So what makes sourdough so special? Sourdough is made using a "bug", which has similar properties to the yeast you can buy at bakers' or at the supermarket. It makes the bread rise. The difference lies in the type of bacteria that live in this culture. The enzymes in sourdough break down the gluten, providing a baked bread that is more easily digested. And it tastes different as well, a little bit sour. You can add baking soda to counter that (1tsp baking soda for every cup of starter), although I personally like that. It might be a good bread to try if you think you are slightly gluten intolerant?
You have to keep the bug alive by "feeding" it wholemeal flour, best is rye. You need to use it at least once a week (or give extra feeds of flour) if kept in the fridge and you have to use filtered water because chlorine kills the enzymes. It's like having a pet. You need to look after it, make sure it's ok.
It's definitely worth the effort though. And the more you make it the easier it gets. The great thing is, as long as you keep it alive, you will never need to buy yeast again. Anything that makes you less dependent on others is a good thing in my opinion!
If you know someone who has a bug, ask them to put some aside for you. If you don't know anyone, use this recipe or this one to make your own.
To use the bug, put it in a bowl and add 1 1/2 cup wholemeal flour and 1 1/2 cup water. Mix and let it rest in a warm place until bubbles form on the surface. inside it will have plenty of bubbles and be a bit slimy.
When it is ready, weight it (it should be about 500g), return some to your bug jar and proceed to make your bread!
I have been mixing 350ml of water with 300g organic wholemeal flour and 350g organic white flour, and 3 tsp fine sea salt. Once you've combined it, let it rest for 20mn so the flour can absorb the water. Flour your bench top then knead or bang it on the table for 5mn to release the gluten, rest another 20mn. The dough should feel elastic and soft by now. If it is too moist or dry, knead in a little flour or water respectively.
Knead/ bang another 5mn to allow the gluten to develop, divide into two loaves and put in tins or shape them straight on a tray. Cover them with a cloth and let them rise for about 4 to 6 hours. The dough is ready when it has almost doubled in size. If left too long, the fermentation reaches its peak and the culture dies and you will bake a brick.
On another note, we spent an hour yesterday picking olives from some friends' tree, and ended up with 9kg of them. Josh made some great ones last year and we ran out a few months ago so I can't wait to have some jars in the cupboard again. Not only do they taste 10 times better than store bought ones but they are healthier too (and free!). Manufacturers add preservatives I'd rather not eat.