Sourdough bread


The process of fermenting dates as far back as 7,000 BC when home brewing was first invented. Around 200 BC they discovered that by using similar techniques they could preserve the abundance of food from the harvesting season, to store and use throughout the winter months. Little did they know at the time that by fermenting their foods they were enriching their diets with, what we now know to be, the ultimate health food!

The fermentation process produces digestive enzymes and natural probiotics. Probiotics are friendly bacteria that live inside the gut, that give diversity to your microbiome or gut flora. The more variety of microbiome the happier the gut. When these bacteria are balanced the gut is better able to absorb vitamins and nutrients from food, and eliminate toxins from the system.

There are many benefits to fermented foods:

  • Maintain a healthy gut flora

  • Boost the immune system

  • Promote regular bowel movements

  • Manage blood sugar levels

  • Produce antioxidants

  • Improving skin conditions

  • Prevent intestinal disorders

The process of fermentation in sourdoughs is called lacto-fermentation. When flour and water are combined and left to ferment, natural yeasts and bacteria from the air combine into the mix and start to grow. Flour is a carbohydrate, and like all carbohydrates, breaks down into energy in the form of sugars. The yeast and bacteria break down the carbohydrate in the flour into simple sugars to feed on. This converts the sugars into lactic acid which gives the distinguishable sour taste to a sourdough. The process of fermentation reduces the available carbohydrate sugar content in the bread. The lactic acid which is produced also helps us to process the bread more easily than regular bread.

Phytic acid found in all wheat flour can cause bloating, discomfort and inhibit the enzymes that helps us to absorb nutrients from our food. The slow fermentation process in sourdoughs breaks down this phytic acid – enabling you to maximise your nutrition absorption in a meal with sourdough v’s regular yeasted bread or brown bread. This makes it a preferable choice for those who find other bread hard to digest.

Sourdough is the purest form of bread. It is made of three simple ingredients – flour, water and salt. Commercial bread has lots of added preservative, fillers and sugar, to give it a longer shelf life, and encourage you to eat more. Sourdough is an incredible bread, like no other you’ll find in a supermarket. Benefits aside, it also has depth of flavour, a spectacular golden crust, and a lovely chewy texture. It stays fresh longer because of the ferment and makes the best toast ever!

I’ve been making sourdough for about 6 years and this method is by far the easiest method – with minimum effort and the best results. Since I started this method I’ve had the most spectacular rises, and the addition of cooking it in the Le Creuset has finally given me that characteristic golden, multi layered sourdough crust. If you’re just starting I recommend stick with white bread flour (sometimes called strong flour) initially. Once you’re comfortable with making and baking start experimenting with adding brown bread flour (not to be mixed with brown flour). It will be a slightly denser loaf but taste just as good, with a slightly nutty depth to it.

You can make your own starter by adding 75g of water to 75g flour in a large mason jar. Repeat this for about a week, decanting some of the mix if the jar gets too full, until you start to see some bubbles, and it smell nice and acidic. Better still find a friend who makes sourdough, and get some starter from them, or bring a jar to your local bakery and ask nicely if they could spare some of their starter. Odds are their starter will have much better depth of flavour. The older the starter the better the flavour and the rise results. My starter is 6 years old and has been shared out to many other sourdough converts.

To feed your starter just add 75g flour and 75g water and mix well. In warmer weather you’ll notice it’s happier with daily feeding. In winter you will probably only need to feed it every second day. If you are going on holidays, or want to take a break from making your bread, give it a good feed and pop it in the fridge. This puts it to sleep and slow down the fermentation process. It can last for a few weeks in the fridge without feeding. It might separate and get a layer of dark liquid on top. Nothing to worry about, just feed it for a few days when you’re ready to go again, to get it nice and bubbly before you make your first post sleep bread.

300g starter
250g water
500g flour
10g honey
10g salt

  • Test that your starter is ready to go by dropping a teaspoon into a warm glass of water. It should float, or float for a second before dropping to the bottom

  • Measure out your starter into a mixing bowl. Add the water, salt and honey and mix

  • Add you flour and mix well with a spoon before you start using your hand

  • Kneed in the bowl by folding it over from the side to the centre 8 times, leave for 10 mins, then 8 x fold with a wet hand, leave for another 10 min

  • Fold again with a wet hand and get your proving basket ready with a dust of flour and a shower cap

  • Dust your dough with plenty of flour and pop it into the basket, cover with the shower cap, leave a bit of space between the cap and the dough

  • Leave for anything between 10 hours to 2 days to prove, for the longer times prove in the fridge

  • Pop the Le Creuset in the oven and heat the oven to 200oC

  • Take Le Creuset out (carefully it’s be very hot!), dust the top of your sourdough with more flour and gently flip your sourdough into the Le Creuset

  • Bake for 30 min with the lid on, bake for further 25 min with the lid of to get your crust

My optimum rises have come from feeding the starter early in the morning; prepping the bread an hour later; leaving the bread on the counter to prove throughout the day; popping it in the fridge overnight; and baking it the next morning. I always bake from fridge cold sourdough – so even if you’re doing a shorter prove end your prove with an hour or two in the fridge. It keeps its shape better without spreading, and the moisture make it rise better and gives it an amazing golden crust.

For a faster bake prep first thing in the morning; leave on the counter for the day; pop in the fridge for about an hour and then bake. Giving it a minimum of 9 hours to prove eg 7am prep and 5pm bake.

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru