Sourdough bread, and why you should bake it

28/04/2015

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

River Cottage Handbook – Bread

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.

Weekend Bakery Website

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 – Bread Matters: Why and How to Make Your Own

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.

Real Bread Campaign

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.

Learn to bake Real Bread on a course

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 ?

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14 thoughts on “Sourdough bread, and why you should bake it

  1. birminghamtomb Post author

    Thanks very much ! It’s fairly easy with a bit of practice, if you want to ask any questions please let me know – I’ll be happy to try and answer them for you !

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  2. Marti Cuatt

    This is a great post and good to have some new links too. I’ve just started out making a starter again, so I’ll have to keep reading your tips. Thanks.

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  3. Marti Cuatt

    Hi there, you said I should ask if I have questions. I’m now day four into making my starter (I let it start for 48 hours as it’s cold in the southern hemisphere now). Today I opened the lid to refresh and it smelt good, but when the lid had been off for a while and I did the refresh, I noted an undertone of sour, the beginnings of that not so good vomit smell.

    I believe starters can be saved if they get to that point, but what do I do?? Despite reading instructions, I’m a bit nervous about it and am hoping you can help. If you want to see the post, it’s at infatuatedfoodie.com. I’ve been updating the soudough post daily and have put out a call for assistance today, as I want this to work!

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  4. birminghamtomb Post author

    Hi Marti, what is the feeding cycle at the moment – are you taking old starter and refreshing with new flour and water ? Keep feeding it as you need to build up its culture to make a healthy starter. Refreshments peak in normal temperatures at 12 hours in and then become acidic after 24 hours. Is it in a jar and is it puffing up and gassy with air 12 hours in ? Keep going I think, may be worth using some Rye to strengthen the refreshment or some wholemeal. What is your refreshment ratio ? And it may be worth going through the process of refreshment to see if the smell eradicates, on my 4th day with my wheat starter it did smell like an apple orchard when the fruit was rotting, then it started smelling fairly acetic (like nail polish) before it stabilised.

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  5. Marti Cuatt

    Hi again. I’ve been feeding on about 24 hour cycles by removing about half the starter, then topping up with new stoneground white flour and cooled boiled water. I’m happy to add a little rye, but I was hoping for a white sourdough starter and was going to do a rye one separately. Should I be feeding at 12 hours?

    It’s also splitting. Today there is about a 5mm layer of water on top of the flour and there’s not much sign of bubbling. It’s been a little under 24 hours since its last feed. The smell isn’t great but it’s not awful either, so that’s okay.

    I’m wondering if I should spoon some into another sterilised jar and try 1/2 the batch refreshed with rye and keep this one going as is. What do you think?

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  6. birminghamtomb Post author

    OK it does sound strange that there is separation. I wouldn’t sterilise anything I’d just make sure my hands were clean.

    To avoid flour wastage I’d bring it back to 40g water and strong white flour (bread flour) and do this as a new one as it seems that it’s gone a little wrong or you could just keep adding the above feeds to build it up. I started my starter by doing 40/50 ratio and building it up by adding to it rather than taking it away (I asked you to do that as it seemed acetic) so by day 5 you gave 350g of starter. If it’s taking longer than 5/7 days and there is no evident rise I would start again. Not the right answer your looking for I know but it’s worth it to get a good strong initial culture to eradicate problems at baking time.

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  7. Marti Cuatt

    Oh dear. Today I removed half and refreshed it 75g white flour and 15g rye to 100ml water, so let’s wait until tomorrow and see what’s happening. If it separates again I think you’re right and there’s no option but to start again. Mind if I put a link to today’s post update so readers can read this conversation? You’re being so helpful!

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  8. birminghamtomb Post author

    That’s fine and of course. I had all these issues so it’s good to have a sourdough buddy to share experiences and help readers. To be clear it’s a 40g of water and 50g of flour for 5/7 days. You’ll get a t noticeable rise with the right ratio. The optimum temperature for starter is 25c but it’s not hugely important at the moment. Keep going and don’t give up !

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  9. Pingback: Adventures in sourdough | The Infatuated Foodie

  10. Pingback: Breadcrumbs | selfandroots

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