Okay, so here is a truth. I love sourdough bread and although I have sampled many a sourdough bread (my favourite being from Lynwood & Co. in Lechlade); other than trying a ‘cheat’s sourdough’ from BBC Good Food, I have never attempted to make sourdough bread in the true sense of the word. Well, that is until recently. Just over a week ago, on the 08 January 2017, to be precise, I took the plunge and decided to make my own sourdough starter. So armed with one of my favourite recipe books, Roger Saul’s ‘Spelt’ and a couple of bags of Sharpham spelt flour (one white and one wholemeal), I started the painstaking process of making my own starter.
According to Emma Christensen from The Kitchn, ‘making a fresh batch of starter is as easy as stirring together some flour and water and letting it sit. That’s right! No expensive heirloom starters, mashed up grapes or mysterious rituals required – just flour, water, and a little bit of patience’. My starter recipe suggested a variation of ‘mashed up grapes’ in the form of two teaspoons of raisins, as well as a couple of teaspoons of natural bio yogurt plus Emma’s ingredients of flour, water and a little bit of patience. And as you know from my croissant episode, patience is not my strong point.
I diligently followed the recipe for five days and on the six day was excited that my starter should have been ready for use.
According to the recipe I was using, ‘On Day 6, the mixture should be bubbling and ready for use’. I think I must have just read ‘On Day 6, the mixture should be ready for use’ as while there were definitely a few bubbles in the mixture, it was definitely not as active as it should have been, nor did it have the ‘acidic tang’ that it was supposed to have on Day 5.
Undeterred or more accurately, impatient to wait any longer (see reference to patience above), I decided to used some of my ‘well nurtured’ starter to make a loaf of sourdough bread, religiously following the recipe in my book.
Although the quantity of lukewarm water stipulated, seemed disproportionately large to the quantity to flour required, especially given that my sourdough starter was still quite liquid compared to the images of sourdough starters on Google, I continued to follow the recipe, ignoring my gut feeling to reduce the amount of water significantly. Although I did not use the full amount of the water stipulated, my end result was a rather sodden dough instead of soft dough as suggested in the recipe, even after 10 plus minutes of frenetic kneeding. Not put off completely, I persevered and saw the recipe through to its completion. After two hours of ‘proving’, and I use this word loosely, given that I don’t think my bread did an iota of rising during this time (it did a lot of lateral seeping instead), or the 25 minutes it was baking in the oven, I removed my sorry excuse for a sourdough loaf out of the oven, just in time for lunch. Although my loaf resembled a dense, flat bread rather than a nicely risen loaf with the characteristic sour dough ‘holes’, it still tasted quite pleasant. While it tasted quite pleasant, it certainly was a too embarrassing a result to photograph.
Not entirely put off, but frustrated with my initial failure, I fed my sourdough starter with equal amounts of flour and water to that which I had removed; thinking to myself that I may try again.
Spurred on by the fact that my newly replenished sourdough starter seemed to be rapidly developing its Day 5 ‘acidic tang’ and Day 6 bubbles, I decided to try to make my second sourdough loaf today.
While not a perfect triumph, my second attempt at least resembles a loaf of bread and has the slightly acidic taste, characteristic of sourdough bread. Despite these improvements, I still need to work out the right balance between water and flour to ensure that my sourdough loaf has the characteristic holes, which it is still somewhat lacking. A little more perseverance and a lot more patience and next time I might just get there.
In the meantime, my sourdough starter is bubbling quite nicely, thank you very much.