Slightly sourdough loaf.

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Oh dear. It’s been a while since we’ve posted. Although we’ve been baking away, other engagements (and if we’re honest, a little laziness) have prevented us from writing about it. But that’s about to change now we’re firmly back in the blogging saddle.

We have been experimenting with our standard loaf and how to make it healthier without alienating the other rather pernickity members of the clan. While we like a bit of sourdough, the rest of the family is not that keen, and it doesn’t always make kid-friendly sandwiches. And while our great white never fails to delight, it’s not the healthiest everyday-kind-of-bread. We decided we needed something less yeasty and more wholesome with a robust flavour, but without the tangy sourness and jaw-aching crustiness of a true sourdough. So Ruby and I reached a compromise, we’ll attempt a slightly sourdough bread with the best of all worlds – springy yeastiness with a doughy depth of flavour and some husky wholemeal.

It took a little experimenting to get our quantities right, but that’s half the fun, and we think we’re pretty close to a perfect all-rounder. As our sourdough starter is the star of the show, this takes a little longer to prove than a normal pan. But not much, and it’s worth the wait!

Slightly sourdough.

410g white bread flour
150g wholemeal flour
10g salt
3g dried yeast
60g sourdough starter
20g olive oil or butter
330g tepid water (you may need to adjust this if your flour is thirsty)

Mix the white and wholemeal flour in a bowl. Add the salt on one side and the sourdough starter on the other. Dribble in the oil. Dissolve the dried yeast in the tepid water and pour in. Mix to a wettish paste and knead thoroughly for about 15-20 mins. Put the dough back into an oiled bowl, cover with a showercap, and leave to prove in a warm place for 1.5 to 2 hours, or until doubled in size (this may take longer, don’t worry if it does). Punch down, flop out onto a barely floured surface, fold and shape into a well floured 1kg loaf tin. Cover again with a showercap and leave to rise for a further 1-2 hours or until the dough reaches just below the lip of the tin. Pre-heat the oven to 240ºc. Flick over some flour and slash with abandon. Throw a cup of water into the bottom of the oven if you feel inclined. Bake for 10 mins then turn down to 210ºc for a further 20-25mins. Check the loaf is done by rapping on its bottom. It should sound hollow. It should not say ow.

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This makes a lovely springy soft loaf with enough fortitude to hold the soggiest sandwich filling. And with so little yeast, it’s easy on the digestion too.

ruby says “Yum-yum that was delicious probably one of the best slices of bread ever! A bit of white bread, a bit of brown and a touch of sourdough! M-m!”

 

Our journey in sourdough: scalds, sweat and tears.

Sourdough, we have learnt, is a whole different animal to anything we’ve attempted before. One that cannot be rustled up on a whim, or is always compliant with our plans and wishes. We’ve made a number of sourdough loaves so far, none of which could be described as a truly successful attempt, and some of which could barely be described as sourdough (or even a loaf). Still, we remind ourselves it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts.

Sourdough loaf No. 1.

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After lovingly nurturing our starter, Gordon, we were brimming with excitement to make our first sourdough loaf. We carefully selected the recipe, readied our equipment, weighed and measured the ingredients, didn’t baulk when the dough flowed stickily across the table, pushed, stretched, pummelled, scraped, coralled, rested and finally nestled our first loaf in its new flour-filled banneton for the night. Springing out of bed in the morning, we rushed downstairs to find…..a slightly deflated balloon.

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Unperturbed (well a little perturbed) we heated the oven, attempted the Herculean task of moving the flaccid dough from the banneton to a hot baking stone without deflating the loaf (more) or losing precious heat from the oven, forgot to slash, and splashed boiling water all over the oven and kitchen floor.  A modicum of shouting and scalding ensued,  culminating in our very depressed dough sitting awkwardly on, and overflowing slightly, our old pizza stone. The result was not something you’d find in any bakery we’ve ever been.

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Sourdough loaf No.2.

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Our second attempt was a little more successful. This time we proved overnight in the fridge, left to warm up and remembered to slash, but while transferring the dough to the stone we pulled the tray out too far and the loaf slid off onto the oven door. We managed to manhandle it back on, but the shock was too much for it.

Sourdough loaf No.3.

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Realising that our long banneton was actually too long for our stone, we admitted defeat and bought a round banneton instead. Our third sourdough went a lot more smoothly. After our overnight fridge prove, this time we heated the oven, took the stone OUT, gently tipped our round loaf onto it, then panic-slashed and shoved it into the oven. Result? A round, slightly spread sourdough with the faintest of slash marks on the top. And a nose, strangely.

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Sourdough loaf No. 4.

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Our confidence was starting to grow by loaf no, 4. No longer scared of the stone/oven-heat dilemma, we slashed with abandon, threw and sprayed water, and watched with awe the blooming of a vaguely recognisable sourdough bread.

