Ah, sourdough. The holy grail of home bread baking. It’s almost the stuff of magic: stand a jar of flour and water on your kitchen bench, capture wild yeasts wafting on the breeze, let them infiltrate your mix, feed these invisible yeasts with a little flour and water every day for a week until suddenly the mix froths and expands, rising to the rim – announcing it’s ready to rise your loaf.
At least, that’s how it’s meant to happen. My sourdough starter ‘journey’ went something like this:
Sourdough starter attempt 1:
Read bread book obsessively and weigh sourdough starter ingredients exactly, do exactly what the book says. In a few days time notice your sourdough starter smells like nailpolish remover. Peer dubiously at sourdough starter – throw it out.
Sourdough starter attempt 2:
Become excited when starter begins frothing within first twenty four hours. Read up about it on Google and discover that’s not necessarily a good thing and rogue bacteria may be infiltrating the mix. Sourdough starter fails to respond to subsequent feedings. Read some more. Try rescue method described in obscure book. Mix froths and rises like it’s meant to. Become dubious of sourdough starter regardless. Throw it out.
Sourdough starter attempt 3:
Follow book exactly for first few days. Sourdough starter behaves itself. Begin approximating, guesstimating and generally just going with the flow. Sourdough starts getting sluggish and not responding so well to feedings. Read a different book and several websites. Start following advice exactly. Sourdough froths and rises like it’s meant to. Smells good. Looks good. Finally! Success.
Let the Baking Begin:
The hard bit finally over, it was time to bake. I’d made my sourdough starter with rye flour so I figured I probably needed to make a rye loaf (though reading up afterwards I’ve found this isn’t necessarily the case). I chose a recipe that seemed relatively basic:
Step 1: Make the Production Sourdough (sort of like an initial dough/batter you add to the final big batch of dough later on)
Step 2: Leave the Production Sourdough for a quite few hours (12 – 24 hours)
Step 3: Make up the final bread dough by adding more flour, water and salt to a measured amount of the Production Sourdough from Step 2 and mix with a spoon (*you don’t have to knead rye dough as rye doesn’t have the gluten content of wheat and therefore doesn’t really respond to kneading)
Step 4: Pour the final bread dough from Step 3 into a really well greased and/or lined bread tin and leave to rise (this is a shorter rise time than the one in step 2 – about 2 – 8 hours)
Step 5: Bake!
My first loaf wasn’t super successful. The author of the recipe I was following recommended that the mix be the consistency of “loose mashed potato.” Unfortunately my idea of loose mashed potato and his must’ve been different because this was the result:
While the author also said you can’t expect rye sourdoughs to do much more than take on the shape of the container you’ve put it in, the fact that the top of the loaf sunk after baking suggested something had gone wrong. Luckily there was a ‘trouble shooting’ section that identified the problem – a loaf that sinks after baking was apparently a sign of too much water in the mix.
So I tried again, this time with less water:
The fact that my rye sourdough looked a lot like a loaf of banana bread did my head in a little, but other than that it was a success. Due to the water retentive properties of rye, you’re meant to leave the loaf for a day before cutting it to allow the crumb to form properly….Ok, hot bread, fresh from the oven, wait twenty-four hours?! You’re kidding me, right? I gave it maybe an hour and cut it open:
I admit it; it even looks like banana bread….But with the sour kick of the sourdough and the savouriness of the rye it didn’t smell or taste like it.
Next stop will be a wheat sourdough loaf 🙂 Wish me luck!
Looking forward to updating with how things are going on the farm…sweetcorn, tomatoes, oranges, and a chicken up a tree. Never a dull moment.
Happy almost-weekend to you 🙂