Lifestyle: Tried and true sourdough mother is alive and well in Wellington
24 Apr 2020
After sending you off to a British website on making sourdough using your own ‘mother’ from scratch I decided to pick the brains of my nephew, Sam Donald, famed architect and careful farmer of his own sourdough mothers, from Wellington.
Here are a range of Sam’s sourdough mothers at different stages of development.
1. Sam, where did you learn to make sourdough?
At home over the last few weeks so I can’t claim to be an expert at all, but that is proof that sourdough really isn’t too hard. Plus, I have been fairly observant of others processes and their results over the years. And I’ve been making bread with dried yeast for many years.
2. How did you make your first sourdough mother?
The closure of the nearby Baker, Gramercy in Berhampore, during Alert Level 4 lockdown necessitated a self-sufficiency in sourdough to replace our weekly Saturday morning tradition of picking up Wellington’s finest artisan bread. James White was quick minded and generous enough to leave 30 jars of starter on their doorstep, as they closed pre-lockdown, for the community to collect. I contemplated picking one up but decided I’d prefer the challenge of making my own and could see that it would be a fun lockdown home-schooling activity for our boys Felix and Ollie, 8 and 5. James provided a link to The Perfect Loaf website with step by step instructions that were very easy to follow. Essentially 50/50 flour and water placed somewhere warm (around 26 deg.), with the lid off for the first day or two to capture some wild yeast from the air, then fed daily with 50/50 flour water and increasing to twice daily for the second half of the week. We kept the routine going for two weeks to ensure it was a really healthy mother (although the boys lost interest in the feeding routine fairly quickly!)
3. How do you keep your mother alive and healthy long term?
Still early days for us obviously. I’d been given starters twice in the past and killed them before getting around to the first bake, so this time I’ve taken some precautions. Rather than discarding everything that didn’t make it into these delicious pancakes, we ended up with 8 versions of the starter at the end of two weeks. We fed them slightly different combinations of different flours for a couple of days and then compared their health. The top 3 were then portioned off with ⅓ kept in the warming drawer at 26 deg for another week, ⅓ went into the fridge for medium term insurance and ⅓ went into the freezer as a longer-term backup. The ones in the warming drawer have now moved out onto a shelf at room temperature and are fed 8 hours before we want to use them. I usually feed two and choose then best looking one to back with. The ones in the fridge are fed once a week and the ones in the freezer will just sit there. We now have nine starters which is completely unnecessary of course but part of the entertainment and learning for the kids. You really only need one mother as long as you are going to be able to feed it at least once a week. Ideally you would aim to use it and feed it about 3 times a week for optimum health.
4. What is a good basic recipe?
We’ve only made three batches of full sourdough so far, using three different recipes, two from cookbooks and one online. They have all worked really well, but the best has been this one from the same website as the starter. The interesting thing is that there is no kneading involved, just gentle stretching and folding at half hour intervals over a few hours. Bannetons (rattan bread proofing baskets available online) are really useful for proving, including proving or fermenting overnight in the fridge. This both develops more sourdough flavour and slows down the process, giving you more flexibility to work around the timing of your other life commitments.
5. How does the Dutch oven work?
The main idea is that you are trapping the moisture that escapes from the bread, creating steam that provides the light and bursting crust (a good slash with a razor blade just before the loaf goes in the oven is important for both of these characteristics). It’s essentially attempting to replicate a professional baker’s oven, with steam injectors, in a home kitchen. If you want a crunchy and coloured up crust then you need to remove the lid for the second half of the bake. I have been preheating the oven, pot and lid at 260 deg. C for an hour and then baking for 20mins with the lid on, then dropping the temperature to 240 deg. C and removing the lid for the remaining 15-20 mins (depending on size), until the internal temperature of the loaf reaches 97 deg C. Any cast iron pot will do, however a proper Dutch oven is almost an upside down pot. The bottom half is like a frypan and the top half is like an upturned pot. This is far easier to transfer from the banneton into that than lowering it into a pot, so for anyone continuing with sourdough regularly it would be well worth investing it one.
6. Anything else that would encourage punters to have a go and succeed?
Making your own starter from nothing more than flour and water and then making your own sourdough bread from that starter might well be one of the most satisfying things you will ever do. The hands on time is actually quite minimal, and it is certainly worth the effort - it might be the best bread that you've ever eaten. Your family and friends will love it. Knowing how healthy it is just an added bonus. Also, definitely try making sourdough pancakes with the discarded mother - they will knock your socks off!
I can vouch for those sourdough pancakes Sam. I did a batch and they were amazing.
Keep asking great questions …
Read more articles in this fortnight's edition of 'News Farmers Can Use':