To Make a Sourdough Leaven

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 225 g/8 oz from the finished dough when you have made it, pop it in a glass bowl, cover it with clingfilm and store it in the refrigerator. A day or two before you want to bake, take up the recipe below from the point of the second refreshment.

Ingredients

The Starter

  • 60 g/2 oz wholemeal flour (wheat or rye depending on the sort of loaf you want)
  • 30 ml/1 fl oz spring or boiled water (chlorine in water supplies is best avoided)

The First Refreshment

  • 60 ml/2 fl oz spring or boiled water
  • 120 g/4 oz wholemeal flour

The Second Refreshment

  • 120 ml/4 fl oz spring or boiled water
  • 225 g/8 oz unbleached white bread flour

Method

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 24-26°C/75-80°F, for about 2 days. Although the outside will crust over, the inside will be moist and slightly aerated. The smell will be sweet.

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.

The recipes I have given that use leavens, for instance French Country Bread or the German Sourdough Rye Bread, give instructions from almost the very beginning of the process.

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