I began making sourdough bread last year, after I started a white and a rye leaven from Dan Lepard in The Handmade Loaf. It was tough work keeping two leavens alive. I wasn't using the rye one very often, and was throwing away copious amounts of extra starter from the white one while desperately trying to keep it active.
I nutured them, and loved them. After some time, I let the rye starter die of natural causes because I just wasn't using it. This let me put my full attention into the white starter. It was maturing and changing, and had it's own personality and a place in my heart. I asked people to feed it for me while I was on holiday.
Then, one day when I thought I'd popped it back into the fridge to go dormant for a few days, I accidentally left it on the kitchen counter, hidden behind the tea-bag container. Content that my leaven was safely refridgerated, I didn't think about it for over a week. Imagine my heartbreak when I found it, grey, separated and dead, hidden away on the counter.
I tried and tried to revive the leaven, but it was a lost cause. I lit a memorial candle and poured the remaining sludge down the sink. Just think how you would feel if it had been one of those ancient Russian leavens, passed down from generation to generation!
So - new leaven, new tactic. I looked up the instructions for leaven management in Bread Matters: Why and How to Make Your Own, by Andrew Whitley. He's a straight and narrow type, Andrew. I knew his leaven wouldn't require any faffing about. And I was right.
His book convinced me to only make a rye starter. Apparently they're more versatile and more difficult to kill off. And I no longer need to throw starter away to keep the leaven active! I simply add less flour (50g) and water (75g) every time I feed it, and only feed it for a couple of days before I need it, to build it up.
The mixture has been really active (bubbling over in the night - I like that), and didn't require the addition of raisins in the beginning like Dan Lepard's did.
After using it, instead of feeding straight away and replacing the lost starter, I just pop it in the fridge, nearly empty. I haven't thrown any starter away yet after two months! Paul Merry gave me this suggestion when I was on one of his courses at Panary, but it was nice to have the instructions to follow.
Here's a gorgeous 1kg loaf I knocked up using my rye leaven:
For the overnight ferment
500g wholewheat flour
600mL warm water
200g rye or wholewheat leaven
For the dough
600g wholewheat flour
150g flaxseed (linseed)
The night before you want to bake, mix the ingredients of the overnight ferment together. It should be nice and sloppy and wet. Put a plastic bag and a tea towel over the bowl, and leave it in a nice warm place. Warning - you may want to put the ferment in an overly large bowl... if you have a nice active starter, the mixture will bubble up and over the top!
The next morning, mix the dough ingredients into the overnight ferment bowl. It should be a nicer consistency now. Take the dough out of the bowl and knead for ten minutes.
Place the dough back into the (cleaned) bowl, and replace the plastic bag and tea towel. Leave it to rise for an hour.
Since there is no yeast in this bread, there won't be a lot of rising during that first hour. Nonetheless, remove the dough from the bowl, form it into a tight round, and put it back for another hour of rising. Depending on how much time you have, you could repeat this hour of rising, then knocking back for one or two more hours.
Shape the dough into it's final shape. (I opted for a normal round today). Leave the shaped dough, covered, for one to four hours somewhere warm-ish. When the dough has doubled in size, it's ready to bake.
Turn the oven on to the highest setting of your oven. When it's fully heated, quickly slash the top of your loaf, put it in the oven, and pour a steamy hot kettle of water into a tray on the bottom shelf. This creates a nice crispy crust for your loaf.
Turn the heat down to 200C after ten minutes, then continue to bake for another 45-50 minutes. Take your loaf out, and let it cool on a cooling rack for an hour or two before eating.