After having posted ages ago about my attempt to bake edible gluten-free bread for my partner – because most shop-bought bread is awful – I’ve now decided to turn my hand to Sourdough.
That’s full-fat sourdough for just me, and gluten-free sourdough for both of us when I’m better at it. Because I learned very quickly that baking sourdough isn’t easy. Except it is. And that’s the paradox that makes learning it such a challenge. Or obsession.
There must be fifty different YouTube videoers showing how to do it, and they are do it differently. Each one will tell you the one key thing that will bring success, whilst being different to everyone else’s ‘one thing guaranteed to bring you success’. I’ve concluded ‘one thing’ is this: you have to find your own way. That’s because all the recipes provide timings – and the best ones tell the truth: Don’t follow the clock, follow the dough. In other words, the different stages will last different times, and it’s how the dough is behaving that tells you when to go to the next stage. And that time varies: it’s a biological process. Temperature, flour, and the condition of the wild-yeast-and-bacteria culture (i.e. The Starter) you have spent time creating, will all vary. And vary every time you do it. And moving to the wrong stage at the wrong time, well, it doesn’t work that well as I keep proving every time I bake…
And how do you know when to move between stages? Ah… No one tells you that. As I learn, I’ll post what I can to help you. In the meantime, here’s my latest effort. Just strong white flour, and it’s the first time I feel as though I’m getting somewhere:
What did I learn to get here?
Firstly, get good flour. I’m lucky that I live near Caudwell’s Mill in the Peak District National Park, and their flour is just fabulous. I know that for certain because this is the first time I’ve used it, and the first time my sourdough hasn’t ended up as a doorstop. I always tried really, really hard to tell myself previously that my bread was great, tasty, brilliant, awesome. But it wasn’t. It still isn’t, but holy moly, it’s at least edible now!
Secondly, the process is more forgiving for novice bakers using a domestic oven if you bake with a Dutch Oven. That doesn’t mean anything fancy – mine is an enamel pot with a lid, not cast iron – the requirement is to keep the steam over the loaf for the first 20 minutes or so to allow it to rise. Then remove the lid/steam to let the crust get, well, crusty. And for me that’s 220 Centigrade for another 20 minutes. You might be able to do it with your ordinary oven by having a pan of water at the bottom – but mine’s a fan oven where you can’t turn off the fan. So effectively I’ve been steaming the kitchen.
Thirdly, don’t do it when you’re on a diet, because it is a 100% rule that you have to eat several slices, ‘just to test it’, and with butter. Otherwise the sourdough gods and goddesses think you’re being disrespectful and you really, really don’t want to get on their bad side.