I’m on my 5th loaf and I wanted to share my progress with you all. If like me, you’re new to making sourdough hopefully I can share some useful hints and tips that have helped me along the way. If you’re a sourdough connoisseur I’d love to know how to improve. Every time I make a loaf, I learn something new and I’ve definitely got the sourdough bug. the word crumb no longer means something that is left behind after cake.
Why sourdough? I can’t bake bread, at all. It turns out like a brick or a doughy mess so after numerous attempts I had resigned myself to buying loaves from the shops.
But a few months ago I decided to try my hand at what is alluded to being the toughest loaf to bake – the sourdough loaf. I had no idea what a starter or banneton was but I was excited to learn. I thought if I could master sourdough all other bread making endeavours would be a breeze (I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for!)
It all begins with a starter
A starter is a mix of flour and water, some people add something sweet like apples, grapes or raisins to give the starter a kick start but basically the organisms in the flour come to life when mixed with water to form a wild yeast. This can take between 5–12 days depending on what recipe you follow. I decided to make two in case I killed one, a Paul Hollywood starter, and a recipe from ‘Alex French Guy cooking’
The Paul Hollywood starter seemed easier, but Alex’s method seemed more in keeping with what I’d read about. When I try something for the first time I like to be as meticulous as possible so I really liked Alex’s video. He explains the science behind creating a starter and I found that his starter gave me a much better bake that Pauls (sorry bake off fans).
What I learnt when making a starter
- Weighing water helps with accuracy
- Use bottled water
- If the weather is hot, use chilled water to keep your starter happy
- Use elastic bands to mark the starters growth
- Use organic flour (a mix of wholemeal and white worked for me)
- When your starter is young, be wary of contaminants (even antibacterial hand wash)
- Once you have finished making your starter, it can be kept in the fridge or freezer
- If the starter develops a thick/dark liquid which rests on the top, don’t worry. This is called hooch; it means your starter is hungry. Drain off the hooch, give it a stir and a feed and it should be happy.
- Once your starter is matured, it is apparently quite hard to kill
Baking my first loaves
The Paul Hollywood recipe didn’t work for me sadly, so I’ll just run though what I’ve learnt from following Alex’s method which you can watch here.
The main thing that I’ve been tweaking is timing. When I followed Alex’s recipe to the letter, I found I almost needed two days at home to prep the starter, the dough and then bake the loaf. It often meant I was up till 12pm waiting for my 4hr proof to finish. Having looked to see how other people make sourdough, I thought I’d increase the timings to help fit the bake around my lifestyle and it worked really well! Here are my timings:
Evening before making the dough:
9 – 9.15pm: take some starter out of the fridge and mix with flour and water (feed the remaining starter and pop back in the fridge.) Put the starter/flour/water in a tub with a loose fitting lid. Pop in a warm place. Alex suggests the oven.
Following day (the at home lazy day)
- 6.00 – 6.15am: Mix the starter mix, flour and water to make a dough, mix and leave to rest for 30mins
- 6.45am – 7.00am: Add some salt and a splash of water. Knead the dough using the slap, pull and roll method for 10-15mins
- 7.00am – 12.30pm: leave the dough to proof for at least 4.5 hours
- 12.30pm – 2.30pm: Begin the fold process (this is important for developing the infamous crumb) fold the dough like an envelope and leave to rest, covered for 30mins
- (optional) repeat the envelope fold/30min rest 4 more times times
- 2.30pm: Shape the dough into a ball and build tension around the bottom
- 2.45pm: Get a banneton or a bowl ready, cover with a clean cloth and flower well, place your dough in the basket, make sure the top is covered and leave in the fridge until the following morning or afternoon (I normally leave mine for 10-15 hours)
The big bake day
- 6.00am: Take your dough out of the fridge and let it come back to room temperature (about 1-2 hours at least)
- 8.00 – 8.50am: bake your loaf for 50mins following Alex’s method
- This is the hardest part: leave the bread to cool for a few hours or when you try and cut the bread it will have a doughy texture
- 1pm: I normally can’t wait any longer. Enjoy our bread!!
Of course the timings of 6am are a guide, I’m a morning lark, but I prefer stretching the timing out so I can do the kneading and faffing when I have a morning at home and I’m not trying to do it all in an evening after work.
Other things I learnt
- Experiment with your flour ratios. When I was using 100% wholegrain flour, I wasn’t getting a very good rise so I used a 50/50 mix instead which worked really well. Others suggest a 70/30 mix.
- A dutch oven really helps
- Steam helps to develop the crust
- Sometimes a sharp knife won’t cut it, I’m going to invest in a razor to help me slash my dough prior to baking – this helps the loaf expand.
- Invest in a good bread knife to cut through the crust!
- The optional folding step may seem like a faff – but it really helped my loaf rise and gave me a beautiful crumb
- Once sliced, the bread keeps really well in the freezer, just pop it in the toaster as and when you need it.
Useful links and recipes:
- A Frenchman’s sourdough Odyssey – These videos are fantastic, if you like to know the ‘why’ behind each step, Alex is your guy. He has a great sense of humour and it discouraged me from trying to take sneaky shortcuts. He has apparently tried.
- How Izzy makes sourdough – I’m a big fan of Izzy’s blog. She is quite new to making sourdough too and I found this post really helpful when making my 3rd loaf
- How to make sourdough by feel – the brother’s green eats have a great video to show you how to get used to your dough as it is quite fickle, everything (including the weather) can change how your dough behaves so this was handy when I wanted to see if my dough was ‘normal’.
People think I’m mad for spending this long to make a loaf of bread, but anyone who has made their own sourdough loaf will tell you it is such a joy to look after something for so long and finally get to enjoy some toast and enjoy the fruits of your labour.