I’ve been fascinated with sourdough bread for ages but have never made any – well, I tried years ago with an oven that never got really hot so failed to make anything edible. The thought of leaving a bowl of flour and water in a warm place to collect the natural yeast in the air which will turn into something that will make bread rise seems unlikely to say the least but all those bakers who say it’s the only way must know something.
So I did just that for a few days and low and behold the mixture began to gently bubble. Then I started to feed this new living being in my kitchen and within two days I had a jar of bubbling, sweetly-smelling leaven, all ready to make a loaf.
Everything I read about the bread making said how wet and unmanageable the dough is, so I prepared myself for a dreadful mess. I needn’t have worried. Using my enormous stainless steel mixing bowl I was able to mix and kneed without having to throw the whole sticky, gooey mess onto the work surface. I followed instructions to the letter, leaving the dough in a coolish place overnight, then kneeding again the next morning, letting it rest and finally shaping it and putting it into a specially purchased (at great expense) banneton for it to prove for the last time. The oven was lit, the pizza stone heating through, a Stanley knife blade at the ready to slash the top before spraying water onto the dough, closing the oven door and trying to walk away!
I have to say the stress levels were rising. My usual bread making, using dried yeast, producing 4 loaves and which happens about every ten days or so, suddenly seemed so quick and easy. At one stage when I was yet again kneeding or shaping, T came in for coffee and asked how many loaves I was making. ”Just the one”, I replied!
But what a one! As I knelt in front of the oven door,watching this great, round, golden loaf growing I realised what all the fuss was about. It looked amazing. And the best part? It tastes better than any bread I have ever made – crusty on the outside with a chewy, sweet dough. My starter, leaven, call it what you will, is having a rest at the moment in the pantry and will be coming out next week, re-awakened, fed and put to use again. Meanwhile, I have to find a smaller banneton or something – it’s a pretty big loaf for just the two of us !
And if anyone wants some leaven, which has a surprisingly sweet, apple smell, I have plenty.