I like to fancy myself a breadmaker. I love the image that it conjures up, which is essentially me in a Nancy Meyers film...wearing cool and summery linen, sweeping flour across a wooden board, an oven emanating deliciously yeasty smells, and spreading jam on a thick slice of freshly baked loaf. I want this in my life but the hard fact is that I am an artistic cook who employs less method than madness and baking requires science as well as art.
There’s a more virtuous side to my desire to make my own bread as well, and that’s to ensure that my family is eating as clean as possible, using good quality (and local, where possible) ingredients. I’m consistently surprised by how long and unfamiliar the ingredient list can be on store-bought bread and it’s a wonderful feeling knowing that what’s popping out of my oven may not be the perfect shape, texture or color, but it’s delicious and made of only flour, water and sea salt.
My results have not been consistent, but over weeks of practice and testing various recipes, I have proudly managed to serve up some heavenly slices of toast. I'm going to share my lessons-learned; key tips; and recipes with you in hopes that your path to great sourdough is slightly smoother than mine!
I was initially inspired by local blogger and friend, Naomi at The Mum Project and she was kind enough to socially distantly drop off some of her sourdough starter and recommend a recipe that she was successfully using, Baked the Blog's Everyday No-Knead Sourdough Bread.
I spent a few days researching how to feed and store my starter and landed on keeping it outside of my fridge for daily use, which meant feeding it daily. There's a lot of fodder out there on how best to feed your starter, but I've landed on the following mix for both daily feeds and (1) weekly feed when storing it in the fridge:
1/4 Cup Sourdough Starter
1/4 Cup Room-temperature Water
1/4 Cup White Flour *Discard remainder of starter; add the water; stir in the starter; stir in the flour and loosely cover.
My sourdough was active - you can tell because it's bubbly and increases in size following each feed - but my dough would. not. rise. The frustration was real. After days of researching reasons why bread won't rise, I decided the temperature of my home was the causal factor. Bread rises best at about 71 degrees farenheit. So I stored my sourdough in the warmest place I could find: our hot press (note: a hot press in Ireland is the water tank closet and is typically located in a bathroom or hallway). If like me, your home is on the chillier side, consider:
Warming up your oven, turning it off, and popping the rising bread in.
Using a proofing basket vs. a bowl.
Finding a sunny spot.
Whatever you do, make sure to drape a damp dishtowel over the bowl to keep your dough moist.
Now that I've managed some loaves of bread, I'm looking at different ways to use up my starter discards, including sourdough pancakes and starter in place of active yeast in No Big Bites' receipe for Whole Wheat Artisan Bread.