Today most yeasted breads are made by adding instant yeast or fresh yeast to do the dough, easy to use and allowing a fast rise. Originally, yeasted bread was made with sourdough. Although a bit laborious, it is fairly straightforward to make your own sourdough starter. The cool thing about this is that it will be your unique starter, using the natural yeast and conditions of your kitchen to develop it.
My first encounter with sourdough bread unfortunately turned me against it for quite a while. This was German sourdough bread: tough, dry, dense, and with a sour taste. No offense to Germans, but if you are used to Dutch bread then it takes quite some getting used to. (This also goes for the amount of salt in bread by the way. If you’ve ever been to Tuscany, you know what I mean.) And so for a long time I thought all sourdough bread was like that — even though I had different types of sourdough bread without being aware of it, like French bread for instance.
After having some really good sourdough bread at a number of different restaurants, I decided it was time to look into the subject. I found out that it is very simple to start your own sourdough: simply mix flour and water, and leave it for 48 hours. Under the right circumstances (i.e. room temperature, preferably a little warmer) the yeast and lactobacilli that are naturally present will start to grow.
Next you need to ‘feed’ the sourdough starter every day for 14 days. This is the laborious part, as the starter will become extremely sticky and hard to work with. But after that you will be rewarded with a stable sourdough culture that you can keep in your fridge forever, as long as you feed it once a week.
Despite the fact that it is cool to bake bread using your own sourdough starter, it also tastes better than ‘normal’ bread and has a better texture. The bread I’ve made with it so far has been only very mildly sour and had a wonderful soft texture — not at all like the tough German stuff. More about sourdough bread in the next post. First, let’s look at how to make your own sourdough starter.
Apart from the conditions in your kitchen, also the time between feedings and the ratio between flour, water, and the ‘old’ starter will have a big impact on your sourdough starter and can make it more or less acidic among other things. I have based my sourdough on an Italian recipe from GialloZafferano (although I did make some changes). I love the Italian name for it by the way, lievito madre, meaning “mother yeast”.
250 grams flour (best to use strong flour, also known as bread flour, or farina manitoba in Italian)
250 ml water at room temperature
1 tsp honey (optional)
water and flour as needed
The honey isn’t strictly necessary, but since I started in winter at lower temperatures than ideal (26-28ºC/79-82ºF), I thought a bit of extra food for the microorganisms would be nice.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Puncture the cover several times with a skewer or toothpick. Allow to stand at 26-28ºC/79-82ºF for 48 hours. (I used room temperature, 20ºC/68ºF, and it worked just fine.)
A suitable container is transparent (so you can see what is going on), of non-reactive material (i.e. glass is a good choice), tall and narrow (so the starter can grow uniformly) and big enough to allow the starter to quadruple in size.
Allow to rest at room temperature for 24 hours, then repeat the whole process. Do this for 14 days in a row. You will notice that the starter will become more active with more bubbles. You will also notice that it will become less sticky and easier to handle.
Simona pointed out that you can mark the starting height of the starter in the glass jar with an elastic band, so you can see how much it grows. According to her, it is a rule to do this when Italians make lievito madre.
For each feeding, first discard the top layer of the old starter. Then measure out the correct amount of starter and discard the rest. Clean the container with hot water only and dry it well. Keep checking the smell of the starter, which should remain pleasant and only slightly acidic.
After a few days I decreased the amounts to 150 grams starter + 150 grams flour + 75 grams water as I thought it was a waste of all that flour to keep doing it with 200 grams.
To keep the starter, close it (with a lid or plastic wrap without airholes) and refrigerate. You will notice that the starter will grow at a slow rate, and after a week it will stop growing. That means it is time for the next feed.
Pork with sweet and sour onions is one of Biba Caggiano’s recipes from the region Emilia-Romagna. Separately they are both good, but together they are delicious. You can roast the pork in the oven, or cook it sous-vide.