Thursday, 3 January 2013

New Years Resolutions - or not - and Sourdough revisited

New Year Resolutions? Not for me, I'm afraid - I have failed too many times with those things I have resolved to do because one year has ended and a new one has begun. When I have really needed to do something - lose weight, give up smoking, those sorts of things, I have eventually managed to just do it, prompted by the sight of a hideous photo (the weight), pregnancy (the smoking) etc. I had to seize the moment - waiting till the New Year would have been pointless.

But there are some things that I have resolved to do recently, and I bet I am not the only one who has been planning to make more bread, and even try sourdough for the first time, or return to it.  As with the more serious matters I have had to tackle in my life, my resolution to return to homemade bread - and to sourdough - came upon me in the hallowed (if temporary) cookery school at River Cottage in the company of Aidan Chapman on the River Cottage Christmas Bread Course in early December.

I've made bread, on and off, for as long as I can remember. My mum made bread too, and I don't remember having to look at a recipe, although I have consulted several tomes and instructions over the years, trying various methods. I had a serious attempt at sourdough earlier last year, but it just kind of petered out, and in the end my starter died while I was on holiday - this shouldn't necessarily have happened, but life got busy, the kids kept complaining, and to be fair, although the bread was lovely, it didn't make the easiest sandwiches for packed lunches.

But no more. As a result of the course, my love of and enthusiasm for real bread has been rekindled. It tastes a million times better than any kind of sliced loaf with a million (well, 18 or so) ingredients, it fills you up more without the bloating of the pappy white bread beloved of my kids (they even call it that themselves - with glee). In addition, it really isn't difficult, or time consuming. It does require a certain amount of attention and forward planning, but in fact, the stages can fit pretty easily into a daily routine. And may be you won't be able to make bread every day, but it's worth having a 'starter' on the go to use at the weekend - just imagine warm crusty bread fresh from your oven, to go with some lovely soup for Saturday lunchtime. You know it makes sense. 

I am not pretending to be an all knowing bread guru, but I reckon I can knock up a fairly good loaf, and I thought I would humbly attempt to share some of the things I have learned about sourdough, how to make and use a 'starter', and, as I am still getting back to grips with it myself, my successes and failures along the way.

So today, first principles.

'Real Bread' is about using natural yeasts as the rising agent. You can combine this with dried yeast too, but having the sourdough and using it in your bread adds to the structure and flavour of your bread.

To make your starter, you need to spend 10 days nurturing a pot of flour and water until it goes bubbly and smells, well, sour. A little bit fermented, if you like. This bit is fairly fundamental - and you need to be OK with the idea of having a living organism bubbling away on your work top, but if you can do that, you're away. It doesn't need to be a warm kitchen (mine is definitely NOT a warm kitchen - unless I'm baking)

it's definitely alive!




You need to start with approx 50g of good bread flour. Organic probably is best - apparently,  the milling process for organic flour means that the wheatgerm is retained in the flour, so even if you use strong white flour, if it's organic, there will be some goodness in it. It's a good idea, though, for your starter to use rye, spelt or wholemeal flour. You can always use strong white flour when you come to make your loaves - and the flavours in the starter will enhance the flavour of your bread. I tend to buy Dove's Farm because they are relatively local, but I am also intending to try out the flour milled by Winchester Mill.




You need a fairly large pot and some cloth to cover it. I've got a piece of muslin, but an old tea towel would be fine. You need to stop flies etc getting in (not such a problem in the winter, granted) but to let the mixture breathe and take the wild yeasts that are all around us in the air. 

Mix your 50g of flour with 50ml of water. Cover and leave till the next day. Do this everyday for 10 days, adding in about 50g of flour and 50ml of water.  Once you've got to the 10 day stage, you can start leaving your starter in the fridge etc when you're not using it, but for the first 10 days, keep it out somewhere!

I'll be back in 10 days time to tell you what to do next - and in the meantime, if you'd like me to remind you to add to your starter, comment below with your Twitter ID and I'll tweet you :-).

16 comments:

  1. I'm also a NY resolutions avoider, they never seem to amount to much apart from making me feel guilty. I haven't made sourdough bread before, but would really like to try, so I'm up for starting a starter. I'll get D to act as my daily tweet (she'll be good at that!) :)

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    1. excellent! Now I know you're with me, I will be even more determined!

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  2. The OH has been making bread for us at home for over a year now, after we vowed not to buy 'pappy white' again. Pleased to say we haven't. We've been toying with the idea of starting a sourdough, and your post has just had us both say... 'Tomorrow we sourdough!'

    Louise
    (aka Happy_Food on Twitter)

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    1. Yay - glad to have you on board!

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    2. We have started today! It lives :o)

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  3. I love making my own bread, especially when it rises properly!

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  4. I have always wanted to know how to do this... Thank you. I will be giving it a go, once I have navigated which blinking German flour I need to use! :D

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    1. Can't help you there, I am afraid, but I bet there is plenty of good flour you can use. I bet if you tweeted someone would tell you the answer. Germany has a lot of rye bread doesn't it (I am so ignorant) - you could use rye flour as your starter flour which would give you a bit of time to get some white bread flour sorted (easiest to get good results with initially when you actually start baking the bread!)

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  5. Excellent advice on the starter thank you. Once I've identified a suitable sized pot (I'm thinking of buying a large kilner jar) I'll get started on mine.

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  6. I got a breadmaker recently (whoop!) but am having a total mare with it. Am thinking of trying to kneed in the mahine but then cook in the oven? Am a bit to busy (ie lazy) these days to do a proper sour dough, determind though to start making a decent loaf myself though after I saw a programme on C5 recently about how they use chicken feathers to make preservatives for shop bread? Bleugh!

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    1. Bleugh indeed. I've got a friend who does that - kneads in the breadmaker and bakes in the oven. You can do a perfectly fine loaf with dried yeast, flour, water etc without all the preservatives etc, but it's honestly not that hard to do the sourdough thing. You could try it!

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  7. Hmm, sorry, my spelling is a bit rough today!!!

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  8. Bread making still scares me - so I shall be watching your exploits with interest!

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