Sourdough loaf No. 5.

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This is our most successful so far. The dough was exceptionally wet, and on removal from the fridge in the morning, it was more brick-like than bread-like. We left it to warm to room temperature, and it rose slightly. Not expecting much, we placed it in the oven and watched with mounting surprise as the oven-spring kicked in and it grew rapidly before our eyes, opening out along our frenzied slashes.

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None of our loaves is exactly of a professional standard, but one thing is noticeable – the flavour of the sourdough has sweetened and deepened with each loaf, which must mean Gordon is maturing into a fine young starter. Now, onto loaf no. 6…..

ruby says ” they were nice! but the inside was too soft and the outside was too hard. it was also fun making them but boring waiting. they took so long!” 😉

Our very own sourdough starter.

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Sourdough bread has always been a magical kind of loaf for us. It seems almost alchemical, harnessing the natural yeasts from the air to turn grain and water into a fragrant wholesome bubbled bread. We decided it had to be a ritual of some baker’s secret society only open to the righteous, with each sourdough starter recipe jealously guarded behind mystery and reverence. Many of the great artisan bakers have had the same starter in the family for hundreds of years, fed lovingly and religiously every day, like an immortal pet or a small flatulent god. We believed their knowledge and starter-offspring were only passed on to the worthy to carry on the ancient tradition. We thought the process of making and maintaining a starter was the realm of a master-baker or maslin-magician, no place for the inexperienced or faint of heart.

This, we discovered, could not be further from the truth. Most bakers are more than happy to share their starters and sourdough tips with the uninitiated, as both an incentive for the new baker and as insurance for the old – should a great disaster befall the original parent it can be easily cloned from its children. And there are no closely guarded recipes. Flour and water it seems is all you need. And a bit of fruit or yoghurt if you’re so inclined, or not, if you’re not. And patience. And a little commitment (but not too much).

Originally, we had a lofty ambition to try our hand at sourdough by the end of this year, not being confident that we could ever truly master the process. But many of the other participants in the 52 loaves project were plunging into sourdough with abandon, and surprisingly good results. Some had acquired starters from other bakers, some had started their own. Spurred on by their successes, we stepped off the baking cliff with a resolution to begin our own family tradition of sourdough. So in April 2014 we made our own starter. It’s still alive and we’d like to think it’ll still be here in 200 years time.

ruby jar

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flour measure

pouring jug

stir

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There are hundreds of recipes and methods of how to make a sourdough starter on the net and in baking books. We followed Justin Piers Gellatly’s method, mainly as it’s pretty straightfoward, and also because he makes damned good bread. It’s working for us so far. It will take a week before the starter will be ready to use.

50g organic strong white flour
50g organic rye flour
100g tepid water
30g rhubarb (we used apple, no rhubarb in fridge)
clean bowl or clean jar

Day 1.

We mixed the flour, water and fruit in a large kilner jar until it became a thick gooey paste. We covered it and left it somewhere warmish (warm kitchen worktop) for 24 hours.

Day 2.

At roughly the same time of day we mixed 50g water, 25g strong white and 25g rye into the paste. Covered and left until the next day.

Day 3.

Same as Day 2.

Day 4.

Same as Day 3. There should be a bit of bubbling and thinning of the paste at this stage.

Day 5.

Our starter was now tangy with lots of little bubbles. We mixed it all up and discarded all but 30g. You need to get rid of the leftover starter as this will only feed off the new flour and ferment too quickly. Alternatively, you can give it to someone else to start their own sourdough mix or use it to flavour pancakes or other bready goods.There were still some pieces of fruit remaining which we threw away. We added 30g rye, 30g strong wholemeal and 80g strong white four with 125g water, whisked it all up and left it.

Day 6.

Same as Day 5.

Day 7.

We made our first sourdough loaf! It’s a learning curve…

Keeping it alive.

Once we made our first loaf, we replenished our starter with the same quantity of flour and water that we removed for the recipe (half flour/half water). If you intend to make a lot of sourdough bread, you’ll need to feed the starter every 1 or two days. If not, feed it after making a loaf then place it in the fridge for a week, taking it out 24 hours before you need to use it. Tom Herbert recommends weighing your container before you start so that you always know what quantity of starter is in the jar, and always leave about a quarter of the original in there to keep its depth of flavour and vitality.

feeding

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We keep ours in the fridge. We feed it half the replenishing amount before we put it in, then the other half when we take it out after it has come back to room temperature. This way, it’s bubbling nicely by the time we start to bake. Ruby treats it like a pet. She hasn’t got bored of it yet. It’s called Gordon, by the way.

ruby says “the starter i love. it is probably my favourite pet so far because it doesn’t annoy me.”