It's a word that was once only used by bakers, chefs and trendy brunch spots. Now, 'sourdough' is popping up everywhere with more and more home-bakers taking to the trend as well. We're not surprised, either - fresh, crusty sourdough bread is totally delicious!
But what exactly is sourdough and how is it different to a regular loaf?
Read on for our ultimate low-down, from what 'sourdough' means to how to make it. And, if your baking skills are a few cake tins short of a kitchen, we've included some of our favourite fresh sourdough loaves available in store so you can up your sandwich game without forking out at a trendy café. You're welcome!
What is sourdough?
'Sourdough' refers to bread that uses naturally-occurring yeasts found in the air to raise a loaf instead of typical store-bought yeast.
That's right. You can literally make a loaf of bread rise using the bacteria and yeast that's floating in the air all around us. We know. Science is so cool.
This natural yeast has to be retained, nurtured and fed until it's condensed enough to be able to make the loaf rise. You do this by feeding something called the 'sourdough starter'.
What is a sourdough starter?
Your sourdough starter is basically your incubator where you feed and nurture your yeast until it's strong enough to bake with. It's made from a mix of plain flour and water that's left uncovered to catch the airborne yeasts, then constantly fed until it's ready. Once you've made one starter, you can keep nurturing it and using it for loaves endlessly - there's no need to make a starter for every loaf.
Although it can be a little needy at first, once you've got yourself a happy sourdough starter, you've got loaves for life!
How do you bake with a sourdough starter?
Baking with a sourdough starter is easy - especially if you've made loaves before. However, remember that because your yeast is naturally occurring and less condensed than shop-bought yeast, it will take longer to rise - so be prepared to wait a few extra hours for your loaf to be complete. It's a good idea to start making your loaf the evening before you want to eat it.
However, in return for those extra hours, you'll be rewarded with a delicious fresh loaf with a beautiful, matured sourdough flavour.
What's so good about sourdough?
While there's no health benefits to baking bread using sourdough, it does give the bread a delicious, mature taste.
Sourdough's signature tartness comes from the same microorganisms that gives yogurt its tang, too. Expect a rich, deeply-flavoured loaf with large air pockets and a beautiful, thick crust.
Not much of a baker? You can still enjoy the delicious taste of sourdough without having to put the hours in. Just check out our range of sourdough breads, boules and baguettes in-store. Otherwise, scroll on to learn how to make your own sourdough starter and loaf at home.
How to make a sourdough starter
1. To make your starter, mix together equal parts of plain flour and water in a clean, large glass jar (100g of each is a good place to start) and leave it uncovered for 24 hours somewhere warm (but not too hot).
The air's bacteria will settle in the mixture and feed on the mixture, and, after a day, you should start seeing little bubbles popping up along the sides. This is the yeast moving in and making itself at home.
2. After a day, place a second large glass jar on your scales and pour in 75g of your initial mixture. Top this up with 75g more flour and 75g more water. You can discard the rest of the first mixture, as you won't be needing this again.
Discarding some of the mix and replacing it with fresh flour is important as it introduces new food for the yeast to feed on.
3. Once you've added this new fuel and mixed it all together, cover your jar with either a piece of kitchen towel secured with a band or the lid of the jar loosely placed on top (but not screwed on) and return it to its warm spot. It's important that the jar isn't completely sealed. Just like all living things, yeast is an organism and needs to breathe.
4. Keep repeating steps two and three every 24 hours for a week until you notice a steady, even number of bubbles throughout the mix. The starter will also start to smell sweeter.
Although you may notice a big surge of bubbles in your jar the first two days, it will take a few more days for the yeast to grow and condense until it's strong enough to bake with. But stick with it and have patience - the final product with be so worth it.
5. Once you've got a happy sourdough starter, you can keep it in the fridge with up to a week between feedings, removing 100g of the starter for each bake and feeding the rest and returning it to the fridge to keep it ticking over.
How to make a sourdough loaf
TOP TIP: It's a good idea to start making your loaf of bread the day before you want it. If you start making your loaf around 6pm, you can knock back and shape the loaf around 10pm, then leave it overnight ready for fresh bread in the morning!
1. When your starter is ready to bake with, remove 100g of the starter from the fridge - replacing it with new 50g flour and 50g water - and let it sit in a container on the countertop for half an hour to bring it up to room temperature.
2. After 30 minutes, put the starter somewhere warm for up to an hour to kickstart some growth and activity. This works in the same way as you'd leave a loaf of bread somewhere warm to rise and prove.
Once your starter's woken up and looking a little more perky, you can bake!
3. Mix 100g of starter with 250g bread flour, 120ml warm (but not hot) water, and a teaspoon each of salt and sugar.
4. Once this comes into a soft dough, knead it for ten minutes until it turns smooth and elastic. This should be quite a stretchy dough, which encourages lovely big pockets of air within the loaf.
5. Place the dough in an oiled mixing bowl and leave to rest somewhere warm for two to four hours.
6. After this time, remove the dough from the bowl and knead it briefly to knock out the air. Then, shape it into a neat ball and place it into a second mixing bowl lined with a clean tea towel and dusted liberally with flour. Cover it loosely with clingfilm and leave it to rest for up for eight hours on the countertop or up to 12 hours in the fridge - leaving it to rise overnight is perfect. It might seem like a lot of rising, but remember - the longer and slower the rise, the better the finished flavour of the loaf as the yeast has more time to develop.
7. After this second rise, it's finally time to bake! If you left your loaf in the fridge, remove it from the fridge 1-2 hours before baking to bring it back to room temperature.
8. Preheat your oven to 220C/200C Fan. Place a baking tray in the middle to warm up, and a second tray filled with water at the bottom of the oven. This will create steam as the loaf cooks and help it develop a fantastic, crisp crust.
9. Once the oven is up to temperature, remove the tray from the oven and dust liberally with flour. Turn out the loaf onto the hot tray, brushing off excess flour on the top if you like, and score some lines across the surface to help it reach its full growth.
10. Put your loaf into the oven and bake for 25-30 mins until a deep, golden brown. To make sure your loaf is cooked through, tap the bottom - if it sounds hollow, it's done.