Now that I am back in the land of working ovens, I am looking forward to a summer of intensive breadmaking and other baking. I started by treating myself to a new book, Crust by Richard Bertinet.
There's a lot of mystique about sourdough, and I think part of the problem is that people think of the first stage as part of their bread recipe rather than just a little kitchen experiment. If you approach it in the latter frame of mind, then you are really just helping something to go mouldy on your kitchen shelf, and checking from time to time to see how long it is taking. What could be easier than that? Hell, I do that all the time without even trying. Anyway, here is the method lifted pretty much straight from Bertinet's book.
Stage 1: two days
200g strong white flour
150g warm water
Put all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl, mix very thoroughly with a spoon until they come together to form a soft dough, place the bowl inside a plastic bag, leave in a warm place for two days. (I use my boiler cupboard.) Your mixture should now have little bubbles on the surface, showing that it has started to ferment.
Stage 2: two days
300g strong white flour
150g warm water
Add the flour and water to the ferment, mix well with a spoon, return bowl to bag and leave for a further two days in a warm place. The mixture should now have begun to expand, and should smell slightly yoghurty and alcoholic.
Stage 3: two days
400g of the ferment
225g warm water
375g strong white flour
Measure the warm water into a mixing bowl, add 400g of the ferment to it, break the ferment into small pieces, and mix very well so that there are no dry chunks. Add the flour, mix very well, return bowl to bag and leave for 12 hours in a warm place. Transfer to the fridge, and keep there for two days before using to make bread.
I have unwillingly become a bit of a bread techie, so for anyone out there who knows or cares about these things, the hydration percentage of this starter is 60% (300g water/500 g flour).