I’ve just woken my sourdough starter back up after a long nap in the fridge, which reminded me to mention this - my first go.
It took me about a week to get up the courage to begin the starter. The more you read about sourdough, the more intimidatingly impossible it seems. I won’t pretend the reality was a total walk in the park - I’d thought I wanted a dog, until I had to commit to twice-daily feeds of this creature - but I definitely don’t think it’s worth the hype.
I started off trying to follow this technique from the Guardian, courtesy of those slightly creepy, lispy Baker Brothers, but all the jar weighing and naming the monster seemed a bit full on. I then shifted to the River Cottage approach, which was refreshingly relaxed about the starter, but became off-putting at the proving and baking stage (spray bottles of water and a baker’s proving basket, really?!).
In the end I just learnt as I went and made a few useful discoveries in the process. The starter took a while to take off, which I found strange given that I was using real holier-than-thou, wholegrain, organic spelt flour. It turned out this was exactly the problem - the yeast that was growing never got the chance to thrive, because it was facing too much competition from new arrivals every time I fed it. Once I’d shifted to a basic strong white bread flour, everything started happening very fast. I was pretty gung-ho with feeding and it didn’t seem to have any negative impact, but the started definitely thrived better when I fed the same weight of flour and water.
I followed Hugh’s guidelines pretty closely when it came to baking, but instead of spraying the loaf with water I put a full roasting tin at the bottom of the oven. The crust was great, so it’s an approach I think I’ll stick with.
The flavour was exactly what I’d hoped for - really nice and sour. I had a couple of slices with avocado and cherry tomatoes which was an amazing combination. I think next time around I’ll add a bit of sugar, though, to give the yeast a little boost.
Sourdough’s more of a pet than a bread, with its morning and evening feeds and hours and hours of proving. But it’s definitely not the sensitive, tricky little thing it’s made out to be and the flavour more than compensates for the effort. Go try.