Friday, 13 January 2012

the rise (and fall) of the sourdough loaf

As my first “try something new” of 2012 I decided to have a go at making sourdough bread. (And in fact, to make more bread generally). This involves creating a sourdough starter from flour, water and the airborne yeasts that exist in the environment. My bread baking book had a recipe, so off I went.

100g bread flour and 115g tepid water mixed to a paste and left in a covered bowl on the kitchen worktop for 2 – 4 days

After this time it should look bubbly and smell pleasantly yeasty, and it needs to be fed. Add another 100g flour and enough tepid water to make a paste-like dough. Cover and leave for 24 hours.
By now it should be pretty active. Stir, then discard half the mixture and feed as before. Cover and leave for 12 hours, by which time it should be just about ready to use.

Increase the volume by adding another 100g flour and tepid water and leave for 6 – 8 hours. Measure what is needed for your recipe and put the rest in a closed container in the fridge.

So far, so sourdough.
I was a bit surprised after five days of so much bubbling and dividing and adding and stirring and leaving under a damp cloth that the recipe for California Sourdough bread still specified the addition of yeast as well as the sourdough starter, but I did it anyway and was very pleased with the results.

Next I wanted to make a loaf that just used the sourdough starter and no additional yeast. The recipe I chose was for a delicious-looking olive and thyme loaf. I measured the starter, added flour and water, kneaded and left it to prove. Well I waited and waited and really nothing happened. I’ve tried it twice now and the second time I actually left it for more than 24 hours, but the starter just wasn’t active enough to raise the dough.

I was disappointed, but used the starter to do another batch of California sourdough using a wholemeal/white flour mix. Again, the result was very pleasing.

I’m continuing to work with the sourdough starter, feeding and resting, but still haven’t produced anything that looks lively enough to work on its own. It’s beginning to feel a bit wasteful as I add and discard, but I’m going to give it another week or two. Of course I’ve had a look on the internet for other methods of creating a sourdough starter, but ended up feeling confused and distressed because there are so many different approaches. It could be that the ambient temperature of our kitchen in January is just a bit low (though all the artisan bakers extol the slow, cool rise rather than the accelerated approach). For now I’m just going with these wise words from the poet David Whyte: Start close in, don't take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in, the step you don't want to take. (With thanks to Gail Adams)


  1. Both of us are becoming obsessed with bread! I was talking about your sourdough experiement to some friends last night, great to have an update.There's something very spiritual about the whole process - I'll blog something soon.

  2. I'm beginning to live around the rhythm of my starter's needs! I shall look forward to hearing your progress soon.

  3. They look really good! I love baking bread and I love sourdough loaves but have never tried making my own. Might have to have a go.

  4. I'm back to trying to live without wheat - it doesn't really agree with me, in fact neither does yeast - but I LOVE bread so my mouth was watering reading this ... good luck with your sour dough experiments x

  5. Annie, that's bad luck about the wheat and yeast intolerance. Quite a number of people seem to suffer that way. Bread is always talked of as a staple food, but I suspect our guts had to change quite a bit to tolerate it.