Sourdough adventures

Last weekend my friend Safron posted these yummy photos of her first loaf of sourdough bread and homemade baked beans on her Safrolistics Instagram page. (Check out her papercuts, they’re amazing.) Safron was inspired by a friend, who makes his own sourdough bread and she inspired me in return. This is her first bread since a disastrous attempt at school. Wow! What a beauty.

I started my own sourdough starter last Monday. Apart from a phase around 2013 with Herman the German Friendship Cake, which I eventually turned into a loaf of bread, as we found there really is a limit to how much yeasty flavoured fruitcake you can eat, I haven’t maintained my own sourdough starter before.

It’s been a lot like when I first learned to crochet: researching how to do it, reading many blogs, books, checking out You Tube vids and making so many notes I’ve used up pages and pages of two notebooks (one upstairs, one down because I’ve truly been obsessed and found myself searching for answers to questions at all sorts of moments!) There are so many ways to end up with pretty much exactly the same thing, just like crochet (UK/USA terms, ways to hold the yarn/hook/start with a magic ring or chain and slip-stitch into a ring etc etc…) So in the end I decided to initially follow one method and stick to it, trying not to look at random websites and blogs anymore.

Sourdough starters and making sourdough bread can be incredibly complicated according to some people; I’ve seen articles written where people have made mathematical equations for the ratio of flour to water, the ambient temperature it needs to sit at etc. But really it boils down to just flour, water and the natural yeasts in the flour and your home environment. If pioneers could make it in one lidded pot over the hot embers of their campfire, we really do not need to make it too hard for ourselves.

I really like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Bread with Character article, written for The Guardian. He simply suggests using 100g of flours, and enough water to make a batter that’s roughly the consistency of paint! How easy is that?! I couldn’t quite be that haphazard free spirited especially at the beginning, so I have been using an equal flour to water ratio which is clearly working. I followed the excellent instructions on the Kitchn website. Luckily I had a bag of organic Doves Farm white flour in my baking cupboard, as it’s already my preferred flour when making bread using commercial yeast. There’s definitely a difference in taste and texture between using this flour and a cheaper alternative.

I was amazed that even after a couple of hours bubbles had begun to appear in the starter. ‘What kind of magic is this?’ I wondered with glee.

When baking the bread I mixed it up a bit: Patrick Ryan’s fridge tip for the second prove was a relief; as I was beginning to imagine I’d still be up at midnight watching the slow rise. I used his recipe for quantities of flour and starter etc for the dough. (Though a little less salt.)

There are about 3-5 hours between the top and bottom picture. This is when I decided to pop it into the fridge for the night.

On Sunday morning it sat out on the worktop again, for about 2 1/2 hours to bring it up to room temperature. It can be a slow process making sourdough but it’s well worth it. And it’s not effort, just patience that’s required.

I placed a tray half full of water onto the bottom shelf of the oven before I turned it on, it seemed a safer strategy for slightly clumsy me, than popping a tray of boiling water into the oven just before the bread. I also used Hugh’s method of putting a tray into the oven to pre-heat five minutes before the bread went in, then flouring it with wholemeal flour before the dough went onto it (although the dough was 100% white, I’d read that wholemeal flour is meant to prevent dough from sticking much more effectively than white.) This is also so much faster than oiling loaf tins and easy-peasy to wash up afterwards.

I felt nervous tipping it out of my new banneton proving basket (thank you Sainsbury Nectar points) but it fell softly onto the tray like a plump soft feather pillow. I actually cheered, which brought Someone running to see what excitement was going on!

I do need to find a better quality, thick baking sheet as it will be better for cooking the base of the loaf. Alternatively trying to make one in a cast-iron lidded pot (aka Dutch Oven) appeals. But I need to get one before that can happen… All the professional British bakers, that I’ve read so far, use a baking sheet (or pizza stone) to bake their loaves on, but I fancy trying the pot method sometime.

For a first loaf I didn’t expect much at all, I was prepared for a sodden lump but….

“It tastes as good as the loaves I used to buy at the village shop” oh my goodness! What praise from a sourdough aficionado, especially for a first loaf. It was delicious and I’ve never been a major eater of sourdough bread. Hugh’s right: sourdough is definitely bread with character!

