Many years ago when I lived in Japan I had one of those Tamagotchis. In case you are unfamiliar, it was an electronic toy that you had to keep alive by “feeding” it and “changing” it, all with the press of a button. It was said to give you a vague idea of what having children would be like although at I must say, it was a rather accelerated version. If you didn’t feed your Tamagotchi then it died rather dramatically and suddenly.
It was my three week old Tamagotchi that I think of whenever someone asks me if I have a sourdough starter. My first response is “I kill things!” like plants or electronic surrogate children and the idea of having to constantly feed a starter alarmed me, particularly since I travel a lot and we have enough trouble remembering to water the plants. Nevertheless, I still remained curious about sourdough baking. My friends Celia and Brydie are fabulous sourdough bakers and I have always admired their efforts from a cautious distance.
Master Baker Paul Giddings
So when I was asked if I wanted to try out Bourke Street Bakery’s new sourdough class my curiosity was peaked. Not only would we get to shape and make our own bread, they’d teach us how to create our own starter and we’d leave with dough, baked loaves and some of their starter. The classes are held on a Sunday afternoon and starts at 1pm and goes for two hours. My friend Girl Next Door and I are lined up in front of the counter, breathing in the heady aroma of their sausage rolls. Class participants are offered a drink and then we make our way into the baking area where Bourke Street Bakery’s Master Baker Paul Giddings will show us how to create those blistered, golden loaves so prized and munched on by Sydneysiders.
On each bench is a recipe sheet and a set up for each of us and there are eight of us in today’s class. You need to bring an apron because none are provided and there is plenty of flour involved. We are also asked to come without hand jewellery as we will be kneading dough by hand. On the handouts are the weights and quantities needed to create a 450g “personal” sized loaf. Measurements are down to grams and the starting point is organic flour. Paul explains that organic flours, because they are often a mixture of flours and wheat from all over the world and are therefore subjected to different weather conditions and rainfall, can often act differently whereas non organic flour reacts more consistently. Their organic flour is a blend of four grains from Wholegrain in Gunnedah with 12.2-12.5% protein.
Measuring the sourdough starter
Paul tells us that temperature control is the key to baking and when yeast is stored at 4C/39.2F it is inactive. As the temperature rises to the teens, the yeast is still sluggish but once it hits the high 20s and 30s it becomes very active. It is the process of retarding the dough (and then rising the dough) that determines the waxy crumb, brittle crust and caramel finish so desired in sourdough baking. You can bake a dough directly from the fridge but bring out your starter from the fridge an hour before.
Making a Starter (requires 3-4 weeks)
Inactive starter (but still very much alive)
A starter or leaven is a spongy mixture that you use in place of dried or fresh yeast. Starters can be active or sluggish, they can also be sour or not sour. To create a starter, it is simple. You mix 100mls/3.5fl.ozs of filtered water with 100mls/3.5ozs of flour and allow the yeast spores in the air to come in contact with the mixture and colonise. You can also add some yogurt for active culture or hot water that has has raisins soaking in it and cooled for sugar. The starter needs to be left out at room temperature and refreshed once a day for 3-4 weeks. This involves discarding half of the mix and then feeding with 50gms/1.7 fl. oz. water and 50 grams/1.7 oz. flour. Once it’s active, leave it out for two hours after feeding each day and then refrigerate.