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5 Top Tips for Perfect Sourdough

Harriet Worthington07 September 2016

I am almost convinced that there is nothing better in life than a thick slice of toasted sourdough lovingly slathered with butter and Marmite. Turns out I’m not the only one – our love affair with sourdough is fuelling the rise of small artisan bakers, whilst sales of sliced white bread continue to drop. 

A sourdough toast habit does not come cheap. The average price of a loaf will set you back anything from £4 to £10 – a price that reflects the quality of the ingredients and the length of time taken to make the loaf. Making your own sourdough, however, is not expensive at all. All you need is a little patience and to follow our top tips for perfect sourdough.

1. Make it:

Sourdough starts with a starter – a fermented batter containing a colony of microorganisms including (crucially) wild yeast.  What you put into your starter mix is going to affect the texture and the taste of the bread.  The Guardian keeps it simple with strong bread flour and water, BBC Food introduces extra bacteria in the form of yoghurt and milk, whilst Paul Hollywood adds in grated apple. 

Michel Roux Jr's sourdough recipe includes unpasteurized beer with lots of live yeast still in it (Hackney based The Five Points Brewing Company sell unfiltered and unpasteurized beer). Simply remove the lid, place the bottle in a warm dry place and allow the CO2 to escape and the wild yeast within the bottle to ferment


2. Buy it: 

If you are an inexperienced baker, starting with a known good starter can eliminate variables and give you a better chance of finishing with a decent loaf.  There’s no black market for sourdough starters – they’re readily available online. Pick one up either in dried format  (here's one from Sous Chef) or already in their fermenting state on eBay. 

3. Nurture it: 

Having a starter is much like having a newborn baby – you need to feed it, burp it and ultimately try not to kill it.  The wild yeast needs the right conditions and enough food so it can multiply and produce the acids and alcohol that make up the characteristics of the sourdough flavour. Keep your starter in a warm, dry place out of direct sunlight and feed with flour and water every day. Before every feeding, scoop out half the starter (it can either be discarded or it makes for a great onion ring batter) and stir in more flour and water until it retains a thick batter consistency. Repeat the discard-feed routine every day and after a week your starter should be ready to bake with. 

Michel Roux Jr feeds his starter with bottled water because the chlorine content in tap water can kill the yeast in the starter.


4. Use it: 

Make sure your starter is active – watch for bubbles and it should smell sweet and yeasty. Don’t be tempted to bake with a starter that hasn’t had sufficient fermenting time, as you will be left with a lackluster loaf. Different recipes call for different amount of starter, Vanessa Kimbell’s Basic Sourdough Recipe uses 100g sourdough starter, whilst BBC Good Food uses 300g. A dough made with starter will not rise as quickly as a dough made with commercial yeast and the bread making process can take up to a day (but like most labors of love – the end result is worth it.)

Once cooled, Michel likes to enjoy a slice of sourdough simply covered in good quality salted butter.


5. Storing it:

If through this process you have discovered your life calling is becoming an artisan baker and you intend to keep producing sourdough every couple of days - maintain your starter at room temperature and continue to feed it daily. Otherwise, add enough flour to turn it into a thicker dough-like starter and keep it in the fridge, the cooler temperatures will lull the yeast into inactivity meaning you only have to feed it once every four days. When you’re ready to use it again, simply bring it up to room temperature and feed to activate.

So NOw, WANT TO Learn How to Make Bread - The Roux Way?

Why not try our new bread-making course. From soda bread to sourdough our full-day bread making course teaches you all the skills you need to bake authentic artisanal loaves in a domestic oven. Covering starters, yeast, gluten and ancient grains and kneading, proving and baking.

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