A series of recipes for this lockdown would not be complete without including sourdough. It seems like the entire country is making bread at the moment, but it’s not due to lack of it on the supermarket shelves, I think it is due to boredom more than anything else. We are spending more time confined indoors than ever before, and baking is an excellent way to occupy one’s self. It’s pretty satisfying, too, to be able to create something as beautiful and delicious as a loaf of sourdough bread.
My sourdough journey started after a visit to my aunt, who makes award-winning bread. Using a sample of her starter as a basis, after a few attempts I achieved reasonable successes. The bread was not quite like the glorious loaves you can buy in artisan bakeries, but it was OK. After three years of making mediocre bread, through numerous experiments and variations on the original recipe, I had a bastardised version of my aunt’s recipe that I was becoming more and more dissatisfied with. I was determined to improve the quality of my loaf, so I decided to broaden my horizons and do some research. I bought the book Super Sourdough, by James Morton; a former Great British Bake Off winner. It was highly acclaimed.
This book has literally revolutionised my breadmaking. I began again from scratch, starting with throwing my existing sourdough starter in the bin (one of the points James makes in the book is that he doesn’t understand the strange obsession people have with their sourdough starters, being proud to have used the same one for years on end. There is no reason for this, they are very easy to create from scratch, and he has had dozens of them, experimenting with different flours and different fruit juices). That was 6 months ago, and now my bread is almost indistinguishable from the professional artisan variety that you can buy in your local neighbourhood bakery. I couldn’t be happier.
I’ve deliberately omitted any recipe from this blog post. I could, arguably, put James Morton’s recipe here, with the minor modifications I’ve made for it (I make the dough a bit wetter, and add linseed), but it wouldn’t be feasible for me to write down instructions for creating this bread in the format of a blog post. I would need to copy out most of the book (the recipe I’ve been using, for the standard rye-wheat sourdough loaf, is 33 pages long). Even with a 33-page immensely detailed recipe, it took me 6 months to get even close to a point of mastery. The reality is, there are so many contributing factors to sourdough bread that it’s almost impossible to prescribe a method that is guaranteed to work every time. The book teaches you the fundamental principles and then guides you through the processes of autolysing, folding-and-stretching, proving, pre-shaping, shaping, scoring and, finally baking in a hot oven. It will likely take many attempts before you reach anywhere near perfection; in fact you will probably never get there, but I guarantee it’ll be a thoroughly enjoyable journey! I’m not being paid by James Morton for this blog post, but genuinely, if you want to make good quality sourdough bread at home, buy the book.