Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Sourdough Odyssey

It's been a little while between posts here; things have been busy and distracted.  All is Ok though, as I will be endeavouring over the next few weeks to make up for lost time!  I felt it timely to include the long promised update on my bread making, which has been an interesting experience of infinite variation.  These undertakings seem to be entered with a degree of naivety in that you think, "Well righto, I'll just make some bread".  Yeah well...
So to fill in the gaps, since I last posted about bread making I've been baking all my own loaves, there have been ups and downs.  The idea from the outset was to produce sourdough from scratch, no commercial yeasts; the beauty in simplicity of flour, water and salt.  To get to this point I made a sourdough starter and baked some loaves with commercial yeast to start getting a bit of experience whilst the starter matured.  The loaves with shop bought yeast were similar to those in the previous post, but I did play with the kneading process and fluid levels.  I'm deliberately not going into too many specifics here, rather this is more a reflection on how this baking is going.

I must say a big thankyou to Warwick Quinton, despite the fact that we have never met, his web postings provided me with inspiration, guidance and a start point.  If you want to see some recipe specifics (and these are what I began with), check out the link .  I'm now doing things much more by feel but this was and continues to be a great help.

Starter, well this stuff could drive you insane!  Basically you ferment flour and water to encourage the natural yeasts and bacteria, this acts as a leavening agent and imparts the distinct flavour of sourdough.  It takes a week or so to get it going and then you can try baking...  After this you have a new pet that lives in your fridge, needing love care and attention to thrive.

When you bake for the first few times, it's advisable to add a little yeast, cheating I know, but you need to give the starter a chance to stabilise and get stronger, and while this happens it needs a hand in the bread making process.  I have to admit in these first few efforts I had a disaster or two.  I tried bakng with no extra yeast whilst the starter was not very active, which effectively meant no rise!  I thought the first starter I made went off, abandoned it and restarted.  With hindsight I really should have kept it and simply refreshed it (more on that later) a few times to clean it up, my mistake here was not realising how active and alive a starter is once it gets going.  When you want to bake bread about half the starter is combined with your water, flour and salt to make dough.

So to the present.  I now have a liquid starter that is doing well, which I refresh every 5-6 days as I bake a couple of loaves, some of which I freeze or give away, using the other as my bread for the following week.  Over time I've been trying some subtle variation of mixture, knead and proof times to gain experience and feel.  At the moment I've been finding a wetter dough better for getting a lighter loaf, and the humidity and temperature in the oven are key to good crust.  Flour and water quality are also critical to results, amongst other things... ;)

To close this post I must say it is an immersive and rather addictive process which you enter into at your own peril, but the rewards are really there with good results achievable if a little patience is applied.  Patience may indeed be the biggest thing, as you really have to go with the process and allow things to happen at their own pace, rather than dictate a time frame.  The dough will rise when it wants to, may need more/less time etc.  Happy bread baking!