One of my great weaknesses is my love of bread, in any shape or form. A particular favourite is sourdough which is fortuitous as this delicious bread seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance. Apparently we can’t get enough of it and practically every artisanal bakery from here to John O’Groats is offering their own range of sourdough loaves to meet this increasing demand.
The interesting thing is that bread production has required the use of sourdough as a leavening agent for most of human history and this method substantially predates the use of baker’s yeast- which is a relative youngster dating back only a mere 150 years or so.
For me a major attraction of sourdough is that it is one of the oldest and most natural methods of making bread. It begins life with a starter- which is basically a fermented mixture of flour and water that harnesses wild yeasts. It can take several days to ferment during which time it needs to be fed daily with equal quantities of flour and water. Until I started to research sourdough I didn’t know that it was an important means of survival for miners living in the unhospitable conditions of the Gold Rush where they protected their valuable starters during the cold winter months by storing them close to their bodies.
It’s grappling with the starter that some find off putting and it has often been likened to caring for a small child. It’s true that it does need a bit of nurturing but only in the sense of feeding it regularly- no more hassle really than watering the plants. As you move through the process of breathing life into your starter you will start to build a relationship with it and may even find yourself giving it a name. I’m planning on calling mine Enid. Although you can purchase commercial starters the wonderful thing about making your own starter in your own kitchen is that your bread will be totally unique to you.
It’s true that that making your own sourdough isn’t a speedy process, but the fermentation and long proving time are all part and parcel of what makes this particular bread so satisfying and delicious- after all good things come to those who wait. To make it seem less drawn out one can always prove the dough in the fridge overnight ready for baking the next day. If you need any more convincing to have a go, what’s not to like about a fabulous loaf that keeps well without the aid of any additives and that is much easier to digest than a standard loaf (the lactic acids in the bread lower it’s glycaemic index and render the gluten more digestible)?
Moreover there are a hundred and one uses should you have any leftovers- try using them for panzanella, bruschetta or toasted, seasoned sourdough crumbs- gorgeous for sprinkling over cauliflower cheese or pasta dishes. If that’s not enough of an encouragement think of the money to be saved- an artisanal loaf can easily cost upwards of £3.00 because of the investment of time- yet the ingredients themselves cost pennies.
There are countless starter and sourdough recipes available on the Internet but if your interest has been piqued I would definitely recommend investing in a reliable book, “The Sourdough School” by Vanessa Kimbell is excellent as is “The Bourke Street Bakery Book” by Paul Allam. I do hope that some of you reading this article will have a go, please do feel free to post your pictures on our social media sites- I’d love to see how you get on.
Check our other ‘Bread Blog’ here!