Over the last few months I have been valiantly attempting to make sourdough bread. I’ve spent days cultivating the starter culture, adding wholemeal rye flour and filtered water every six hours to feed it. After about a week, I had a lovely frothy starter, that looked just perfect.
My bread, however, wasn’t perfect. Despite my best efforts, it remains flat, and overly crusty. My parents were staying here at the time. Mum told me it was lovely on the day it was made, but next morning, for breakfast, she looked at me and asked “Do you have any good bread?” This told me everything I needed to know!
I kept reading my step by step guide, in the book Sourdough by Yoke Mardewi. It is a beautiful looking book. A real treasure trove of delicious food – bread, cakes, crumpets, muffins and more. Wonderful recipes and lush photographs. Problem is, each one takes almost a day to produce. Four to six hours of regeneration of the sourdough starter, approximately two to three hours of mixing and resting the dough, then the kneading and rising. Sometimes one rise, sometimes two – this can take from six to eight hours all up. The baking time varies, but is usually around an hour. All of this is standard stuff for sourdough bread making – now I realise why it is so expensive to buy.
Despondent, I considered throwing out the starter culture, but was stopped by a visiting friend. He had the same book, and joy of joys, he had also got the recipes to work well! An analysis revealed the problems I was having as twofold:
- The temperature here is too low. A humid temperature helps the dough to rise.
- I am not spraying enough water on the dough. The more water, the thinner the crust. It makes sense when you think about it. If the air is too dry, the surface of the dough dries out, and therefore can’t expand. This prevents the dough from rising. It also results in a very dry and thick crust.
Full of hope, I tried again. I placed my dough in the loungeroom, close to the wood heater, and sprayed it with water numerous times during the rising process. It had been a long day. I had risen at 5am to feed the starter, and by the time I was putting my loaf into the oven, it was 10:30pm. I pulled the first loaf out of the oven at 11:30pm and the second two loaves at 12:30am the following day.
How disappointing that they are still flat. The extra water did help to make the crust thinner, but I still felt like a chainsaw might be a better cutting implement than the bread knife. Once cut and toasted lightly, the bread was quite tasty, despite the small size.
So I will persist, but there are a few more problems to work through. Maybe I need to spray it with even more water? Maybe it is my kneading technique? Or perhaps, in the dead of Winter, it is still too cold for the dough to rise? If you have any tips, I’d love to know what else to try. I really want to be able to make delicious full sized loaves of sourdough bread. And I still think Yoke’s book is amazing. I’m sure the problem is with my technique.