Saturday 29 June 2013

Sourdough bread

This week I made my own sourdough bread.

I love making bread. I love the feel if the dough in my hands, and watching the bread grow, the anticipation of the cooking (although I think that this means I regularly undercook my doughs…), and the eventual tasting. This was the first time I’d attempted to make sourdough. If you’ve even eaten or bought bread in the Pain Quotidien, you probably had sourdough bread, or 'pain au levain. The bread has a slightly sour taste, thanks to the acid produced by the naturally occurring bacteria.

So, on to my adventure. I began a couple of weeks ago, making a starter. I used a recipe from the May 2013 edition of delicious magazine. I tried twice, and failed twice. The starter went mouldy instead of bubbling. Bin.

I moved on, looking for another recipe. Of course, the first place I turned to was Paul Hollywood’s ‘Bake’. I didn’t try this one as he uses about 500g of flour, of which half is thrown away. I just thought this was really wasteful, especially as most of the other recipes I compared it with used far less quantities.

I started batch #3 of the starter, using a recipe from a new magazine, the does-exactly-what-it-says-on-the-cover ‘Love Baking Bread’. This worked better, and I now have a jar of it, unmoldy, in my fridge.
Monster 1
Sourdough bread is not the type of thing that you decide to make on a whim, like with other breads. The starter needs about 5-7 days to develop, and then the bread needs about a day to develop. Hopefully the final product will be worth it! It’s quite high-maintenance too, as you need to feed it every day until it develops and then regular feeding every few days after that. It’s almost like having a pet.

While starter batch #3 was developing, my friend Rose brought over some of her dad’s much-prized starter (Rose’s dad had been advising me from afar after the first two failures). So, I now have two starters. They really are like pets, so I’ve nick-named them Monster 1 and Monster 2. These things are alive. When I take the lids off them, they “POP!” (apologies to the lady I was walking past on Place Lux during the week when the lid popped off Rose’s dad’s starter (Monster 2). The two of us jumped at the noise of my exploding handbag). And the smell. Oh. Mhy. Ghod. The smell. It’s a vinegary, bitter, sweet, bready assault.
Monster 2

I used the recipe Rose's dad gave me with the starter (using Monster 2). 

I figured something wrong at around this stage, when I was kneading it, and it was pretty much liquid. 
Liquid dough

But, I persevered, thinking it'd be alright in the end. This is what I ended up with:
'Pancake' sourdough bread

I took some for Rose to try (to compare with her dad's) and we agreed that it tasted and smelled right. It just didn't rise. Oh well. Maybe I'll make it again. Maybe not. I'll see. Still, at least I have my monsters.

Have you ever made sourdough? Have you any tips to share?

Other breads I've made, with more success:


  1. Do you use any books for reference? I'm a home baker and have been making sourdough for months not, and with one 'martian landscape' style crumb, they've all been really good.

    I use Andrew Whitley's recipes from Bread Matters and don't seem to be able to go wrong. That dough above is way too wet. I use a sponge method and the final dough is always manageable with floured or oiled hands. I don't use percentages or hydration numbers, my starters are pretty casual - feed them when they're hungry and I don't measure either, usually a couple of spoonfuls of flour & warm water to loosen. I guess about the same weight in flour & water as the existing starter. I too have two jars, but much like children, I couldn't bring myself to name them :)


    1. Hi Mike,

      Thanks for your comment and for the Andrew Whitley tip.

      I used Paul Hollywood's 'How to Bake', some articles in magazines and of course the Internet before making the starters and then the bread. Many of the recipes for the starters used a lot of flour (up to 500g) of which you had to throw out a portion during the fermentation stage, which I thought to be very wasteful, or they used flours I couldn't find here.

      I've had a look at Andrew Whitley's recipes and I think I will give one of them a go next time. Do the starters freeze? I'm very conscious of feeding the starter I have left (Monster 1 passed away unfortunately before I got to bake with him) but as I haven't baked bread in a while, I'm feeding rather than baking.

      "much like children, I couldn't bring myself to name them :) " - you don't name your kids ;-)

      I'll blog about my next sourdough attempt, which will not be this week.