Tuesday, 5 March 2013

HAPPY Birthday BIGA!

I have just realised my Sourdough biga which is also called a 'starter', 'ferment' or 'mother' is a year old, that means I have been making my own bread for the past year and I have eaten no bread other than Sourdough. Sure, it takes time, effort and a little love, but I can never go back to mass produced shop bought bread.  Behind every good loaf of Sourdough is the starter -  this is the way bread has been made for centuries, making use of the wild yeast spores that are found on the surface of sugary ingredients.

The starter is made using flour, water and something sweet, such as fruit. The idea is to introduce simple sugars, which the wild yeast spores and natural bacteria can ferment easily, and bubble quicker. The starter is a fermenting dough or batter, the term sourdough broadly applies to breads raised with wild yeasts. When you make a dough on this starter, the acid produced by the lactic bacteria helps to strengthen the elastic gluten and intensifies the flavour of the finished bread. The first time you make your starter, you need to be patient, as you will need to feed it every day, and it could take a few weeks until it is bubbling happily and smells sweetly acidic before it is ready to use with your first loaf. This is how I made my starter and kept it bubbling away happily to this day.


For the first stage
A cupful of flour (about 150g)
A cupful of warm water (about 250ml)
Some fruit, I used grapes, halved. Soak the grapes in the warm water, cover and leave out overnight. Remove the grapes just before you mix the flour and water to make your batter.

For the first 'feeding'
1/2 cupful of flour (about 75g)
1/2 cupful of warm water (about 125ml)

For each subsequent 'feeding'
1/2 cupful of flour (about 75g)
1/2 cupful of cold water (about 125ml)

For the first stage, you need a plastic, glass or earthenware container with a lid to make your starter in. At least four times the volume of your first stage batter ingredients. You can use whatever flour you like, Rye Spelt, Wheat. I use wholemeal rather than white flour as it ferments sooner and more vigorously. Add the flour and water and whisk to make a thick batter. If you have a food mixer about 10 minutes mixing would be ideal to incorporate lots of air. Put the batter into your container, put on the lid and leave in a warm place, a warm kitchen is fine, but don't leave it beside anything that gets too hot.

The first feeding
At some point, your starter will begin to ferment. This depends on many factors, to give you some idea; a white wheat starter can take 2-3 days before a couple of little bubbles come to the surface. So check everyday and when you see the first signs of fermentation (bubbles on the surface), give your starter the first feeding by whisking in the flour and water as specified. Replace the lid and leave again. Check after another day. Don't worry if it takes a little longer to get active it will get there in the end.

For each subsequent 'feeding' add the flour and cold water this time and give it a good whisking, leave it for another day and this time move it to its permanent home, at a fairly cool room temperature now. From here you are into a feeding programme, and you need to find one that suits you. I would suggest for the first week feed it daily. It is like keeping a pet. You will get to know when it needs feeding, when it is most active, when it is sluggish and when it needs a good whisking. About a week into your subsequent 'feeding' routine, when fermentation is vigorous and regular, you are ready to use your starter for the first time.

So go ahead please give it a try, with some effort, patience and a little love you could have a starter ready to use with your first sourdough loaf in a couple of weeks. I will add a future post, on making bread with your starter.


  1. Once you've been bitten by the sourdough bug, there's just no going back, is there?