Discarding half of the starter to maintain it, after the initial five days, was so unappealing that I’ve spent a fair amount of time searching for ‘discarded sourdough starter’ recipes. I hate wasting food and especially when I’ve used very good quality flour. Crumpets are already one of my favourite breakfast things, but I’ve never made them before.

I love the evolution of my crumpets, from left to right, the first pancake is always the manky one and that was definitely the runty crumpet! The last has proper crumpet bubbles and the texture was fab! They were just out of the frying pan here, cooling, before I toasted them under the grill.

I decided I would have the worst one, and the best one in the interests of fairness (it sort of makes sense, I think!) as a reward. After all, it was me who had talked to, fed and peered at the starter all week. It worked well; we both enjoyed them for breakfast. Someone had his with Marmite and butter, mine were with honey and butter. Yum, yum, yum.

Now I’m keeping all my discarded starter in a container in the fridge to make a batch of crumpets (I used this recipe.) I need to buy some crumpet rings. Crumpets can be frozen so I’ll make some, have a couple and store them. Fast! Before I eat them all.

I’m still on a complete crochet and knitting ban due to injury, as you probably know. (Boo!) This all started in April and I’ve now stopped counting how many weeks its been, as it can be a bit deflating. But I’m diligently doing my exercises, using ice and heat packs and seeing my physio every week. I am hopeful that I can begin again at some point soonish. Finding a new creative outlet, creating a sourdough starter and baking new kinds of bread has been absorbing. Not to mention homemade crumpets! Homemade crumpets….oh YUM!

If you like making or eating bread and fancy trying sourdough I’d say: Go for it!

You just need flour and water to begin. It’s great. It’s actual magic. And although it’s currently popular again, it’s hardly new; sourdough is thought to originate from the Ancient Egyptians, if not before!

14 thoughts on “Sourdough adventures

  1. Great post thanks. I have been wanting to try and make my own sourdough for a while and this will save a lot of research! (And great bonus about the crumpets too they look yummy). Hope your injury clears up soon xx

  2. Wow! Last time I tried to make sourdough it came out like a brick so this is awesome. Will definitely have to try all the tips and tricks you’ve discovered. Well done! Hope the injury disappears quickly x

    • Try the overnight thing. Perhaps slow proving is really important for a holey light dough.
      I know some say to fold and stretch the dough, or punch and reshape it regularly too, but I didn’t. I used my Kenwood with the dough hook and kneaded for roughly 5 minutes / till it looked smooth and the dough was elastic.
      Also, according to the Kitchn post I linked to white is the easiest bread for beginners.
      Yesterday I made a wholemeal and white 50/50 blend (which is a combo I usually use with commercial yeast, I call it my beige bread!) and it’s full of flavour but not as holey, or light and chewy as the first one here. But it’s all trial and error. No two loaves are going to come out the same.

      Let me know how you get on Charlotte!

  3. I had wondered about making sourdough bread. Your post makes it sound straightforward if time consuming. Might give it a go when I’m feeling brave! Glad you have found something creative wlile you wait for the knitting and crochet.

    • I bet you could make some very tasty loaves – your baking always looks good Jane.

      Go on – start the starter today. It’s such fun! I’m checking my white active one on the side, the discarded pot of white (Friday crumpets!) and my wholemeal inactive starter which lives in the wine fridge before bed every night! I’ve got it bad haven’t I?!

  4. Always enjoy your delightful newsletter and charming photos. Sourdough bread is also one of my favorites. Breadtopia.com offers some fun fuel for my sourdough obsession. Greatest challenge was to keep the starter going over the summer months when it’s too hot for the oven.

  5. Right, you’ve inspired me. I haven’t made sourdough for ages (and I remember Herman the German sourdough cake!) and I’ve never made crumpets, but I love both. It’s a great idea to use up the spare starter in that way – I too hate food waste – and you can never have too many crumpets in this house. Thanks!

    • Excellent! I’m so pleased. It’s pretty cool to be a sourdough inspirer!

      If you’ve got any other discarded starter recipes let me know! The King Arthur Flour (USA) website is a good source but so many use commercial yeast too and I like the idea of not mixing the two.

  6. There is a great book on how to make sourdough called The Pocket Bakery. I have read it 10 times over, it explains all the processes and how to rescue a sourdough starter- might be a good investment! It also has lots of recipes. Get well soon! Xx

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