Sourdough Diaries: The Start(er) of Something Beautiful

A few people have asked me “Whatever happened to that sourdough starter you were harping on about?”. Well, not necessarily in those words. I may have slipped a little defensive self-deprecation in there for good measure.

Well, I’m pleased to confirm that the starter has started starting, and indeed continued to start. In starting terms, it’s off to a startlingly good start. Ahem.

The loaf pictured above is my first ever sourdough loaf. To say I was pleased would miss out ecstatic, smug, and as surprised as you. It used a 60:30:10 blend of strong white, strong wholemeal, and rye flours. Essentially, I “adapted” Dan Lepard’s Mill Loaf recipe. And by “adapted” I mean “misread”.

Firstly, I weighed 250g of my starter, which I had been refreshing consistently since making it.

Then I whisked in some water.

Then I made up 500g of flour, using the aforementioned ratio, mixed it through, before adding to the wet ingredients. It ended up less wet than I imagined.

After it had rested for 10 minutes, I added a little more water, to try and loosen it a little. It seemed to work. I followed Dan’s method of kneading, described in The Handmade Loaf (and indeed the excellent Short and Sweet). Long story short, instead of kneading constantly, you do it briefly at intervals, and leave it to rest in between. Lo and behold, the dough still comes together, and because you are kneading it a bit, the gluten still lines up in neat little rows and behaves itself. There’s a good little gluten structure.

After a protracted pattern of kneads and rests, I shaped the loaf, again following Dan’s method. I won’t describe it here, because you really ought to own the book. Why don’t you own the book? What’s wrong with you?! Oh, you do? Oh. As you were then. Anyway, looky…

Dan reckons it takes 3-4 hours to roughly double in size. Mine took less. Not that I’m boasting. Just sayin’. Then I floured my make-shift peal (a round, chopping board with a handle, and pictures of an orange tree or some such on. It’s my Mum’s), before carefully turning the loaf onto it, and whipping the loaf on to my preheated baking stone in a preheated oven. Like when you try and pull a tablecloth out from under a fully-laid table. Except it worked, but was marginally less impressive than that would be.

It’s only now I review the pictures a few weeks later that I realise how flat the loaf was going in. The oven spring really is the key it seems. Baking stone DEFINITELY helps here. Couldn’t have done it without you, Mr. Stone!
(By the way, the stone came from the rather excellent Bakery Bits. I’m have no incentive to send you there. Beyond a warm glowing feeling stemming from helping both you, dear reader, and an excellent independent web-store which I’ve found ever so useful).

Fifty minutes later – one loaf of nutty brown sourdough…

…and one embarrassingly excited baker.

You're right. Of course. Nobody needed to see that. Apologies.

It turned out far better than I’d hoped. I put it down to a (dare-I-say) savvy bit of additional hydration (to account for the higher-protein flour’s impact on absorbency), some succinct, but very powerful, reassurance from Dan Himself on twitter (me: “Help! I misread and used strong, will it still work?”, Dan: “Yes”), and the additional strength lent to the dough by the aforementioned strong flour. If anything, the crumb was a little denser than might be desired, but overall, I was tickled puce. That’s like tickled pink, only more so.

I replaced the strong white with plain white, as per the recipe, for the next batch, from which I made two loaves (having made double the dough). Unfortunately, the loaves lost most of their air while I tried to get them into the oven. I overestimated the amount of leeway I had with the final prove, allowed the fermentation to run its course, leaving little activity for the oven. Compared to the first loaf, which went in whilst the dough was still quite “young”, these had little strength in the gluten structure, no distance left to run on the fermentation front, and little or no oven spring.

A Reuben, made with slices of a loaf from the second batch. Mmm... Deli-y.

Still, I learned several lessons from the whole thing. I want to try the recipe as written, and get the loaves in the oven on time, and see if it works out as I imagine it will. It seems my starter is quite fast-acting and certainly has no lack of punch. My guess is that using only boiled water, that then cools to temperature, when refreshing has prevented the chlorine of tap water from getting into the starter, and contributed to a more yeast and bacteria-friendly environment.

Anyway, that’s all for the time being. Upcoming articles include a review of one of Bristol’s most popular bakeries, a flat-bread special, and maybe even a book review. Imagine that!

Stay-tuned, bread fans!

P.S. If you’ve made a starter, and/or baked with natural leaven, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have I got the wrong end of the stick with my explanations? Have I landed on my feet? Help a brother out.

P.P.S. I am a brother, by the way. My brother is called Sam and my sister is called Connie. So there you are.

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7 thoughts on “Sourdough Diaries: The Start(er) of Something Beautiful

  1. I think your posts are brilliant and I love that photo of you 😀 Mill Loaf looks excellent! What a powerhouse your new starter must be!

    On the water front (and I know exactly how chlorinated Bristol water is, phew) I’m told you can simply leave water in a jug for 8 hours or so and the chlorine will evaporate, or put it through one of those water filter jugs if you have one.

  2. Your post is adorable, and so is that photo of you. Absolutely can’t wait to read more. For what it’s worth, I almost always use strong bread flour with my starter, who’s named is Sedrick, and my boy has ample umph in him to lift West Sussex. I keep most of Sedrick in the freezer nowadays, although there’s a bit of him in a jar at the back of the fridge. I don’t fuss over him anymore; he’s hearty. Happy baking to you! 😀

  3. Thanks to you all!

    Good tip on the water, but that definitely requires me to be thinking that far ahead… Mind you, sourdough’s hardly a lightening-fast ride, is it?

    I feed my starter on strong, but the recipe just says white flour… Still, in retrospect, I was fussing over nothing. It worked fine, with a tweak or two. 🙂

    I love my stone. Best birthday pressie ever.

    And I feel like a bad parent… My starter has no name! And there’s two good ones already gone… To the drawing board!

  4. Pingback: Fun With Farmers: Market Mackerel, Super Sourdough, and Weekend Wanders | Leavened Heaven

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