Starting out with Sourdough

Alternative title: I tried to make posh bread and it WORKED!

Unlike cakes and biscuits, bread is a beast I have been reluctant to master. The mysteries of kneading, proving and baking seemed too complex and unattainable for my domestic skills. The flavourless rocks I produced as a result didn’t encourage further attempts at improving my skills.

Yet there is something so special about a homemade loaf. So delicious when it is fresh out of the oven, smeared with a cold lick of butter. Over the last decade, I have really noticed sourdough in particular taking off in the UK. For instance, I doubt you’ll find many places doing avocado toast and not using sourdough.

So I thought I’d tackle a) my fear of bread-baking and b) my curiosity about sourdough, and booked in for a beginner’s Sourdough class at the famous Bread Ahead Bakery. The fresh baked loaves were quite possibly one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.   I couldn’t wait to get home, nuture my own little sourdough starter into fruition, and start baking.

The internet seems to suggest making a sourdough starter culture is an incredibly complex art, but I don’t think that’s really the case at all. In the class, we measured out equal quantitites of flour and water, mashed it together, and that was it. After diligently feeding my starter with equal amounts of flour and water each day for a week, it was bubbly, rising to the top of the jar, and pretty much good to go.

I wasn’t convinced the loaf was going to work out, but I was determined to give it a go. So into a bowl went flour, salt, water and starter. I left it overnight in the fridge, then took it out, tried to shape it, and left it to rise in a colander (apparently a good substitute for a banneton) until it looked like a cellulitic thigh. As the flabby-looking specimen plopped into its cast iron receptable, I peered at it very doubtfully before shoving it in the oven, but to my great astonishment, 30 minutes later, out came an actual loaf of bread!

P1100847 (1)

It tasted great, and the crumb structure was probably the best I had ever gotten out of a loaf of bread! It also made delicious bacon sandwiches several days later.

Since this loaf, I’ve made several more, and there has been a slow but steady improvement. There were 2 flops along the way where I deflated one loaf by shaping it too vigorously, and another instance where the bread was far too underbaked, but otherwise it’s been surprisingly successful, and I’m so excited to have a new type of baking to play with. Just got to remember to keep the starter alive…

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