Thursday, October 16, 2014

Making Sourdough - eventually

About 14 years ago I bought my first book about bread; Tim Allen's 'The Ballymaloe Bread Book' (in case you wondered) from it I learned to make soda bread. Soda bread is brilliant, essentially it's a huge scone so it's quick and easy to make and for a few years it's what I stuck with. It was just the thing to put in front of people - it looks far more impressive than the effort required, is delicious, and can be thrown together not long before you need it. It's also the first place I read about sourdough (14 years ago in Leicester that was fairly exotic), naturally I wanted to try making it, and equally obviously I didn't quite get round to it.

There were flirtations with yeast based breads over the next few years but nothing serious until 2009 when I bought Daniel Stevens 'Bread', it's one of the River Cottage handbooks and is the perfect book on the subject for me. It has been known to come on holiday with me (when I go to stay with the Aga) and it persuaded me it was time to properly get to grips with bread making. So I did - or at least I learnt how to make a decent loaf of fairly plain bread. The pleasure of bread making is partly in the sense of it being a living thing that you get to know; changes in texture as you knead it, the way different flours will make it behave, seeing how it rises. It's also in how it imposes it's own pace on you.

Looking at the list of ingredients on a mass produced loaf of bread and comparing that to the basic components of flour, yeast, salt, water, and a drop of oil that go into the loaf you make yourself made me basically stop buying bread. Not completely stop (I'm not evangelical about this) but the typical loaf of sliced white no longer tastes right to me (far to sweet) so it's no longer a staple, and then if I'm at home bread making is easy to fit around the general domestic demands of life and such a satisfying thing to have done at the end of the day.

A couple of weeks ago I bought Trine Hahnemann's 'Scandinavian Baking' (a lush and lovely book) and read some more about rye and sourdough breads which got me thinking about them again. Knowing that I had this week off was the perfect opportunity to actually do this thing after all those years of thinking I ought to have a crack at it. So I did. What I really wanted to have a crack at was a rye loaf filled with seeds and cracked rye, but finding some of the ingredients has proved overly challenging. Thankfully wild yeasts are easy to catch, so following the instructions in 'bread' I mixed a nice organic stoneground wholemeal flour with some water, waited more or less patiently for it to start to ferment - which obediently it did - fed it, changed it, fussed over it, cooled it down, and warmed it up, and finally on Tuesday night started making bread with it.

First  a nice sponge with more flour and water along with some starter to be left overnight, then a dough which I carefully allowed to rise, and then deflated 3 times over the required 4 hours, by which time it was indeed 'like an angel's pillow' as promised. Then it got another few hours to rise again before making it into the oven from where it later emerged as a delicious, crusty, chewy, loaf complete with the approved air bubbles and a complex but pleasing flavour (not to sour) and only slightly over baked. Making sourdough is clearly a commitment. If you have to do it I suppose that might be a bit of a pain, but as a leisure activity it's immensely relaxing. You have to wait for it so there's plenty of time to read, drink tea, and generally ignore the world. I'm making more tomorrow.


  1. The one time that my mother tried to bake bread, it came out like a brick. I am impressed with your patience.

  2. I don't know about patience, I find bread making the perfect occupation for lazy days; plenty of opportunity for lounging around whilst it rises. My first loaf was brick like as well. They get better!

  3. I have been wanting to make sourdough for some time after tasting the most divine bread at a B and B. The owner had been making it for 14 years, all from her original starter. Reading your piece has made me think I really should get down to it...thank you!

  4. Do it Deborah, but I warn you - you get hooked!