Who doesn’t love the smell of freshly baked bread?! And, let’s be honest, nothing, nothing beats home-made bread. Apart from the fact that it just tastes so much better, you also control what you put in it – no chemicals or preservatives.
I enjoy baking bread – I don’t have a bread-maker, I don’t have a food processor with a dough hook, I enjoy kneading the bread, that feeling when it goes from no longer being a lump of dough, to something that has the start of life in it, and, of course, kneading is so therapeutic! I have never wanted to bake sourdough bread though, until I came across this recipe for sourdough bread in the BBC Good Food magazine, which also involved creating your own starter. Yes! None of this cheating nonsense for me! I would create a starter and bake the bread. I am woman, hear me roar…. To be honest though, I was more interested in the process than the end result.
The idea of creating this “living thing” out of just flour and water fascinated me. I did have a moment of panic, thinking what if this recipe is wrong and there should be some additional ingredients in the starter……and so to Aunty Google, only to find there are numerous different recipes for starters and I was more confused than ever. I decided to stick with this recipe, and see it through.
And so began day 1. A mix of white and wholemeal bread flours and a bit of water, and wait for the natural airborne yeasts to dive in. That was it. The recipe called for the starter to be left open, before sealing and setting aside for 24 hours. I kept looking at it. You know how when you get a new washing machine you feel you have to watch the laundry tumbling around inside? Silly, isn’t it! 24 hours later I started to have doubts – there was some condensation on the inside of the jar. This didn’t seem right to me, it would encourage the wrong stuff to grow. I threw it away and started again. This time I just covered the top of the jar with a cloth, I didn’t seal it.
Each day I threw half the starter into the compost heap, and replaced with the same quantity of flour and water.
A few days in on starter number 2 and a layer of clear light brown liquid had developed on the top. Back to Aunty Google…..this liquid was hooch, and indicated that my starter was needing a feed – one recipe called for a twice a day feed, or that the feed I was adding each day to the starter was too wet. Urgh…there was no one definitive answer. I figured it wasn’t lack of feeding that was the problem, and decided to stick with once a day. At “feeding time” I made sure the new mixture was drier. A couple of days later there was a small dark patch on the top of the starter. Was this mould? Was it an optical illusion??? I decided to sod it, binned the starter and started once again from the beginning.
This time I was moving house and took my starter with me to my new home. And so the process continued.
My starter was beginning to look really healthy, with textbook behaviour. At last, I was on the right track! Although I could have used it earlier, in the end I baked on day 12. I was somewhat nervous – would this new starter really work?
I mixed the two flours, a bit of salt, some water and some of my starter and began the therapeutic knead. Slowly, I could feel the dough becoming more pliable and elastic. The process required two 3-hour rises. I am not usually patient enough, but I’d committed myself to this and followed it through.
The second rise called for a linen cloth to be dusted well with flour and put in a proving basked or a bowl. I had to settle for a bowl. So far, so good….until the time to take the dough out and put it in the oven to bake. The dough had stuck to the linen cloth (cue weeping and wailing from me). In my effort to extract the dough from the cloth and put it on the baking tray, the dough deflated, leaving me convinced I would end up with a thick pancake instead of bread. I’m guessing I could have just given it a light knead and left it to rise again before baking. In addition, it had a crease in it from the cloth, which meant that the “design” I had hoped to cut onto the top of the loaf wasn’t an option. Instead I had to improvise. Lack of experience led me to cut the dough too lightly – I know now that I can create much deeper slashes in the top of the dough to create a pattern.
Into the oven my dough went…..halfway through the cooking time I peered through the oven glass….my dough had somehow risen quite significantly – a bit puzzling but at least it wasn’t going to be a pancake. And finally, the end result. My loaf was a bit mis-shaped (that “home-made look”) and my slashes could have been deeper. The true test was when it had cooled and I could cut it and taste my sourdough bread.
The bread smelled lovely, it tasted lovely, but…..you guessed it, there’s a big but….I discovered the reason for its sudden rise in the oven.
A huge air-bubble. It looks like Batman flew through the center of my loaf……or is that a sad face I see…..my research tells me the oven could have been too hot, I could left my dough to prove for too long, I could have just inadvertently folded a huge air-bubble into my dough…..I just don’t know. I am very disappointed, but the bread itself is perfectly edible. I still have the starter on the go, and so I will definitely make this bread again soon, and I have more confidence in what to expect. I am determined to get it right!
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I wish you a peaceful weekend 🙂