“Put very simply, sourdough is made by mixing flour milled from the whole grain – dark rye or wholemeal, say – with water and leaving it for a few days until you see the first pinhead-sized bubble of life, as the yeast cells and bacteria exhale and start to puff tiny pockets of carbon dioxide into the mixture.” (Dan Lepard, baker, food writer and more)
This potent wild yeast mixture is sometimes known as the “mother”… otherwise plainly called the “starter”. The starter is what imparts the flavour and bubbles that go to making sour dough bread.
And this is the beginning.
Inspired by a visit to a friend, Randy, who lives in Nottingham, England, my partner Bob decided to try his hand at making sour dough bread. And so he started with the starter, which bubbled away quietly but was fed regularly.
It was mixed with good quality organic flour, left, fed and fed again. From this a “sponge” was made by mixing the starter with flour and water. The sponge is also known as the leaven.
Add more flour to the sponge and then there is sticky dough.
And more sticky dough.
And more dough. Perhaps it was too sticky?
So there was more dough proving.
And there was more bread.
There were breads of different shapes. There was even bread in our freezer.
Some loaves lacked salt. Others were too dense. Some looked like cake.
The smells of bread proving and bread baking wafted through our apartment. This must have made our neighbours very jealous.
This dough looked right!
Given enough time, it was worked into a shape that could be pulled into a loaf .
The loaf was placed into a basket to prove.
It rested, and then rose and rose again.
Bob placed the dough on a heated pizza stone and made a couple of slashes on top of the dough: this is also called “scoring”. Breaking the surface of the dough creates a weak spot in the bread as it expands and prevents the bread from splitting. It also helps to make the bread attractive.
The loaf looked great in our oven.
SUCCESS….and it was just right.
Bob’s passion for bread making began in a kitchen in Nottingham.
Randy has adapted recipes from Dan Lepard’s book, The Handmade Loaf.
He uses a basket with a liner to prove his bread. It is heavily coated with flour.
Randy is no ordinary bread maker.
He is Randy of the Bagel Boys who once baked great bread in North Adelaide.
This is before he went to live in Nottingham. Now he bakes good bread for himself, his household and his house guests in his kitchen.
While the bread making demonstration went on, one of the dogs slept. She’s used to this baking.
Randy uses a Le Creuset cast iron saucepan to bake the bread. It starts off with a lid. The lid is removed towards the end of baking so that the top of the bread can brown. Here is the bread in the oven. It is nearly ready.
As you would expect, Randy has perfection every time.
Thank you Randy for the demonstration in your kitchen and all of the tutorials and the bread-making advice you provided to Bob by email from Nottingham to our apartment in Melbourne.
And you are correct Randy, bread making is just practice, persistence and patience.
No doubt, Bob will make more bread in our kitchen.
In baking my loaves, I have adapted the recipes and techniques of my friend and long-time baker, Randy Barber the former Bagel Boy, with that of sourdough virtuoso Dan Lepard, followed by some further advice from a book by Yoke Mardewi, particularly in relation to creating and maintaining the starter, and topping it all off by watching a Youtube video published by Danny McCubbin which showed off the techniques of his baking buddy, Hugo Harrison.
After all that, I’ve got to say my baking is still a work-in-progress, every loaf I’ve turned out so far is something of a surprise, mostly pleasant.
My latest effort was closest to what I’ve seen Randy do in his Nottingham (UK) kitchen.
First, I created a “sponge” made from:
200g of starter
250g of quality white flour
325g of natural spring water
I left the sponge to mature overnight.
The next morning, I added:
330g of flour [ultimately, I think I could have added a little more]
2 teaspoons of salt
I mixed this by hand and let it rest in the bowl for 10 minutes.
I next went through a sequence of mixing, by pulling the dough over itself (here the McCubbin/Harrison Youtube video was instructive) and resting it for 10 minutes another two times.
Then, I turned, pulled and slapped the dough together on an oiled surface for several minutes before letting it rest for 30 minutes.
I repeated the turning, slapping and pulling process, before letting it rest for another hour.
Next step, I turned the dough out onto a floured work-surface, where I did the traditional folding into thirds and turning process, until using the technique demonstrated by Harrison, I worked the dough into a loaf shape which I gently placed in a floured proving basket.
I left that to double in size. When it had risen, I preheated the oven and a pizza stone to about 230°C. Other times, I’ve used a Le Creuset casserole dish. I gently up-ended the proving basket to tip the loaf on to the heated pizza stone and returned it to the oven to bake for about 35-40 minutes above some water in tray for steam.
Once cooked, I left the loaf to cool on an oven rack.
There is much information from Dan Lepard about bread making on the web.
Dan Lepard’s book, The Handmade Loaf, contains many illustrations and step by step recipes.
This link for making sourdough bread is from The Guardian: