If you're into baking or you've jumped on the sourdough band wagon you’ll have heard people talking about their mother dough, a lot.
Mother dough, also known as pre-ferment or sourdough starter, is the basis of a loaf of bread. What it needs most of all is patience, as you have to 'feed' the microorganisms it contains periodically to keep it alive. Leavened sourdough bread has been around since ancient times and was first made by accident when dough was left sitting out in the air and wild yeast began to grow. Wild yeast is used to make bread in cultures all over the world and there is plenty of evidence that the ancient Egyptians were well acquainted with the process.
So why choose a sourdough mother dough?
It’s likely Sourdough starter is the oldest known types of starter and it can also be maintained over long periods of time. Take The Boudin Bakery in San Francisco, for example, which has used the same starter dough for over 150 years.
Sourdough mother dough produces gas bubbles and lactic acids which give sourdough its characteristic slightly sour taste and texture.
It’s a process that defines delicious bread that is hard to re-create any other way. It may be a complicated process and one that needs commitment, but as the saying goes, the best things come to those who wait.
There is always something extremely rewarding about making your own bread and is sure to win you a lot of friends.
How to make mother dough
All you need to start is water, unbleached flour and a container. The time it takes a starter to begin fermenting can be a few hours or a few days. But make it with wholegrain flour and keep it warm in your kitchen, and you should see signs of life within 24 hours. Within a week your starter is ready to get baking with, leaving the remainder to be fed regularly with more flour and water.
In this video Patrick Ryan explains the key stages:
- Make your starter or culture using flour and water. Cover and leave overnight at room temperature to ferment. Repeat the process by feeding your starter with more flour and water every day.
- By about Day 7 it should be ready to use.
- If you’re not planning to use it every day, you don’t need to feed it every day but can store it in the fridge.
- It’s time to make your sourdough. Add tepid water and salt to your flour before adding some of the starter. Bring all the ingredients together.
- Knead to build up the gluten. The dough should remain sticky so don’t be tempted to add too much extra flour.
- Once you get the 'windowpane effect', leave the dough to prove for about three hours. After that, knock it back and shape the loaf.
- Leave to prove again overnight in a proving basket or Pyrex dish.
- Turn out onto a baking tray and score with a sharp knife.
- Bake at a high temperature, at a minimum of 230˚C, with a pre-heated baking tray of water to create steam. Bake for approximately 35 minutes.
The resulting Sourdough loaf is delicious, tangy authentic bread with a robust crust, and an open but moist texture that lasts well and works just as well fresh or toasted. Happy baking!
And if you're a bread enthusiast you'll love this authentic video of the Simili sisters in Bologna, Italy baking Apulian bread.
- Step 1 – prepare the pre-starter, 'biga' in Italian.
- Step 2 – let the pre-starter rest and grow for 18-24 hours.
- Step 3 – prepare the white and olive bread dough.
- Step 4 – let the dough rest for 2-3 hours.
- Step 5 – shape the bread.
- Step 6 – let the bread rest and grow for 1 hour.
- Step 7 – put the bread in a pre-heated oven.
- Step 8 – cook the bread for 1 hour at 200˚C.