeat a few times. Repeat this every half an hour for about 4 hours – air bubbles will be added each time you do it.
Place the dough on a floured board on the kitchen worktop. Fold the dough over on itself and repeat for this around 5 times – sprinkle a little more flour onto it if it starts to stick. Let the dough rest for around 20-25 minutes. Shape your dough into the shape that you would like your bread to be…. Rectangular is a good start!
Meanwhile pre heat the oven to 260°C (with a lidded cast-iron pan inside for about 40 minutes). Place the loaf into the pan for 20 minutes with the lid on and then remove from the oven, take the lid off and place back in for another 20 minutes!
Tip out and allow to cool! Things may not go according to plan first time but it will get easier the more you do it and then it is great to add in different flours/seeds/herbs/olives…..lots more recipes to come. Enjoy!