Sunday, 22 August 2010

Sourdough - The (not so) Secret

Culturing sourdough is easy, so why does much of the advice about it sound like a cross between necromancy and alchemy?

Why does sourdough seem so difficult?

Most amateur bakers have their own bread-bible for guidance, mine is Andrew Whiteley's Bread Matters, Dan Leopard's True Loaf is another, the sourdough starter recipes are consistently simple, here's one:

Some organic wholemeal Rye Flour
Some water
Nature (or science if you prefer)

If you think I'm being flippant I apologise. In truth I struggled to get a starter going at first but the reasons were simple.

Let's go back to the recipe and consider each ingredient:

Organic wholemeal rye flour -sourdough relies on natural yeasts in the air and flour to give it life. Therefore the freer your flour is from artificial messing about the better chance you have of seeing some life from it.

Water - again the cleaner and purer the better, if your tap water doesn't have chlorine in it all the better (chlorine's there to kill bugs, we want to encourage them). Our water is chlorinated - it still works ok.

Nature (or science) - yeasts multiply best between 28-32 degrees centigrade (apparently).

This was where my error lay. Time after time I'd mix a gloopy slop and wait for bubbles to form, sniffing tentatively and hoping for that tell-tale fruity tang that let's you know the yeasty blighters are reproducing.

Again and again it either dried up or went mouldy.

I returned to bread- guru Whiteley's advice and it struck me: consistent temperature.

I set about searching for a consistently warm place, but with no hot water tank, drew a blank.

Then I had a eureka moment: this was very similar to brewing. I investigated a variety of brewer's heat pads, which all looked promising. Then I remembered my mum-in-law's arthritis. All that remained was to whip the fleecy heating pad from her feeble grip and we were set.

It works a treat.

What? Her arthritis?... Err...

Anyway I have had a sourdough going for months now. So long as I use it and refresh it once a week, replacing old with new each time, it delivers vigorous, bubbly life to my loaves every time.

(The only secret is to make sure the Moon is in Gemini when you start your culture; that and the naked goat-dance in the garden.)
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Posted via email from stevencroft's posterous


Bill Blunt said...

It's a brave man who makes his bread with sourdough, Crofty, and my hat is forever tipped in admiration to you. I've not progressed beyond Whitley's old dough method yet, but it's served me proud. I always have a batch of it in the fridge, and the wonderful tangy aroma when I open the tub is a wonder to behold.
My own bread has improved beyond bounds since I moved house and bought a new gas cooker - the old electric one just didn't deliver the temperature!
Long may you bake, my friend!

Crofty said...

Good to hear from you Bill. Glad to see us old stalwarts are still around. Have you seen the Campaign for Real Bread? They certainly seem to have the right idea.
By the way, have you ventured into Twitter at all - I'm @crofty

Crofty said...

...adds comment because he forgot to tick the 'e-mail follow up' box.

Katherine said...

Ah. Now I know where I was going wrong. As I don't have an arthritic human relative, I'll have to steal the pad from under the dog... Sourdough bread has such a lovely flavour! Or should that be sourdogh bread?
Thank you for the recipe Crofty.

- Another old stalwart.

Anonymous said...

Cool web site, I hadn't come across before in my searches!
Continue the great work!

Crofty said...

Thanks Katherine and anonymous, I don't get here as often as I'd like these days so I appreciate your comments.

John said...

Wow i love you blog its awesome nice colors you must have did hard work on your blog. Keep up the good work. Thanks

Bill said...

Update: I made my first batch of sourdough bread at the weekend, using a starter kindly donated to me by a fellow in West Kirby. I keep it on the window ledge in my not exceptionally warm kitchen, and feed it on a spoonful of flour a day, with a little tap water. It seems to be thriving nicely.
And the bread was very tasty, too, and keeps very well.
I think sourdough starter is reasonably robust, and can even be refridgerated and revived later.
But I still keep a batch of old dough in the fridge, and will use that to mix with the sourdough when I next bake.
Hope you're well, Crofty!

Anonymous said...

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Cafty thank you for your recipe. My recipe involves an automobile, gas and supermarket so this is a welcomed change.
One thing, when you say you replace, you mean you start afresh or you mix a lil old dough with the new.