This is not going to be another post about how to make sourdough bread. There are more than enough of those on the internet and by far more experienced sourdough bakers than myself. This is just me sharing a few tips and resources when you want to make your first sourdough bread loaf. Also, since I made my first two loaves recently and made some reference to this on social media, I have been flooded with questions. I get the impression there is a lot of insecurity (like I had) around the making of sourdough so I want to help you through this.
I read Tartine twice. Once years ago, when I got the book, and again recently when I wanted to start making it. On both occasion it was overwhelming. In case you don’t know, Tartine is probably the best book ever written on the subject although I haven’t read any others. The author Chad Robertson is an absolute master of this craft which he perfected over years in multiple countries. The book is a work of art and highly recommended. It kind of leaves you feeling that making sourdough is too complicated and nuanced to achieve, but I urge you to not be like me, and just get right to it. I read instructions, watched a video and Insta stories from two people and this helped it make more sense. It turns out both my resources use almost identical recipes and methods, with a few minor differences here and there and they are both based on the Tartine recipe, so it felt like I was really in the right place. I wish I had jumped in earlier.
I got given my starter by a friend from Twitter who makes excellent sourdough. He is one of my resources I will share shortly. I picked it up the day before we went on lockdown and on my way back from the Baking Tin where I picked up some supplies. I didn’t want to take any chances by making my own starter from scratch and then be locked in with a failure. I was all set, but very unsure and intimidated by this living thing I needed to feed each day. And boy does it need a lot of feeding. On week 2 I hit pause and put it in my fridge for a week, brought it back to life on week 3, fed it for 3 days and then started the process the day after.
I like everything broken down in bullet points and loved Ed Kimber’s timeline for the process starting at 9 am. My dough didn’t feel quite ready after the bulk fermentation, so I trusted my instinct and let it sit in my kitchen for about 4 more hours before shaping it and putting it in the fridge.
I know all the terminology is so confusing in the beginning. I’m a very experienced cook and baker and even I couldn’t get my head around levain, autolyse, bulk fermentation, percentage hydration, shaping and folding in the beginning, and how each of these sat in the process. It all totally makes sense once you start baking.
Here is what I suggest you do and do not be a fool like me with a fear of failure.
- Dive right in because the only way to truly understand anything is by doing it.
- Get a starter from someone with a successful strong one as this eliminates some risk. By taking the making of the starter out the equation you are already out the gates. If you really want to make your own starter from scratch, then read this and this and this.
- Don’t get too hung about when to feed it but it is a good idea to do it at the same time every day (I didn’t stick to this at all). Read this article about a person who skips the pre-fermentation stage and takes the starter right out her fridge.
- It’s ok to let it sleep in the fridge for a week and it’s also ok to freeze it (I have some in the freezer to test this theory out at some stage)
- Start looking for recipes to turn the starter you discard every day into other things, and I can highly recommend these waffles. I’m planning on pizza dough, scones and other kinds of bread soon.
- The temperature of the room your starter sits in and the types of flour will play a role in how your starter performs. Some say using more natural flours work best and rye is better, so I tried both.
- I made one loaf with the starter I pre-fermented and used more natural flour and it tasted the best. My second loaf was made with straight-up starter and Snowflake cake flour and it was way more alive, bouncy and soft but not quite as delicious. I used all the correct ratios too, just different flour and stage of starter.
- The TOP TIP on the starter and discard is got the jars you want to wash into water immediately and soak. The discard starter forms into the most intense glue as soon as it dries which I’m sure would be a viable building material.
Read this blog post by Ed Kimber ‘The Boy who bakes’ and he has a great video. His timeline is very useful.
Also, check out EnthusiastKitchen on Instagram and he has a series in his story highlights which are great and super easy to follow.
I did 6 x folds as per EK and then felt the one loaf wasn’t quite ready for the overnight rest in the fridge so I let it sit on my kitchen for 4 more hours in the evening and I think that helped.
I baked loaf one the next day on schedule and the second loaf I let rest in the fridge for another night and it was fine.
I only had one round cane banneton basket so for loaf 2 I lined a bowl with a kitchen towel, dusted it with rice flour and let it chill in that (also covered) and this was fine too.
These two recourses will get you going on how to make a good sourdough loaf without overwhelming you.
In terms of equipment, there is a long list but you most probably have most of this already. I baked mine in a large cast-iron lidded pot (Le Creuset type). You will need a digital scale, a few glass jars to store and feed your starter in. If you don’t have a lame, use a very sharp knife or make your own with a blade and a chopstick. You might want to make very cool signature patterns on your bread so you could also make a bread lame easily using a stick or chopstick.
Good luck on your sourdough journey and I’m sure like me you will be hooked once you see your gorgeous crusty baby come out the oven. Make sure you don’t cut it immediately. This is important. I’m now a member of a sourdough bakers’ group on Facebook and quite frankly it’s giving me life. What a lovely community of bakers all sharing pictures and techniques about sourdough bread.
Please share any top tips or resources the comments
If you want a few more, check out these excellent resources too.
Delicious things to make with your sourdough bread:
- French onions soup
- Toasted Cheddar cheese with buttery leeks
- Croque madame with spinach & smoked salmon
- Fried egg on avo toast with spinach & mushrooms
- Mushroom ragout on baked oven toast
- French toast with miso & Parmesan
If you think sourdough bread baking is for the crazy mixed-up kids, check out these few easy bread recipes as an alternative:
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