If I eat bread I want something tasty, with a good texture. Sourdough bread fits the bill. A good sourdough can be hard to find, so the answer is to make it at home. But that is complicated. Or is it? I learned to home bake sourdough so that it fits around my lifestyle and routine.
The Simple Sourdough Journey
Over a number of years I have made bread. In fact there have been periods when the only bread we have had in the house has come out of my baking. With a couple of us, in the family, having sensitivity, at one level or another, to supermarket bought "bread in a plastic bag", we needed a better way, We could all eat homemade bread with no problems.
One style of bread defeated me, All my attempts at baking sourdough bread failed, ending in two sourdough starters which were black liquid and mold.
In early 2019 I decided it was time to crack this and start making some decent bread. That started an interesting journey. And it really is a journey. There are so many ways to make a tasty sourdough loaf.
To begin with I used the sourdough recipe from Paul Hollywood’s book "Bread", which had been given to me as a gift. That produced some tasty bread, quickly demolished by my family before it had time to cool!
Reading a few articles and Facebook groups led me to experiments with longer ferments and different styles of kneading, like "stretch and fold". The flops tasted great, the successes even better.
But there was a problem. I want to eat sourdough bread every day, not just when I have a Saturday to bake. My life is busy and interesting, so what was I prepared to give up to bake sourdough bread?
There had to be a way to produce a simple sourdough. After all, this is the way our ancestors made bread.
An Ancient Way
Many of the recipes and methods in the forums and books call for all sorts of time consuming processes, lik autolysing, kneadng, "stretch and fold" and refrigeration for set periods of time. Those methods produce fantastic, tasty, quality bread. But they are not great when you are going to work and have a busy home life. There had to be another way.
I sat down to think this through (something that happens occasionally).
Sourdough bread dates back nearly 6,000 years (see the Wikipedia entry), that we know of. Many cultures have fermented bread-style foods, the origins of which are lost in history.
I do not believe that they had scales and fridges, or that they were going to "stretch and fold the dough at 30 minute intervals". They would likely to have mixed the dough, let it rise, and baked it.
The No Knead Way
A bit of searching online gave me many links, like this one from flour producer, Shipton Mill. This is close to the process I use.
Bread rises through the action of some form of yeast. Sourdough uses a starter, made by fermentation of flour, allowing the natural yeasts and bacteria to form the rising agent.
Kneading for 10 minutes or so builds the gluten structure in the bread. It is then left to rise for a few hours (bulk ferment), knocked back, left to rise some more, then baked. Bakers have been doing that for years.
Now, sourdough uses a natural fermentation process, which is much slower to rise than using baker’s yeast. This typically can vary, depending on the starter. I normally use a small starter quantity and leave the dough to rise for around 24 hours. More starter can easily reduce that to 12 hours.
Using a no-knead process, the baker simply mixes the dough and leaves it to bulk ferment. This skips the knead for strenuous kneading, or frequent "stretch and fold".
The next step is to shape it, let it rise and bake it.
My Simple Sourdough Bread
If you are not familiar with sourdough baking, there is a glossary of terms below.
On a weekday morning: Feed the starter and go to work. Takes less than 5 minutes.
In the evening: Mix dough, seal it up and leave it a kitchen counter, and then get on with the evening. Takes 20 minutes to mix and clean utensils for the family bake of 4 x 800g loaves.
In the evening of the following day: The dough will have at least doubled in size. Shape the dough and leave it to rise for 2 to 3 hours. Then bake it. Shaping takes around 10 to 15 minutes, adding 5 minutes per extra loaf if making more than one. Baking takes around an hour.
Then you need to be patient! leave it to cool just enough and it is fantastic hot and fresh. But then there will be no bread left! The sourdough curing process does continue for a while, so it really should cool for at least 12 hours before eating. The taste gets even better with time. BE PATIENT!
I will generally bake twice a week. First bake will be 4 loaves for the four family households. I have a strict family rule here – If you want more than one loaf a week, I will give you a live starter and teach you! Second bake is experiment time – normally one to four loaves for home consumption and the deep freeze, and perhaps a couple of gifts.
Storing Sourdough Bread
In the bread bin in a bread bag, sourdough keeps well for four days or so.
The bread freezes well, both as a whole loaf, or sliced.
Sourdough, with its flavour and texture is addictive. Don’t eat too much!
The baking process is quite addictive too! As one bake comes out of the oven, you start thinking about the next one!
What I Have Learned
- Sourdough Bread in its simplest form just flour, water, salt, heat and time make sourdough bread.
- Once you have tasted proper sourdough you won’t want bread in plastic bags from the supermarket.
- Sourdough is healthier – without going into medical details, none of my family and friends show sensitivity to sourdough (though it does contain gluten).
- Flexibility – Make the dough. Then make what you want – bread, rolls, breadsticks, pizza bases, even pasta.
- The personal touch. Sourdough depends on your kitchen environment and YOUR approach.
- Sourdough is adaptable – you can make it around your lifestyle, or you can choose to make fantastic pieces of tasty bread art.
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I have used a number of resources to come up with my own way of making a simple sourdough bread. Try some of these links.
Paul Hollywwod’s "Bread" – that was the start.
Bake with Jack – many useful tips.
Sourdough Bread Made Easy – many useful tips and recipes.
Along with a number of facebook groups and many searches online – there are many sites dealing with sourdough bread, and many recipes and techniques displayed and discussed.
Sourdough Bread Equipment List
Here’s a list of some of the gear I have referred to here, directly or in passing. I have to say I try to keep to the minimum and buy only when I think it will be well used. These are tools I use, mainly purchased from Amazon. Click the link to see and buy.
- My scales are the most important piece of equipment. Everything is weighed, though extreme accuracy is not necessary. I use inexpensive Salter scales.
- I keep my starters in the fridge in one litre Kilner jars, but there is a special plastic jar for the purpose.
- Dough scrapers are essential.
- A large bowl, 5 litres or bigger. It gives space for the dough to rise. Many do not recommend a stainless steel one for sourdough, but I use it with no issues. A Plastic or traditional stoneware one will work.
- A Danish whisk – useful!
- Bannetons – round or oval.
- Baker’s lame for slashing the dough. I tried a few options but that sharp razor blade is invaluable.
- A spray bottle to spritz the oven.
- Britta Filter jug – I prefer filtered water for bread and drinking.
More to Come
Watch this space. I’ll be bringing you much more on the way I make sourdough bread.
One to pin to your Baking Board
Some readers may have experience with sourdough baking. Otherwise some of the terms may not be clear. Here’s some explanation.
- Sourdough Bread – bread made with just flour, water and salt, leavened by natural yeasts and bacteria.
- Starter is a fermented mixture of flour and water which contains the yeast and bacteria to leaven the dough (make it rise). There is a process to making a starter. Once made it needs regular feeding with flour and water.
- Bulk ferement is also known as “first rise”. Once the dough is made it is left for a period of time to rise.
- Shaping. Once the dough has risen, it needs to be shaped before going into the oven to bake. This decides the final shape of the loaf.