Yesterday evening I refreshed my sourdough starter before dinner and then built a preferment with flour, water and some of the starter. This morning, I woke up and used that preferment adding flour, water, salt to then make one of my weekly breads. The bread was kneaded and then bulk fermented in my cool kitchen for just under 11 hours, the dough was then preshaped when I got back from work and then rested for 15 minutes. It was then placed in a circular banneton for its final prove until it was baked on ceramic tiles at the temperature of 230c with a first initial steaming for 10 minutes. Over all the whole process lasted just under 24 hours but really in actual ‘doing something’ time it was for about 20 minutes with 40 minutes baking time.
I have been making sourdough bread and managing my own sourdough starter for just over 2 years. The first few months due to the plethora of information, and a little over zealousness, I got quite a few things wrong but had a few lucky and addictive moments a long the way. However, since learning the basics properly and getting to grips with some simple rules and understanding the management of a sourdough culture it has been a fantastic learning journey of baking real bread.
Sourdough bread is special, in simple terms it tastes incredible and it is bread that has a story far from supermarket bread. Imagine bread that has a full-bodied texture, a crumb which is soft and chewy and a crust that crackles loudly. Sourdough bread has its own character, it has an identity and each loaf from a bakery or a home is different in its own special way, it becomes part of the environment it has come from and the hands it has been made with.
A lot of people who try sourdough bread baking place it in a landscape of mythical magic. To be blunt, it is none of these. It just takes time, a little science and a bit of practice. When I make a good loaf of bread it creates in me an internal emotional reaction of pride and ability but also I feel safe in the knowledge I am being kind to my body, avoiding the countless additives and scary E numbers whilst also respecting the world by using organic flours, non chemical salt and fresh water.
Like all good hobbies, researching and testing out ideas as well as enjoying the process of learning is important in bread baking. I am keen to upload a few recipes or things to try but at the moment I feel it is worth offering some advice and information on what helped me gather my own knowledge. There are some excellent websites, books and courses that have helped me, reflecting back they continue to be gold mines of information. If you do want to know more below are some recommendations on resources that I feel have been invaluable to my sourdough bread making process.
Written by River Cottage HQ baker Dan Stevens this book examines the ingredients and equipment needed to make bread, it explains the bread making process and also teaches you how to bake different types of breads including sourdough. What I found most valuable was the breakdown and steps of the bread baking task and the explanations of shaping and dough management. I used this book for months on end to make bread which was mainly with shop bought yeast but the lessons of bread science were invaluable. I always refer people to this book if they want to learn to bake bread, quite honestly it was a game changer for my kitchen, allowing me to understand bread baking and why it is so important.
When I got to the point where I needed to stop making just OK sourdough bread I found The Weekend Bakery website through a recommendation on twitter, similar to the River Cottage handbook this website teaches the keen baker on improving their skills and developing as a home baker. Weekend Bakery refers to being ‘serious about artisan bread making. We have our own ‘at home micro bakery’. Making bread in small quantities with time and attention will deliver great and rewarding results’. I have never had an issue or problem with the WCB sourdough pain naturel bread recipe and I feel this is due to recipe instructions being clear and easy to understand without technical lingo. The website also has excellent photos, videos and a great comments section which is useful to gather a further understanding and sharing of information. I’d also recommend the rye starter plan and tips, I have followed the initial measurements with my own wheat starter which has kept it bubbling away nicely.
Andrew Whitley is a real bread evangelist, hero and campaigner. He teaches the reader about bread in its current state in the world but also flips that information to how the reader can make healthy and nutritious bread at home. 25 years of baking has led him to sharing his skills with passion and authority. He explains the science and offers a large amount of recipes, rye breads, sourdough, festive breads and also enriched bread too.
I love the Real Bread website it is a vessel of information. I love their page on what is real bread especially. It has information on baking groups, recipes and also a real bread bakery finder map. I would also urge membership subscription if possible.
I have attended 2 bread baking courses, both of which were invaluable to understand the basics and understand what is needed to make bread well. Being taught from a baker in a group setting and learning the skills with a hands on approach (some of which are generations old) to bake bread helped me develop confidence to bake at home, going on a sourdough baking course taught me the finer details as well as the importance of understanding skills like water temperature management and starter maintenance. If I can make only one recommendation for learning this I feel would be the most useful.
I am keen to hear from other people who are interested in baking sourdough bread, to answer any questions/share tips, or just to chat to people who are baking bread too. Have you made sourdough bread, do you have any tips for readers or information to share ?