Shelly Bay Baker Sourdough Starter Kit Guide
Congratulations on starting to make your own sourdough! It can be fun, challenging, frustrating and very rewarding, as well as tasty and nourishing. Plus you have a new pet… your ‘mum’ starter is alive and needs to be loved (she’s in the pottle).
In your kit you’ll find your Shelly Bay starter, 2kg white flour, 500g of wholemeal (caramel colour), and 500g of rye (dark grey).
The basic concept for making sourdough is that you’re using a ‘wild starter’ (a living colony of bacteria and yeasts) to ferment and leaven your dough instead of baker’s yeast. This means it takes more time, and has a few extra steps, but eating real bread makes it worthwhile.
Baking with baker’s yeast – just two steps!
When you bake bread with baker’s yeast, you activate the yeast with warm water and some flour and then add it to the rest of your ingredients, the yeast leavens the bread and then you bake it.
The three steps of sourdough
Step 1 activate your Shelly Bay sourdough starter (in the pottle) by feeding it water and flour and keeping it warm. This gets your 'mum' ready for the second step. You’ll keep some of this extra starter as your ‘mum’.
Step 2 is the preferment (we call it the levain - french for starter!). You use rye flour (nice and sour!) and warm water mixed with some of your Shelly Bay sourdough starter, and leave this to ferment. This preferment/levain will then be added to the rest of your ingredients for Step 3.
Step 3 is the bulk ferment. You mix your final flours, salt, and water, fold the dough, leave it to rise and develop texture and flavour before you shape and bake your bread.
Baking with bakers yeast
Step 1 - Activate baker’s yeast
Step 1 - Activate your sourdough starter (‘mum’)
Step 2 - Mix your final dough/bulk ferment
Step 2 - Make your preferment/levain
Step 3 - Mix your final dough/bulk ferment
Ideally you need a minimum of 27 degrees to activate your starter, and get all those yeasts and bacteria eating those sugars (carbs) that are in the flour. If you go over 34 degrees you risk cooking/killing the microbes that make up your living starter.
It’s worth trying to find a hack to maintain a constant temperature – from a home brew heat pad, to an airing cupboard, or even a container balanced on a towel rail (make sure you use a couple of towels to avoid cooking your starter).
Get into the habit of writing down all your times and temperatures. At the bakery, we record the temperature of the flour, the water, the room, and the outside temperature. This allows us to be consistent and know what to change if we need to tweak a recipe. Start a baking log book, as when you get a bake you really like, you’ll know what you did. As you get better and more confident you may decide to bake by look and feel, which can be fun, but means you may get different results.
Cover your starters and your dough
Moisture is critical – if the dough or starter is too dry then the starter can’t activate. A good way to keep things moist is to use a cover (not tight) to keep moisture in and create a wee micro-climate.
How do I look after ‘mum’?
Your Shelly Bay starter will arrive fed and raring to go. So the first thing to do is to decide if you’re going to start a bake or not. If you’re not baking straight away, whack it in the fridge. This essentially pauses your 'mum'. She can last weeks in the fridge. You just need to activate her when you take out and start your bake. She needs a feed so best to use the ratio 100% flour/100% warm water/50% ‘mum’ ( I tend to feed about 4 tablespoons of flour, so that means add 4 tablespoons of warm water and 2 of ‘mum’). Mix and leave for 4-6 hours and watch her start to bubble away.
If you're going to bake right away, then head to step 1 below.
When mixing up the final dough, it's easier to first add the water to your preferment/levain, mix, and then add to the dry ingredients (salt, rye, wholewheat and white).
This is a recipe for 2 loaves of 800g rye sourdough. You’ll need to do some maths for a bigger or smaller batch.
