Baking is pretty fashionable at the minute following the huge success of The Great British Bake Off, so naturally I’ve avoided it like the plague for the past few years. Plus I’m not one for biscuits and cake, apart from the chocolate and cola cake I’ve whipped up for a few birthdays over the years.
But when I found out that sourdough is much better for those with gluten intolerance, I started buying it. Unfortunately my husband Alex is inflicted with the dreaded gluten intolerance (not just because he’s a hipster) and it did seem to be much better for him.
Unlike sliced breads, a good sourdough loaf is robust, chewy and crusty, with just a hint of sourness. It’s perfect for gooey cheese on toast, for eating when still warm from the oven with creamy salted butter and also makes awesome breadcrumbs for the best fish fingers you’ve ever eaten. However, the price is frankly eye-watering, and by the time it has been delivered, it’s gone stale and is only good for toast really. So I set out to make my own. After all, how hard could it be?
Sourdough uses wild yeast as opposed to the shop-bought stuff. Instead of dried yeast, recipes call for ‘sourdough starter’. The technique for making it involves leaving the bread for longer to rise. The extra time allows for the fermentation process which does away with those nasty gluten molecules that cause Alex so many issues.
I’m lucky enough to have got some sourdough starter from the lovely people at Farm Bistro in Harrogate. This excellent family-run restaurant makes their own sourdough bread. My friend Trev raves about it, buying his bread exclusively from them (because he is a hipster). Vanora, one of the owners, kindly donated a jar of her starter, giving me instructions to feed it overnight and bake in the morning.
Feeding a starter involves giving it a tasty treat of 50/50 water and flour. I fed the mixture to my jar of beige goop, left it in the pantry on top of the fridge and went to bed. In the morning, I was met by a lovely, bubbly, boozy-smelling starter – all ready to go.
My first attempt at baking was a straightforward white loaf. I checked out a range of recipes online, all which offer a variety of different ways of making sourdough, and bodged them all together to make my bread. They all had a variety of techniques in common so I kept those and ignored others. What can I say, I’m adventurous.
The first thing that all the recipes had in common was a first rising stage called the autolyse. This stage helps the dough to become a little more elastic and stretchy, making it much easier to work with.
There are lots of kneading and no-knead recipes to choose from and many of the simple ones are no knead. However, I quite like the bouncy feel of kneading bread, so I decided that I’d knead mine.
Sourdough bread can be left to rise either in the fridge or out of it, anywhere from four hours to overnight. I made my bread in the evening and left it on top of the fridge as that is one of the warmest spots in my usually ice cold kitchen.
Simple Sourdough Loaf
500g strong white flour
100g sourdough starter
Pinch of salt
Butter for greasing the tin
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl
Leave to rise for an hour
Turn out and knead for 10 – 15 minutes on floured surface
Place in greased loaf tin
Leave overnight to rise
In the morning, preheat oven to 220
Bake for an hour
Leave bread to cool on baking rack
My first loaf had an excellent crumb, which is the white part of the bread. Not too dry, not too wet, and also not too full of holes which I sometimes find with some of the shop-bought sourdough. The crust was crusty and not chewy, although a little tough after a day. The dough had risen a little too much over night, giving it a strange mushroom shape, but this didn’t impact the taste. However, because I had left it to rise for such a long time, it did have a very sour flavour which I managed to offset with copious amounts of Nutella.
Having done a little more research, I wouldn’t leave my loaf to rise for as long again, unless I was pairing it with a sweet cheese like Norwegian brown cheese, brunost. I’m also going to consider adding a little steam to the oven to help keep the crust a little softer.
I’m definitely excited to try more loaves, maybe experimenting with flavours like parmesan and olive, or cinnamon and raisin to make up for the fact that Alex can’t eat the bagels that I mostly live on.
Until next time!