|A gratuitous picture of a loaf of sourdough, baked this morning|
I get asked, a lot, if sourdough bread is hard to make. I am tempted to say “really hard” to make myself look clever but the truth is, it isn’t.
Sourdough seems uniquely complicated amongst bread baking. I don’t know if it’s purposely shrouded in mystery. I know that it took me about two years to finally get down to it, to be brave enough to try, as it seemed magical and mystical. It is, but it isn’t difficult. The hardest thing about sourdough baking is being mentally ready.
Because once you have a good starter going, sourdough baking is almost bomb proof.
I bake sourdough about three times a week. Mostly I bake this bread, which is half wholemeal and half white.
Although I only bake half of the amount in that recipe, so 500g of flour, 200g levain (starter), 333g of water and I’ve got the salt down to just one teaspoon.
I divide the dough up to prove over two baton shaped bannetons so I have bread for two bakes. The bread in the picture above was proved in one of those bannetons.
It’s easy. The hard bit with sourdough, in terms of faff, has always been the starting off of it. Once I’ve weighed it out and refreshed the starter I know I need to be relatively close for the first three kneads (ten mins apart) and not too far for the one that requires a 30 minute rest. But after that I can do the school run or go out or do whatever. If I know I’m not going to be back in time – be really ages – then I put it in the fridge, and when I get back, simply bring it back to room temperature and take up where I left off.
You could never do that with bread with commercial yeast, because the yeast would get exhausted.
I’ve had a sourdough loaf going over three days.
Various people have said to me that they want to try sourdough baking. Instead of abstemious resolutions that make you feel miserable (isn’t January miserable enough?) try a resolution that will make you feel really good. With a good loaf you always have a meal. And when everyone else is out panic buying because it might snow, you can be smug knowing that with your starter, some flour, water and salt you can turn those tins of stock-piled baked beans into something really glorious.