Friday, 6 June 2014

Sourdough bread

My first successful sourdough loaf
I have made bread for 15 years for my family, in a bread machine. I throw in the ingredients as I go to bed and awake to a beautiful fresh and preservative/additive free loaf. It is quite challenging to make all the lunchbox sandwiches not as doorsteps, as the bread is hard to slice when warm. It's quicker and cheaper than shop bought too, as we don't have a large freezer. I could sit and eat my half white half wholemeal bread all day. However, as the baking resurgence gathers pace, I have had an increasing need to investigate all this sourdough bakery, or bread made with no added yeast. Sourdough is made from leaven, a flour and water batter that cultivates the natural yeasts in the air. Allegedly every culture aquires a different "taste" from it's surroundings. I have had the odd slice of sourdough in a restaurant but I have never bought a loaf, the time invested in a loaf has to be paid for and my home made bread in the machine is just fine. Well that was my excuse.

But the challenge niggled away, as not much defeats me baking wise. Sure macarons were a heck of a challenge but I can  make a passable batch now. A couple of years ago I made a sourdough starter, dividing and feeding it but now I know I was not precise enough, and it obviously went off, or I used too much expired ferment and the taste of the loaf was just revolting, I also didn't feed it enough flour. If that's what home made sourdough tastes like I was not interested. Skip two years and I happen to see Vanessa Kimbell, the sourdough queen, was offering 10 prizes of  her sourdough starter culture on twitter, she uses a starter that is over 100 years old and originated from the South of France. How romantic! I retweeted, commented on her blog and thought of it no more until she emailed me the next day that I was a lucky winner. You would think I had won the lottery. It really made my day.

I set to researching online, every recipe and video seemed to demonstrate a totally different method, many totally contradicting each other. For some the sourdough starter needs to be refreshed and used 8-12 hours later when most active, and others say at least 24 hours after being refreshed. I had a week to prepare myself, so I bought a round banneton proving basket from the Kitchen shop in Clifton, Bristol, they are also available at Bakery Bits. I also bought a Mason Cash baking stone and set too seasoning it. Last Saturday this lovely package arrived, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string with a very helpful instruction sheet from Vanessa on how to keep and nurture my starter.
I made a 1:1 starter by refreshing the sample. Mix 200g organic flour with 200g (or 200ml) water, preferably filtered, boiled and cooled or stood for a day and add 2 tablespoons of the culture and stir. I keep mine in a kilner jar or Vanessa recommends a stoneware jar. I put the rest of the culture, labelled, in the freezer just in case. It's best to use rye flour for every other refresh. I put the starter in the fridge after a day, as I wasn't baking until today (Friday). Yesterday morning (Thursday) I refreshed the starter and left to stand for 8-12 hours, ie until after work. I used this Hobbs House You Tube as the basic recipe, adding on and adapting bits I had read from River Cottage Bread book, and Carl Legge has helped me a lot with detailed tips and tricks and patient advice on twitter. Carl is the author of the Permaculture Kitchen
How I made my first sourdough loaf recipe:

460g Strong White Bread flour
300g soughdough starter
10g seasalt
230ml warm water

I measured the water and weighed it in the jug and then added the correct weight of starter, which floats when it is active. The rest of the starter went back in the fridge for next time.

I then added the water/sourdough leaven to the flour and salt in a large bowl and worked it together, I didn't have the specialist bread scraper so I used a wooden spoon and then I oiled my hands and delved in. I turned out onto a lightly oiled work surface, you don't want to be adding extra flour. It is sticky, but you just knead as well as you can for 10-15 minutes until the dough is much easier to handle.

Form into a ball and plop into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Place in airing cupboard or warm place for an hour. Remove.

Stretch the dough out and fold into thirds, pinching the edges closed to trap air, form into tight ball and back in the airing cupboard covered again for another hour. Repeat 1-2 times  more and the last time I placed the tightly worked ball of dough (after sprinkling with rye flour) into a very well floured (rye flour again) banneton basket, placed in a plastic bag and left in the fridge overnight for 12 hours until doubled in size, it doesn't matter a bit less or more time. In the morning it looked like this:
I had also sprinkled some rye flour on top.
I preheated the oven with the baking stone in from cold at the maximum temperature 230 degrees in my fan oven, for 40 minutes. At the same time I took my bread basket out of the fridge so the dough came up to room temperature before baking. I carefully turned and eased the bread out onto the stone, and cut the top with scissors, apparantly an authentic baker has a grignette. Don't they look gruesome?! Slashing the dough is important so the steam can escape and the sourdough puff up without restriction. Get the stone (using oven gloves!) back into the oven quickly and bake for 30-40 minutes, some say spray the oven with water but I flicked in some water. Some cover with a large preheated oven proof pan or iron casserole, or a special (expensive) Dutch oven, a baking stone with terracotta dome lid. The ultimate dream is a bread oven.
 My loaf had 35 minutes, I turned at 20 minutes as my fan oven is uneven. It looks fantastic!
 I put it on a wire rack and looked at it cooling and tweeted my excitement for half an hour.
I decided to eat my salad I had made for lunch whilst I waited. Some sourdough aficionados say the bread should be totally cold before eating. sorry, that was impossible.
 I dived in. Here is the "crumb" shot. It should technically be holier, but Carl said it was very good for a first attempt. More folding and a slightly wetter dough will give a holier crumb (like the edge holes), but then it is harder to handle. Next time....
I slathered a slice in butter and devoured. It was amazing, a crisp and crunchy crust, tasty and very slightly chewy on the inside, none of the harsh bitter taste of my initial attempts two years ago. The faintest slight tang. Two more slices followed. sourdough is supposed to keep for up to a week, my bread machine bread is best eaten the same day so I will report back, if any of it is left!
I have a feeling I am going to have to substantially up my bike miles, and restrict bread to one loaf a week!

How fabulous is social media? My sourdough has been inspired by the help, generosity and kindness of artisan bakers like Carl Legge, Vanessa Kimbell, River Cottage and the Fabulous Baker Boys amongst others. Thank you all.


  1. Wow! That looks so yummy! I admire the time and research you have put into this, I admit I'm too lazy for such things! My baking skills extend only to cakes and biscuits, which could explain my increasingly round tummy!! xx

    1. Oh I know that Pooh Bear tummy thing! It was nice getting to grips with sourdough once you have the timings sorted, so you are ready to bake it when you want to eat it. Honestly not much involved at each step. Have a go!!

  2. Awsome, I love making bread and this looks fantastic ☺

    1. I rarely make bread by hand, just use the machine, so a nice change.

  3. Bravo on your win and your well researched and home made masterpiece! I could just envision the aroma coming from your kitchen. I also have some 100 year old sourdough starter, but something went amiss and it got covered with mold and I kept making new batter and putting a bit of the bottom of the starter and next day it would all be mold. I have no idea what happened. It's in the fridge for a year.. might need to try again to save it. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

    1. Oh no, I think once your starter is mouldy you have lost it. Need to start a new one, or get a friend to pass some on. When you have a healthy starter always freeze some for a backup.

  4. Wow, you did a great job on this! It seems as though you and sourdough are working in sync now! I hope that you get to do lots of happy baking! xx


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