Natural leavens take a few days to get going. They need to be kept in a warm room and out of draughts. If it is too cold, they will take very much longer to ripen, and then taste too sour. Luckily for us, they keep well in a refrigerator. If you want to start a leaven and use it once a week, you can pinch off a piece of dough weighing approximately
Mix to a paste the flour and water and knead it with your fingers and thumbs until it is a smooth, firm dough.
Put this nut of dough in a glass or small bowl, cover it with a cheese cloth (not clingfilm) and leave it in a warm place, at approximately
Discard the crust and proceed with the first refreshment.
Dissolve the starter in the water, add the flour and mix to a dough. Knead with the fingers on a work table.
Put the dough in a small bowl and cover with clingfilm. Put it back in your warm spot and leave for a day or two. It will crust again, but it will also have enlarged, and the aeration will be greater. The smell will be very slightly sharp.
Discard the crust and proceed with the second refreshment.
Repeat as for the first refreshment, but this time leave it for about 8-12 hours and it should show every sign of life: growing and rising like a normal piece of dough with a slightly sharp edge to the smell, but not rotten or ‘off’.
The leaven is now ready to be added to a dough which will proceed as any other, though often more slowly.
© 2005 Tom Jaine. All rights reserved.