Monday, November 1

Sourdough bread

Inspired by the efforts of my friend Rowan, I have spent the last ten days or so building up to the baking of a sourdough loaf.

You have to start a week or so in advance for this process if you are planning to make your own sourdough starter - alternatively if you have a generous friend who keeps their own starter, you may be able to beg some from them. Keeping the starter alive involves discarding half of it every couple of days  - giving away to a friend or of course using it to bake a loaf - and adding fresh water and flour so there's always some spare hanging around.

Basically sourdough baking involves using natural yeasts to make your bread, and it takes a few days to get these yeasts going sufficiently to get your bread to rise. Mine didn't rise a lot, but the loaf did have a great flavour and some big holes inside it, so I'm hoping it will improve as my starter matures.

The first part of the process - finding some organic grapes/unoiled organic raisins with which to make the starter - was the most difficult part for me. Luckily another friend was given a box of such grapes by a neighbour, and once she had pulped them for their juice, I was the recipient of the skins and pips which I mixed with bread flour, rye flour and water in a loosely covered jar. However you don't need to use grapes or raisins at all - there are many different ways of making a starter, such as this recipe from the River Cottage.

After several days of mixing, adding extra flour and water, straining, discarding various proportions etc, it was ready to use.

Making the loaf was a rather sticky, drawn-out process that is not complicated in terms of what you have to do, but it does involve relatively meticulous planning since the dough has to be left to sit for periods of time that vary from a whole day to 15 minutes. Quite simple if you are around the house all day, but fiendish if you need to fit it in around a working day, shopping, pilates class etc.

I found myself making the mix first thing in the morning, then leaving it to sit all day until I came home at night when I did the kneading. It then had to sit until it doubled in size - overnight was convenient since the following day I was at home. After that there's a period of folding, more rising and eventually baking - involving heating up the oven half an hour before you need it, spritzing water on the loaf to make a crust, making cuts in the top of it (why do mine never work?!) and so on.

Although the bread had a fabulous taste and big air holes inside it, in terms of shape it looked more like a bread biscuit than a loaf. I found it almost impossible to get the dough into any kind of loaf shape. Next time I intend to try baking it in a casserole dish with the lid on.

There's a couple of good articles here and here about maintaining a starter and baking.


colleen said...

Reading this, I can practically taste the sourdough. I'm tempted to have a go, and theoretically have the time, but I find it hard enough to get out of the house at a reasonable hour without having yet another reason to hide at home.

Rowan said...

Mmmmm... looks tasty though. I'd say that the dough was too wet. That's why you get really big holes and a flattening out of the bread. Baking in a casserole is great for wetter doughs. Or Add more flour on the first knead till the dough is firmer. I sometimes add up to an extra 1/2 cup flour to get it more robust.

Rowan said...

...Or, mix it all together then leave it for 24 hrs (a couple of stretch and drops of the dough wouldn't go amiss during that time - but leave at least 6 hrs of unadulterated rising before baking) and pour into a heated casserole for no knead bread!

knit nurse said...

I did add a lot of flour when kneading, but obviously not enough! I was a bit scared of making it too dry.

Rowan said...

here's a good recipe to eat your sourdough with :)

knit nurse said...

Thanks for the recipe tip, other Rowan! Incidentally in our house, depending on who's speaking, we have to differentiate our two friends by referring to 'your Rowan' and 'my Rowan'.

Rowan said...

btw, did you see the Hugh F-W programme on tv last night? It was all about bread and he made some fantastic looking sourdough. I'm tempted to have a go myself, but as we don't have a hot water tank, we're missing the requisite warm place. One of the reasons that I do most of my bread making in the machine.

knit nurse said...

@rowan we don't have a hot water tank either. I just put the oven on for a couple of minutes then stick the dough in there.

Felix said...

I am a huge fan of sourdough myself. I never used raisins to get my starter started, but now I have a starter, (just used water and flour) keeping it going is an almost religious activity. I have had it since Spring 2009, and I get very sad when it looks unhealthy!

Your sourdough looks much more like a proper sourdough loaf than mine ever do, but I have had a lot of success recently with making very wet loaves which don't get kneaded.

Crumpety goodness!