Step 1 – Activate your Shelly Bay sourdough ‘mum’ starter
Step 1 recipe
WATER - warm
ACTIVE MUM SB
Combine water and the active ‘mum’ we sent you, then combine with flour in a container that you can put a lid on (not 100% sealed as the CO2 needs to get out). You may be thinking “why am I making so much activated ‘mum’ starter?”. The reason is you need a good volume of ingredients to get the fermentation happening). Store somewhere warm for 6-7 hours until it is bubbling. Now you're ready to go to the next step 2 (preferment or levain). Don’t forget to keep 150g of the extra activated starter back as your ‘mum’ to be used when you next bake.
Step 2 – Make your preferment (levain)
You’ll need your rye flour here, and follow these measurements, again using warm (25-28 degree) water. Mix the water with the activated mum first, then add the rye flour. You’ll have quite a bit of activated mum which can be used in pancakes/fed to chickens or as compost.
Step 2 recipe
To ferment the rye properly and get that real sour flavour, this needs to go overnight, or for at least 12 hours in a consistently warm location (25-28 degrees). Starters hate drafts and fluctuations in temperature. If your starter looks the same and there’s been no or little change, it can often be the temperature. Warm things up a bit and give it more time.
Step 3 – Mix your final dough!
Once the preferment/levain is ready to go, it will look a bit puffy and like porridge. It’s time to do your final dough, and then bulk ferment before shaping, proving and baking
Step 3 - Final dough recipe
You can use a washing up bowl, or big mixing bowl and make sure to combine it all together using your thumb and forefinger as a pincer. You can wet your hands to keep the sticking to a minimum, but you’ll always end up with some dough on your hands. Use a clean utensil like a scraper, or blunt knife to remove any sticky dough. This final mix can take 3-5 minutes, get everything mixed really well and looking smooth. The dough should be sticky.
Step 4 – Folding
Over 1.5 hours, complete three folds, 30 minutes apart. Wet your hands before folding – this guy does a good job. Folding works the glutens and adds air to your dough. It's an essential part of getting good texture and crumb.
Step 5 – Bulk ferment
Once you’ve done your third fold, leave the dough for another 1.5 hours, a total of 3 hours from finishing mixing. The dough should feel gassy and light; this means holding a constant temperature from between 24-30 degrees. If the dough is colder you will need to bulk ferment for longer than 3 hours.
Step 6 – Shaping and proving
Shape and let rise for 2-3 hours. Here’s a good guide. Don’t get too hung up on this step. You can put the shaped loaf in lightly floured tea towels in a bowl to let them prove. It is important to get some surface tension, but you can also drop the dough into a loaf tin and it will work. If using a tin, remove after 30 mins of baking and then let the loaf crust on all sides by placing on a tray.
Step 7 – Scoring
Scoring your bread is important, as this enables ‘oven spring’, the bread rising quickly as it cooks. By scoring, you’re creating a weakness in the skin of the loaf and encouraging it to open, allowing the bubbles to expand. If you don’t score you can get breaks in the loaf, where the expansion leads to cracking, especially on the sides of the loaf.
Step 8 – Bake
Start super hot (240 degrees) and turn it down after 10 mins (avoid opening before this). Fan bake works best. Add a cup full of ice cubes (throw them in the bottom of the oven when you put your bread in) to get the steam effect as this will help your bread ‘oven spring’ and rise. You want to aim for 40 mins for a loaf. It’s hard to overcook bread, however, the biggest risk is burning, so after 10 mins check your loaf and reduce the heat to 200. Then maintain this for 30 mins. You can flip your loaves, so turn them upside down to make sure the base is cooked and crunchy.
Step 9 – Rest your loaf
We let all of our sourdough rest for 4-12 hours at the bakery as the flavour develops and gets stronger, and it’s easier to handle and slice. Leave your fresh bread on a rack for a minimum of 30 mins before slicing.
There are heaps of resources online, and soon we’ll be launching our own sourdough channel on Youtube, keeping you up to date with the latest recipes and techniques for making real bread in your home.
The Science of sourdough - RNZ https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/thiswayup/audio/2597931/the-science-of-sourdough
Sourdough 101 RNZ
San Francisco Baking Institute High Hydration dough shaping techniques https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEG1BjWroT0