Below we cover how to make a sourdough mother from scratch and how to bake your first loaf
It has something magical and mystical about it. About 4 years ago Steve watched the Michael Pollan documentary called Cooked - episode “air” and decided to grow his own sourdough mother to really try to understand the processes. By simply mixing flour and water and leaving it out it started to bubble and sour, and after a few days all of a sudden he had a sourdough mother - a new pet that needed feeding and love! This was the birth of Steve’s love and fascination with sourdough bread. It is very easy to get started and Steve really can not say enough positive things about the beauty of making fresh bread in your own home and having another mother to love and look after! His mother is now older than his younger son Ned (Ned is 3 and his sourdough mother culture is 4!) He highly highly recommends you to give it a go!
Making your own Sourdough mother from scratch - it’s surprisingly simple to make
In a large clean jam jar approx 600g add:
100g of flour of choice (we prefer 100% wholewheat or wholemeal spelt)
100ml of water
Mix well until homogenous. Cover with a tea towel or clean cloth to stop flies entering but still allowing air and natural yeast to enter.
Leave to sit on the countertop for 2-3 days out of direct sunlight. The warmer to environment the quicker this process will be and the cooler the environment the slower this process will be. Optimum temperature for fermentation is between 24-27 degrees celsius.
Once it smells yeasty and slightly beer or brewery like, and has small bubbles in it, it is ready to go and get its first feed.
Day 3 or Day 4: first feed
Mix the flour and water mixture in your jar until homogenous and discard 100g. Add 50g of flour and 50ml of water and mix well.
Leave for another 24 hours
Day 4 or day 5
Feed as above on Day 3 or Day 4
Day 6 or day 7
Feed as above on Day 3 or Day 4
Now you have an active sourdough mother that is ready to bake bread!
If you want to bake bread daily leave your mother in your kitchen in an environment with a stable temperature. It will need to be fed every day and if it is warm it will need to be fed twice a day to remain very active. The nature of a mother culture is that it is unique to its environment and will need a little bit of time for you to get to know it and understand when it needs to be fed. Don’t worry this is all very intuitive it just takes a little time and that’s the beauty of it.
Alternatively you can leave your mother in the fridge and feed it once a week. Instead of discarding any mother culture this is what you will use to create a levain (we describe and explain below)
My mother culture smells gone off and has separated? What do i do?
Dont worry this normally means it is simply hungry and hasnt been fed recently. it has over fermented and that is what is giving that sour smell. Your mother culture is quite resilient but like any pet it does require attention and love. Simply mix the solution together and feed as above.
What is the difference between a sourdough mother culture and a levain?
They are both essentially the same thing. However your mother culture you want to live and thrive into the future so you never use all this to bake your bread. You will always keep some and feed it to make bread with in the future.
A levain is a fancy french term for the mother culture that you are using to bake bread. The levains purpose is to ensure that it is very active and will pass the float test meaning that it is active and ready to raise your bread. This method of having a mother culture and a levain means that you can ensure you have the correct volume of levain or mother culture to bake your bread with while ensuring that you have mother culture to bake bread with in the future.
My method in terms of levain and mother culture
I leave my mother culture in a 400ml jar in the fridge. I feed it once a week.
I take the jar out of the fridge and remove half of its volume. I place this half that i have removed into a large bowl and add flour and water to it to build a levain.
I then feed my mother as mention above and put it back in the fridge.
The levain will be fermenting at a slower pace as it is cold in the fridge so it will take approx 12-24 hours to get active. Normally i give it a second smaller feed the morning before i bake bread so that it is vibrant and active.
When is my sourdough mother/ levain ready to bake bread?
When you feed your sourdough mother or levain the yeast consume the starch or natural sugars in the flour and release carbon dioxide which rises the bread. The longer you leave your mother between feeds the more acidic or sour it becomes. There is a point where your mother is optimum and active to bake bread. The easiest way to do this is by doing the float test. Fill a bowl ½ full with water and take 1 tbsp of your mother culture or levain and put in the water. If it floats it is ready to bake bread. If it sinks it is either under fermented or over fermented.
How do i know if my mother or levain is over or under fermented? And what do i do?
An under fermented mother will simple sink during the float test. An over fermented mother/ levain will look bubbly and active but will also sink. So the main difference is the bubbliness of your mother/ levain, an under fermented mother will not have many bubbles on the surface versus an over fermented mother/ levain will have lots of bubbles.
To correct these, for the under fermented version simply leave ferment for an hour or 2 or more until it passes the float test. For an over fermented mother/ levain you will have to feed it again and go through this process again.
