Sunday, 15 April 2018

The not-so secret secret of Sourdough

I've been struggling to get my dough-mo-jo back recently. I got out of the habit of baking regularly when my mother-in-law got ill and then died. I used to make bread for everyone: about six or seven loaves of a Sunday, and it was good bread too, mainly sourdough. 

Once I got out of a routine though I seemed to lose the knack. Just over the last few weeks though my bread has been improving and I've kick started the sourdough. 

I wrote the blog post below quite some time ago; it features my late mother-in-law - I hope my stealing her heat pad didn't hasten her demise (read on and you decide!)... 

Culturing sourdough is easy, so why does much of the advice about it sound like a cross between necromancy and alchemy?

Why does sourdough seem so difficult?

Most amateur bakers have their own bread-bible for guidance, mine is Andrew Whiteley's Bread Matters, Dan Leopard's True Loaf is another, the sourdough starter recipes are consistently simple, here's one:

-Some organic wholemeal Rye Flour
-Some water
-Nature (or science if you prefer)

If you think I'm being flippant I apologise. In truth I struggled to get a starter going at first but the reasons were simple.

Let's go back to the recipe and consider each ingredient:

Organic wholemeal rye flour -sourdough relies on natural yeasts in the air and flour to give it life. Therefore the freer your flour is from artificial messing about the better chance you have of seeing some life from it.

Water - again the cleaner and purer the better, if your tap water doesn't have chlorine in it all the better (chlorine's there to kill bugs, we want to encourage them). Our water is chlorinated - it still works ok
Nature (or science) - yeasts multiply best between 28-32 degrees centigrade (apparently).
This was where my error lay. Time after time I'd mix a gloopy slop and wait for bubbles to form, sniffing tentatively and hoping for that tell-tale fruity tang that let's you know the yeasty blighters are reproducing.

Again and again it either dried up or went mouldy.

I returned to bread- guru Whiteley's advice and it struck me: consistent temperature.
I set about searching for a consistently warm place, but with no hot water tank, drew a blank.

Then I had a eureka moment: this was very similar to brewing. I investigated a variety of brewer's heat pads, which all looked promising. Then I remembered my mum-in-law's arthritis. All that remained was to whip the fleecy heating pad from her feeble grip and we were set.

It works a treat.

What? Her arthritis?... Err...
Anyway I have had a sourdough going for months now. So long as I use it and refresh it once a week, replacing old with new each time, it delivers vigorous, bubbly life to my loaves every time.

(The only secret is to make sure the Moon is in Gemini when you start your culture, that and the naked goat-dance in the garden.)