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Sourdough Starter

September 2023 marks the tenth anniversary of the annual Sourdough September campaign. This is the time of year when the Real Bread Campaign encourages people to make genuine sourdough bread and buy genuine sourdough bread from local, indie bakeries. Genuine sourdough bread is made without additives and leavened only by a live sourdough starter culture.

Days one to five (ish)

30G rye flour per day

30G water (at about 20°c) per day

The amount of flour you use isn't important so we've started small as instructions that tell you to throw portions of your starter away just seem wasteful. Please keep to the 1:1 ratio, though.

On each of the first five days, pop equal amounts of flour and water into a container, mix, close and leave at room temperature (again about 20°C) for 24 hours. For the first few days, the mixture might seem lifeless and could smell vinegary or even a bit iffy. Don't worry about this as it should soon start bubbling and the smell will develop into something yeasty and maybe even floral.

Day six (ish)

Once your starter is bubbling up nicely, you can use some to bake a loaf of Real Bread. This usually takes about four to seven days but might take more or less. If it's not bubbling by day six, keep repeating the flour and water addition (refreshment) until it is.

Don't worry if the flour settles out and you end up with a layer of brownish liquid. This is just gravity working its magic and is normal. Either stir it back into your starter or pour it off. If your starter hasn't been used for a while, the second option is probably better as the liquid (sometimes known as hooch) will have started to become alcoholic, which can slow the starter down and may also lead to less desirable flavours in your bread.

Wheat starter

Though you can use the rye starter for wheat breads, you might prefer to convert it by replacing the rye in refreshments with wheat flour (white or wholemeal) until it is all wheat. Alternatively, you can start the process above using wheat flour from the word go. Again, wholemeal will give you a better chance. Whether you keep a rye, white wheat and wholemeal wheat starter all on the go, or just one, is up to you.

Caring for your starter

Each time you use some of the starter, simply replace with an equivalent quantity of flour and water – this is usually known as feeding or refreshing. You also need to refresh on the day before a baking session.

When refreshing, feel free to experiment with different ratios and total amounts of flour to water in your refreshments: a looser starter will ferment more quickly than a stiff one; refreshing more often or adding a large refreshment will dilute the taste and acidity.

Though it will be happy to help you bake bread once a week or even daily, your starter can be left untouched at the back for the fridge for weeks or even months. The yeast and bacteria populations will decline over time but enough will live on in a dormant state. The longer you leave it, the longer it'll take to "wake up" though and it might need a few days of refreshments before it's up to full vigour.

Unless you are using your starter every single day, keep it in the fridge, which will slow it down and reduce the frequency at which you need to refresh it. You just need to remember to take it out and refresh it the day before you intend to make a loaf.

Recipes taken from Slow Dough: Real Bread by Chris Young, published by Nourish Books. Hardback, £20.

For more information on Sourdough September, visit or follow @RealBreadCampaign on Insta and FB and @RealBread on Twitter.

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