Sourdough September...lessons learnt with Well+Life+Tribe's Deena...

As it’s Sourdough September we have asked Well+Life+Tribe self-confessed dabbler, Deena, to share her experiences tackling sourdough bread baking!

So I think most of us know by now why sourdough is considered a better bread for us to eat ... but if not ... firstly, home baking means you control what’s going into it, it won’t last as long as that super soft preservative-laden loaf from the supermarket but your house will smell divine! Secondly, and most importantly, sourdough is made with a culture of yeasts and beneficial bacteria. So where that shop bought commercial loaf is made with bakers yeast as it’s rising agent, a sourdough bread is made with a sourdough starter. Basically let a mixture of flour and water sit out for approximately five days to let the mixture ferment, which means let it get a bit fizzy, bubbly and smelly, then you know you have a live culture. Mix that with some bread flour of your choice and away you go ... sounds easy right .... how wrong could I be!

Bizarrely during lockdown I didn’t bake more so I’m still very much a novice... my starter has been sitting in the fridge for months now ... but I can share some of the many mistakes I made and my three beginner tips!

Mistake number one - I read too many different recipes with different quantities and different methods, watched too many different videos ... from the Happy Pear Boys and Patrick Ryan to complete strangers who had happened to post on YouTube about their own methods and quantities. My head was well and truly muddled!

Mistake number two - I really didn’t plan well. I’d make my sourdough starter and then, when it was ready, not have time to make the dough and rest and proof it. I now know they are super hardy and can go in the fridge until time permits! Also unless it can walk off your worktop on it’s own don’t throw it away, it can be rescued!

Mistake number three - I messed around with the flours... white, rye, wholewheat, spelt ... but it’s really best to get to know one flour first and keep repeating that recipe until you’ve really mastered it.

So here are my beginners top tips for sourdough bread baking...

Top tip 1 - bake some bread with dry or fresh yeast first, get the feel for it, practice the kneading and get the feel of the dough. It will help when it comes to sourdough

Tip 2 - stick with one method and recipe, don’t google too many different methods, you will end up super confused like me. Repeat that same recipe until you can do it in your sleep

Tip 3 - plan, and time it well, make sure that when your starter is going to be ready you have some time over the next 24-48 hours to really concentrate on the schedule of dough making, kneading, resting and proofing, according to your chosen recipe. But also remember the fridge is your friend if you want to pause

And remember don’t get disheartened when your loaf comes out flat, solid and resembling a brick ... we’ve all been there, well I have, and it makes it all the more satisfying when you get it right!

Plus nothing beats the aroma of freshly baked sourdough bread!

Try this simple novice baker recipe ...

For the sourdough starter

  • Mix 50g rye flour and 50g water in a jar with a lid resting on top or a muslin cloth over it. Leave it for 5-7 days.

  • Keep feeding it every 24 hours with 1-2 tbsp of rye flour and 1-2 tbsp of water until you have the amount you need for the recipe and some leftover.

  • Take 150g of the sourdough culture and mix with 250ml water and then 250g strong white bread flour, add 1 tbsp of brown sugar and 1 tbsp of sea salt

  • knead for a good ten minutes until it is a rough dough

  • Let rest for 12 hours or overnight in a lightly oiled bowl with cling film and a tea towel over the top

  • On a floured surface fold the dough over itself

  • Then gently knock into the shape of the proofing basket

  • Put lots of flour all around the proofing basket so the dough doesn't stick and leave to proof again until doubled in size (again time varies depending on temperatures but approximately 2 hours)

  • Preheat the oven and baking stone, or tray, to 225C

  • Place a bowl of water in the oven to create steam

  • When the dough has doubled in size carefully remove it from the proofing basket onto the hot baking stone, or tray, score the top with a sharp knife, turn the oven down to 200C and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown

  • Remove from oven, tip out and tap the bottom, it will sound hollow when cooked

  • Leave to cool on a wire rack for 20 mins before serving some delicious salty butter!

NB: If you find a sourdough starter recipe which calls for some of your starter to be "discarded" feel free to remove it, but please don't actually throw it away ... there are loads of things you can do with it - delicious pancakes for starters!