There are 2 secret ingredients when making sourdough
A baking friend Owen and Josh always said you have your basic ingredients of flour, water and salt but you also have 2 secret equally important ingredients, time and temperature. The longer you leave your dough ferment the more acid it becomes. The warmer your room the quicker the fermentation process occurs. For example say a the recipe below is left to ferment in a room that is 25 degrees C the bulk fermentation will take appox 2-2.5 hours. If the temperature is 20 degrees this same process will take 5-6 hours because the yeast are less active as its colder.
What are baker percentages and what does this mean?
A baker % is a way to calculate your bread recipes in a method that is easy to compare with other bakers and is more of a framework approach.
They are all based on your flour % as 100% and everything else is compared to this. So for example a recipe that is 70% hydration (the amount of water in your bread) 1.8% salt and 30% levain/ mother would be written as follows based on 1kg of flour (1000g):
1000g of flour
300g of mother/ levain (the mother is 50% water and 50% flour - so 150g of this is water)
550g of water
18g of salt
So the 1kg of flour is the 100%
300g of mother is 30% of the 1kg of flour
The hydration is calculated by adding the water plus the water from your mother together so in this case is 550g +150g = 700g which as a % of the 1000g of flour is 70%
Rustic Country sourdough loaf recipe and process
250g wholemeal flour
250g white flour
150g of active levain or sourdough mother - (ensure it passes the float test - see above)
11g of salt
300ml of luke warm water (ideally its around 40 degrees C)
In a large bowl add the water and the salt. Mix to disperse the salt in the water.
Add the mother and make sure it passes the float test.
Mix this together so that the mother distributes into the water.
Add in the flour and bring the dough together, it will look like a shaggy mess.
Pour this shaggy dough onto the counter and knead for 8-10 mins. There is no real technique with kneading but what you are trying to do is to activate the gluten in the flour which will give the dough elasticity so that the dough can grow and expand when the yeast in the sourdough mother consume the flour and release carbon dioxide which will give air pockets.
You will know when you have developed enough gluten once the dough passes the window pane test. Pull the dough between your fingers and it should be able to be stretched thin enough so that you can see the light shine through like a window pane. Once you can you have developed enough gluten.
Put the dough back into a bowl and leave to ferment for 2-2.5 hours ideally at a temperature for 24-27 degrees, find a warm spot in your kitchen or your hot press. The dough will have grown substantially and be almost double in size.
Carefully pour the dough out onto the work surface and stretch the edges of the dough out to their max length to be careful not to lose any of the gas that has been developed, fold the edges of the dough back on itself, take one corner and bring it to the middle, repeat this with each of the other corners. Turn the dough upside down and pull the surface of the dough down on itself which will develop surface tension. Watch the video to get a clear idea here.
Flour your banneton basket ensuring their is flour in between each of the layers. If you dont have a banneton basket simple take a bow that is a similar size approx 1000ml in volume and put a clean tea towl inside. Flour the tea towl to prevent the dough from sticking. Gently flour the top of the dough ensuring there is a thin layer. Carefully pick up your dough and place in the banneton basket or your floured tea towel in your bowl.
Leave to ferment for 4-6 hours. Again at a temperature that is approx of 24-27 degrees C.
You will know that it has fermented enough when you gentle press a finger into the top of the dough it should bounce back slowly and leave a small imprint.
Baking your bread:
2 methods - using a dutch oven (cast iron caserole dish with lid)
or recreating a dutch oven
Using a dutch oven - put your dutch oven into your oven and pre heat your oven to 250 degrees C for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the hot dutch oven from the oven and gently place your dough into the dutch oven and close the lid. Bake for 20 mins at 250 degrees. Remove the lid and reduce the temperature to 200 degrees C and bake for a further 12-15 mins unti the crust has gone wonderfully caramelised and crispy. Remove from oven and leave to cool for 30 mins (if you can as the smell will be magic!)
Without a dutch oven - pre heat your oven to 250 degrees C for 20 minutes. If you have a pizza stone or pizza tile place this into your oven and if you dont just put a baking tray in the oven to preheat.
Carefully remove the pizza stone or baking tray from the oven and gently place your dough onto this. Use a water mister and mist around the oven. Place another tray under this tray and put 5 ice cubes in this. These will create steam which will give your bread a beautiful crust!
Bake for 20 mins at 250 degrees. Remove the lid and reduce the temperature to 200 degrees C and bake for a further 12-15 mins unti the crust has gone wonderfully caramelised and crispy. Remove from oven and leave to cool for 30 mins (if you can as the smell will be magic!)
Ideally you would leave the bread to cool for 15-20 mins before cutting open as if you cut it straight from the oven the crumb or inside of the bread has not had time to set and can be a little wet but the crust is so crispy and amazing - i try to wait for 10 mins so i still get the whole hot bread with crispy crust taste and it doesnt run the internal crumb or structure too much!
Enjoy hope you learn to love making sourdough as much as me!