The benefits of consuming a bread made with a sourdough starter (natural yeast) as opposed to instant yeast are numerous.
This old practice of bread making has now risen in popularity so much so that even Coles and Woolies claim to sell sourdough breads. Although how authentic they are definitely leaves room for doubt.
For about the 5th time now, I am embarking on a sourdough bread journey. For those familiar with the process you will know that it is not one for the faint-hearted and can be filled with frustration and disappointment. But when that magical loaf of bread emerges from the oven; one with a golden crust, not to crunchy and not to thick, with a centre that is springy and filled with bubbles and a taste that is just sour enough to taste authentic but not so sour that you think you are sucking on a lemon…when that happens, I IMAGINE it is all worthwhile. So no, it has not yet happened for me. This time though, I intend for it all to turn out well because this time, I believe I have in my possession a good starter and enough mistakes under my belt to know what NOT to do.
Up until now, I have cultivated my own starters. They have been very temperamental and I have never been sure whether they are healthy or not. This, combined with my interpretations of mixed information has resulted in many “door-stop” style loaves of bread. That is, they are heavy, dense and hard to stomach. Often way too sour as well. I had all but given up until I happened to notice a box of 120yr old dehydrated German sourdough starter on the shelves of Wray Organics. My interest was renewed. Maybe I could try just one more time. The price of the loaves I have been buying from sourdough bakers, coupled with the amount my family consumes, is high enough that I really do need to try. So I bought the starter and followed the instructions that came with it to the letter, leaving no room for failure. I am happy to say that it produced the most healthy looking bubbly starter I have ever had the pleasure to lay eyes on.
A friend, then happened to loan me a book on making all different types of sourdough breads: Discovering Sourdough, by Teresa L. Hosier Greenway. It is a great book that goes into plenty of detail and sets out a number of recipes at “beginner, intermediate and advanced” levels. Already I feel I have learned so much! I decided to share what I have learned to hopefully save others the disappointments that I have encountered.
So far I have made a delicious batch of flatbreads which were very easy. They were just a little sour, stretchy enough to be like the bought ones and had that nice pocket in the middle.
The following day, I made a fruit loaf: hot cross bun style dough made in one big tin. Unfortunately it burned on top (a common problem I have when baking bread). However, the inside was perfect which is so much further along than I have ever been before. So here is a summary of what I have found so far that accounts for my many failures in the past.
- When feeding the starter, it is important to discard some of the existing starter in order to stop it going too sour. In fact if you want your dough to be only slightly sour, keep only a little of the original starter and feed it a larger amount of fresh flour and water.
- The fresher the flour, the better and the more active the starter will become (a thermomix is handy here so you can grind your own flour).
- The autolyse period is imperative: that is allowing the dough to rest before adding the salt. This helps to develop a superior, more manageable dough.
- Patience, patience and more patience to wait for the dough to ferment and rise. A good loaf of sourdough will take at least a day to create – sometimes the creation begins the night before if you do a pre-ferment.
- When baking the bread, the best way to create a softer crust is to spray the dough before putting it into the oven and leave it covered for 20 minutes with some sort of lid or bowl.
Next on my agenda is pizza bases for tonight and in the next few days I will try a regular loaf. (Don’t want to eat too much bread so it will be a gradual process). Still need to overcome the temperature problem though. Sourdough requires a high burst of temperature in order to get that fast rise and in fact is cooked throughout at higher temps, usually well over 200 degrees. Will keep you posted on that one.
For now, feel free to submit your comments and advice as this is one topic on which I am not very learned.