Semer Water Sour Dough: Bread from the heart of the Yorkshire Dales

Sour dough is bread, which is leavened using a sour dough starter of natural yeasts, and is an ideal accompaniment to soup, pate and other savoury dishes.

The starter is a living culture that needs to be fed and watered, in order to be kept alive and ready to make the bread.

Our Semer Water sour dough starter, is relatively new and we use this, as well as a much older starter we made in 1997 and kept alive through a number of moves. It is due to the different types of wild yeast in different areas that ensure each sour dough starter has its own taste characteristics.

To create a starter take a jam jar or similar size plastic container with a lid. Pour 150g lukewarm water into the container and then add two tablespoons of sugar and three tablespoons of bread flour and mix it well. Take a sheet of kitchen roll and secure it over the top of the mouth of the container with a rubber band and leave the container in the open for a few days giving the container a gentle shake to make the contents swirl around the inside. At some point the starter will spring into life and there will be tell tale bubbles. To test this take the contents of the jar and add them to a bowl with a table spoon of sugar and 100g bread flour, and leave in a warm place. If the starter is alive, then this will have formed a spongy mix in the bowl.

If it is alive place half of this sponge back into the jar/container and feed with a teaspoon of sugar and a tablespoon of bread flour. Add 100g of water. To keep the starter alive when not using it, it is important to pour off the water every 3 or 4 days down to the sludge, and then top back up with clean water, add sugar and flour, mix and place the lid back on the container but do not make it air tight.

To make the bread from the starter: this is a process that needs at least 24 hours but can be extended to 48 to add additional flavour to the bread.

Pour 135g of the liquid off your starter into a bowl, then pour off the remaining water away to you get to the sludge. Pour the majority of the flour sludge from the bottom of the starter into the bowl.

Reset the starter [see below]

To the bowl add 100g of bread flour, cover with a clean tea towel leave over night, any thing over 12 hours will do.

Now add a further 100g of bread flour and a tea spoon of salt. Mix well with a pallet knife or wooden spoon and turn the mixture out onto a flat surface. The mix should be flexible and sticky, but if it is too sticky use a bit of flour to dry it out. If it is too dry add a little water. Different flour can absorb more or less water, so there is no guarantee.

Start to knead the bread to stretch the dough. I tend to use a throw slap technique, which involves throwing the dough on to the work surface and pulling the other end, before folding the held end over the rest of the dough then start the process over again. This can be done with one hand which leaves the other free to dust the work surface with flour when necessary. Knead like this for at least 5 minutes but 10 is better. You will notice the dough changes and becomes more elastic and drier.

Roll around the work surface, which has been dusted with flour to coat the dough and then put back into the bowl and cover with cling film. Leave like this in a warm place for a couple of hours, before taking it out of the bowl to knock back, which is to give a light knead.

Form the dough into a ball and dust well with flour. It now needs setting aside to prove. I find sour dough needs a lot longer to work but a couple of hours should be sufficient.

When the dough is ready to bake, brush with a little milk, cut the top with a very sharp blade and  then add any topping you intend to use. I usually add some grated cheese, semolina flour and or seeds, such as poppy or sesame.

Bake in a really hot oven for about 25 minutes, ideally create some steam in the oven when baking.

You should now have a perfect sour dough loaf, to enjoy with soup or other savoury dish.

If you have not, then drop me a line and I will try to help.

To keep your starter alive: take the container, which will have some sludgy residue left in the bottom. Add 150g water a tablespoon of sugar and three tablespoons of bread flour, mix well and put on one side. This will be ready to use again in 24 hours if kept in a warm environment.  I keep my starter at room temperature all year round though some people think the starter should be kept in the fridge.  It will last longer between feeds in the fridge, but I think it works better if it has been kept at room temperature. Personal preference but this method of making bread was around long before we had refrigeration!

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