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Coronavirus, Sourdough and the next Wildcraft chapter

Recent weeks have seen massive changes in the way we do things at Wildcraft. We’ve gone from being a normal(ish) award-winning, walk-in bakery on a slightly odd industrial estate, about to open a high street cafe, to an online only bakery with a nationwide mail order service operating in the midst of a global pandemic.

Being the glass-half-full, always-look-for-the-silver-lining kind of people we are, we gave ourselves 2 days between the old world ending and the new one beginning to focus on what we had lost and all the challenges we knew we were about to face. We couldn’t believe that everything we had spent the last few years building could be destroyed by something that was so completely outside our control. Sam’s superpower is how she always keeps the customer’s needs first and is able to see all the (sometimes unlikely) ways that things can go wrong for Wildcraft. Mina’s is taking all those potential disasters, brushing past them with the superhuman powers of her denial optimism and figuring out how to stop all the doomsday scenarios from happening. It’s why, as a business partnership, we are so strong. But Covid-19 pushed us to the very limit of our endurance. All we wanted to do when Lockdown was announced was pull the duvet over our heads and hunker down until it was all over. The government had just announced that small businesses would be given a grant and the furlough scheme had just been announced. The easy option for us was to just pull down our shutters and ride out the storm. We were exhausted. Running a business like Wildcraft is incessant. The continuous emails and messages, managing our team, securing our (incredibly complex) supply chain and the incessant pressure to innovate and grow (or die) is like the drumbeat in the background of our marching. When the government threw us that lifeline, we knew that no matter what, the bakery would survive and our team would get their wages.WE would survive. But there was another voice in all this that we couldn’t ignore. And that was our customers. Our customers aren’t like normal customers. They are a part of us, they support us, they are there for us, and most importantly, they rely on us. Wildcraft would be fine if we shut up shop, but what about all those people who have come to rely on us for their daily bread and slice of normality?

On Saturday, we were running a socially-distanced coeliac fair that was attended by so many people that we lost count. On Wednesday, we launched a national mail order service and were inundated with so many orders that our website crashed. Repeatedly. We made so so many mistakes and faced so many challenges in those first two weeks. From couriers letting us down, to technical issues, to supply chain issues, staffing issues. It felt like every day brought with it a new crisis. But we fought, and we continue to fight.

We couldn’t teach our courses anymore, so we decided to share the knowledge with our lovely customers for free. It started out of Mina’s loneliness on a long shift where she was surrounded by an empty bakery, a mountain of bread and so much silence (don’t worry, she will never do a live video for over an hour ever again), morphed into a series of videos tackling every day baking issues that have been watched by hundreds of people all over the world. And in one of those videos, Mina talked about Sourdough. If you haven’t watched it yet, here it is!

 

In that video, Mina promised to email people who signed up to our mailing list with a “How to” guide  to starting and caring for a sourdough starter. Since then, Mina moved to doing overnight shifts every day (9pm to 4am to be exact) and what with one thing or another (3…small children), she couldn’t find time to follow through. Hence this blog post where she gets to talk about herself in the third person!

We hope that the information below and in the video above will answer most of the questions you may have about starting and caring for your sourdough starter. But, as always, feel free to comment below with your questions and we will do our best to answer them as quickly as we can!

 

Starting a Sourdough Starter

If you want to make your own sourdough starter, you can use any gluten free flour, but preferably the less starchy, more flavoursome ones. Commonly used ones include Brown rice flour, millet, sorghum or teff.

At Wildcraft, we make a millet sourdough starter. To start one from scratch, you need to mix 50g flour with 70g filtered or tap water. Whisk together well.

After 12 hours, feed your starter with a further 50g flour with 70g water. Twelve hours later, discard half of your starter (you can use this to make pancakes or crackers) and replenish with 50g of flour and 70g of water. Repeat the process every 8-12 hours for 3-5 days. Depending on how warm you keep your starter, you will eventually see it beginning to foam and bubble.

Looking after your starter

Ideally, your starter needs to be fed regularly with at least as much food as weight of sourdough starter. How much food you will need to feed it can be easily calculated by using the following formula:

Weight of starter ÷ 24 = Y

Y x 14 = weight of water

Y x 10 = weight of flour

 

So for example if you have 60g of starter left in your jar after you’ve used it to make bread, you would need to feed it with:

60g ÷ 24 = 2.5

2.5 x 10 = 25g of flour

2.5 x 14 = 35g of water

 

Once it is vigorous, you need to feed it daily if it is out of the fridge. Pick a time of day you’re most likely to want to use your starter, then set that as its feeding time. At Wildcraft, we have 2 sourdough starters. Andrew is used to raise doughs that are made over the night shift, and Stella to raise doughs made during the day shift.

If you aren’t using your starter for more than 24 hours, you need to keep it in the fridge, but it will still require feeding once a week. Simply take it out of the fridge, feed it with the appropriate amount of flour and tepid water, then return to the fridge.

If using the starter from the fridge to bake bread, take it out 48 hours in advance of making your bread and feed it twice before using.

So for example if I wanted to bake bread on Saturday morning, I would get my starter out of the fridge on Thursday morning and feed it. I would leave it out on the kitchen counter to let it rise and mature then feed it on Friday morning and use it on Saturday morning. After I’ve taken what I need to bake with, I would feed the remaining starter and put it back in the fridge until the following week.

A starter should ideally be used when it’s at maximum expansion and has just started to collapse. If your starter is old and you are in a rush, you can use it for flavouring your bread but will need to add baker’s yeast to guarantee a good rise.

Mature Starter                                                             Collapsed starter

 

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