Thursday, 10 May 2012

Adventures with Sourdough

Today I am sharing my adventures with sourdough bread with you. Now, please don't take this as any kind of recipe, or me as any kind of authority. I've made it twice but am still confused by the scary jargon and various stages and rising times. Sourdough is a faff to make as you have to plan it a long time in advance. You can't just knock up a loaf of sourdough. Once you accept that, it is no more work than any other bread, you just have to plan it into your day (she says through gritted teeth).

My friend Dean is a passionate and very skilled bread baker. There is nothing about bread he does not know and we are all waiting for him to turn this hobby into a bakery. A couple of weeks ago he gave me some of his "starter mixture" for sourdough bread. You can make your own starter (it takes a week or so) but I haven't tried that yet.


The day before you want to bake your bread, add flour and warm water to some of your starter, stir, and leave it to ferment overnight.  This part of the process is sometimes known as "making the sponge" or "preparing the production sourdough" depending on who you talk to (told you the jargon is scary). In the morning it looks like grey bubbling soup.


Then you make the starter dough. Add more flour, salt and oil and knead for ten minutes. It is an incredibly wet dough to knead with and sticks to your hands like glue. Pray that no-one knocks on the front door while you are doing this task


When kneaded, put in a clean, oiled bowl and leave to rise for three or four hours. Knock it back, then put into a largeish shallow bowl (I used a pasta bowl) lined with a clean, floured tea towel and leave to prove for four to five hours. Yes, and coordinate all that around naps, school drop off and pick up, meal times, appointments, tantrums. Hmm, I see now why bread baking is often a male past time...


When the time is up, or it has doubled in size, tip it onto a floured baking tray, slash cuts into the top with a sharp knife, and bake. I baked mine for fifteen minutes at the hottest temperature my oven would go to (about 230 degrees C) then turned it down and baked for a further thirty minutes at 200 degrees C.

Also, I put a roasting tin of boiling water under the bread while it baked. Apparently steam helps develop a better crust. But, as Dean told me, don't put ice cubes into a baking tray (as I've seen done on cookery programmes on TV) as this cools the oven temperature down too much.


It is ridiculously good and worth every second of inconvenience. The flavour and chewiness are equally wonderful as sandwiches or toast. Actually, it makes amazing toast. The best thing is that it doesn't go stale quickly and is just as good three or four days after baking as it is when first made. 

So, the main things I learnt are...

  1. Planning - decide when you want to eat it and work backwards.
  2. Slow is good. The longer and slower the rise, the better the flavour.
  3. Wet dough - as wet as you dare - makes for a better loaf.
  4. You need a steamy oven for a good crust.
If you are inclined to have a go, I used this recipe on the River Cottage website and found it very good (if a little long winded) and clear.



The loaf in these pictures was done with strong white bread flour. I made a rye version this week for my friend Debora, who adores rye bread. It didn't rise as much and I am praying that it was not too heavy. I used all rye and I think half rye half strong white bread flour may be the way to go. Next time...

Now I am off to wrap presents and plan baking for a little man's third birthday on Saturday, something that makes me happier than I can possibly say. 

22 comments:

Apple Blossom Barn said...

Hi Gillian thanks for your lovely comment, I will have to try sour dough making some day, I make soda bread so easy peasy, just wholemeal flour, plain flour, fresh buttermilk, bread soda, bung it together no proofing bread for the lazy!

Loved post on where the wild things are. I miss my kids eyes widen and when they joined in at story time, now yes Hello Kitty, barbie for Isabelle and Captain Underpants for Jack or nagging to use iphone to play on, oh well!

Take care

Denise

...Tabiboo... said...

If I'm addicted to anything it has to be bread and sour dough is my all time favourite - but very hard to buy.

I did try and make a starter once, but after about a fortnight I kind of kept forgetting and the whole thing just went all runny. I really must try again.

Your bread looks fab by the way and what a brilliant friend to have.

Nina xxx

Hazel said...

Oh wow! That looks delicious... I have never tried any sort of bread even though my kitchen aid has the bread attachment. Shameful really! It's something I would love to do! We'll make a deal- you give croissants a whirl and I'll try some bread? Some cross-blogs baking challenges! :)

Karen said...

That bread looks amazing - it is making me hungry! I keep hoping that Mark takes up breadmaking as a hobby - I have dropped hints but he seems to want to choose his own hobbies! Strange boy.

FourHappyBunnies said...

Sour dough bread is delicious and when I saw your post title I was very excited, thinking I could have a go at making some too. However, I abandoned that thought when got to the 'starter' bit. Oh to have a friend like Dean ...
Your baby boy is soon to be three - WOW xx

Anna said...

A fresh loaf that still tastes good 3 or 4 days later? That's reason enough for me to have a go at this. It's very frustrating making a fresh loaf only to find the next day is has dried out. Does the lovely Dean deliver 'starters' on request?! Oh wait, I forgot, I live at the other end of the coutry from you.
Can't wait to hear your plans for your little man's party. Bet it will be wonderful. xx

Emily said...

Blooming heck, it's happened again - I've read your blog and now I need to eat. It's official - your blog is bad for my waistline!
Emily x

Lap Dog Knits said...

looks wonderful...oh butter....butter and sourdough...yum

Gillian said...

Denise, I have never made soda bread but it does sound very easy. I'm sure I have a recipe for it somewhere, I must give it a go.

Gillian said...

Thanks Nina - I don't want to keep stealing his starter so I may have a go at making my own... Can't be that hard! err...

Gillian said...

Hazel, that's such a good idea!! I would love to have a bash at making croissants but always thought they looked a but scary, but you have inspired me! x

Gillian said...

How rude of him! I have to say that Dean's partner Kate finds his bread making exasperating at times - their weekend plans are made around rising times and by Sunday night everything is covered in flour.

Gillian said...

I will try and make a starter and if it works I will share with you! Surely it's not that hard?? x

Gillian said...

Oh Anna, I would love to be able to to share this with you. I will try and bring one down when we come in few weeks - along with some lardy cake! xxz

Gillian said...

Hee hee - it's so much worse for mine!

Gillian said...

Hello there, thanks for stopping by!

Bread and butter is my all time favourite thing and probably my greatest weakness. Oh, and wine.

Ruth said...

I must beg a new starter from Dean - I used to have one Debora brought over from Germany, which I converted from a rye starter to an Italian biga, but then it got neglected for a month and I lost it. Currently using the overnight sponge method for my bread - which the kids love.

Col @ Hello Olive said...

Oh my goodness, that looks amazing! x

cassie said...

looks amazing! i'm planning on making some bread today too :)

Run Lori Run said...

My husband keeps asking me to make sourdough but I have a phobia! I love it to so maybe I'll give it a try one of these days... :)

Angela said...

I am hoping to try sourdough this summer so will keep your helpful tips in mind.

Gillian said...

I tried to make my own starter last week but it all went horribly wrong...I will try again and let you know how I get on!