Five Things I have Learned about Sourdough

So, I promised you an update on my sourdough baking adventures, and who am I to disappoint, especially now that all the picturesque snow has melted (it’s amazing what a day of rain will achieve) and been replaced by a slightly worrying new burn running half way round the house, which we’re hoping will disappear again when the currently saturated ground dries out some time in ooh, May …

1. there are more ways to bake sourdough bread than you ever dreamt of. And every single one of them is _the_ way

If you start googling for sourdough recipes you pretty much soon find that everyone who’s ever baked sourdough bread has then gone and started a blog about it (a bit like cycling, then), laying down their absolutely failsafe method for making sourdough bread, which is of course slightly different from everyone else’s. I’ve yet to discover whether the sourdough bread world is as riven with factions and controversies as cycling is – or what the sourdough equivalent of vehicular cycling or helmet wearing might be – but I’m hoping that all that soothing carbohydrate and delicious bread products is keeping them mellow because I don’t want to stumble into some horrible twitterspat over dutch ovens or kneading vs no-knead techniques.

2. It’s aliiiiiive. And it’s everywhere

I originally got the impression that the hardest thing about sourdough starter is keeping it alive. But it turns out Jimmy (Carter, the starter) is pretty vigorous for an old guy, and has already escaped from his container into the fridge at least once. The way the starter works, you keep making more of it too, and because the dough is sticky it gets everywhere (I keep looking down and realising that the respectable not-gardened-in trousers I thought I was wearing are now spattered with sourdough). Given that it’s all alive, I am starting to wonder if it’s basically taking over the house and possibly even the septic tank, and you really don’t want that rising up in the middle of the night. Some people have suggested composting any leftovers but I don’t want our army of compost daleks becoming sentient …

3. You cannae change the laws of physics

But what about the bread, you cry? Well the first loaf I baked followed a recipe that claimed it didn’t need to be proved in a basket, but would rise unsupported. Ha. Hahahaha. The result was a fine looking and very tasty discus, because sourdough bread dough takes forever to prove and even though it is rising while that happens, it is also spreading slooowly because it’s quite wet compared to normal bread dough.

first sourdough loaf

4. I’m a much shallower person than even I imagined

As a result of the whole laws-of-physics thing, I went back to basics for my next two loaves and (following the Bread Matters recipe) used a loaf tin to create a more loaf-shaped loaf. This worked – it was delicious, it made reasonable sized slices for making sandwiches and toasting, it could be sliced without bending the bread knife, but it looked a bit …

sourdough loaf from tin

Dwarf bread. 

Not so much rustic, as pretty urban, as if it had lost a fight in a dark alley (it was a bit of a struggle getting it out of the tin). What can I say? My instagram feed is full of gorgeous pictures of beautifully risen and marked loaves nestling in baskets lined with checked cloth, while mine got dubbed a brick and ‘dwarf bread’ by Twitter which, if you read your Terry Pratchett, is not a compliment.

So, following a recipe from another Twitter user, I sorted out an improvised proving basket from a serving dish and a tea towel (after 26 years of marriage it’s quite something to be able to finally use one of your wedding gifts).

loaf of bread proving

I gave it a nice long time to rise, failed to make any pretty patterns in the top, bunged it in a dutch oven, only burned myself a little bit trying to get the lid off half way through and bingo

Fourth sourdough loaf

I am ready for my closeup

5. Even so, it’s totally worth it.

So now the only problem is that I’ve got to keep it up because I don’t think we can go back to normal bread. My ambition now is to see just how long we can keep going without resorting to the back-up loaf of shop-bought bread that’s been sitting in the freezer since the beginning of the year. So far, I’ve been keeping up with demand (which appears to have doubled since I started this project) but given it’s a 24 hour lead time minimum, it takes a bit of planning

In fact, I now have to go and set off another Amy (which is what I’m calling the production sourdough, i.e. the offshoot you make the bread out of, rather than Jimmy the ancestral starter that lives in the fridge – this all makes perfect sense in my head) and maybe pick another recipe to see if I can hit my next goal: a loaf that actually remains oval rather than mysteriously going round while it’s in the oven. Oh, and mastering those pretty patterns on the top

What recipe do you use?

10 Responses to Five Things I have Learned about Sourdough

  1. M says:

    What a sourdough update 😊
    I especially liked the urban looking dwarf bread. Delicious bread that looks a little grimy sounds good to me as no one else is likely to pinch it and there’d be more deliciousness for me.

  2. WOL says:

    I’m one of those (weird? strange? heretical?) people who don’t care for sourdough bread. It has a “twangy” aftertaste to me which I find unpleasant. No accounting for taste, or twanging of same either, I guess. I’m very allergic to molds, and that may be part of..(Yes, I know that yeast is a fungi, but then so are molds)..

  3. john gibson says:

    That looks lovely.

  4. Kiyomi Camp says:

    Your loaves look lovely. Isn’t it funny how demand for bread picks up once you have figured out how to make it? But if you need to use up extra starter, you can use unfed starter in place of the liquid when making (American) biscuits (I watch too much Great British Baking Show and they always say “biscuits” when referring to what I think of as “cookies”) and probably also for scones. I sometimes use extra starter when making piecrust.

  5. ballsofwool says:

    Looking golden and good! To make those crosses and slashes on top you need a super-sharp knife and a diagonally downward action. Oh, and try not to let any bodyparts get in the way.

  6. juliaL49 says:

    The taste makes any shape worthwhile, doesn’t it? Mine rarely last more than a day. I’ve for now given up on the proving basket. Also, because I prefer the Seeded Rye recipe which calls for a tin. Tip: coat in vegetable oil and the bread almost slides out after baking.
    My recipe is from the Breadshare workshop I did but I think it’s based on Bread Matters

  7. Charles says:

    My loaves are consistently too heavy, although the last one I did over prove. I also suspect that my oven is not hot enough,mhmm bad workman blames his tools etc. Speaking as someone who has successfully worked on plasma furnaces, supervised a uranium solvent extraction plant and run a diamond recovery plant the simple organisation of wild yeast, wheat, gas and water should be simple, no cyanide, no mad security guards just my wife saying well it’s a bit wet and dense. I hope she is talking about the bread.

  8. disgruntled says:

    M – unfortunately the other half doesn’t seem to be put off by its unprepossessing exterior so I still had to share
    WOL – so far it’s not been that strong (although I think it’s getting stronger). I don’t like the really dark rye breads though
    John – thanks
    Kiyomi – I’m going to try it in pizza dough.
    Balls – that sounds like a recipe for disaster
    Julia – I did coat the tin in oil, but not the top where it oozed over. Lesson learned ..
    Charles – possibly the addition of wild yeast makes it more alchemy than chemistry?

  9. […] including many people urging me to start a ginger beer plant and start brewing my own, in case Project Sourdough ever got too easy.* While this strikes me as likely to provide excellent blogging material, not […]

  10. […] about my sourdough adventures but actually, even by the low standards of this blog, after I’d got the hang of it there was genuinely nothing interesting to say about it. I could probably have made life a bit more […]

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