What I learnt making lockdown sourdough

Yes, I am that much of a cliché. I saw the lockdown sourdough trend and I hopped right on it, making my own starter and everything. In fairness, this is something I’ve been curious to try for a while – seeing everyone else do it just gave me the push I needed!

Now, ordinarily when I’m writing a food post I would talk to you guys a little about how I found the process, what recipe I used and why I decided to make it, before giving you guys the recipe myself. However, this time is gonna be a little different, because the sourdough process is truly a whole thing.

Instead of giving you guys a complete recipe, I’m going to share with you the starter recipe I wish I’d used (more on that later) but still talk you through the actual bread making process. I learnt a lot along the way – and there’s a lot of things I wish I knew before embarking on this little bread journey – so hopefully those of you wanting to try out sourdough will find this somewhat helpful.

But please bear in mind that I’m a complete amateur when it comes to bread making – I’ll give you the tips that I found really useful or wish I’d known, but definitely go and do some more research before completely getting started (don’t worry, I’ll be giving you links along the way!).

So the thing I learnt very early on is that sourdough starter is really the thing that’s going to take over your life – you will constantly feel like an anxious parent and nothing else will matter in the days that you are building it up. The first place that I think I went wrong is not doing enough research into starters – I went with the first guide I found and just hoped for the best.

I’m actually not going to share the starter guide that I used because I truly think it was awful, and I’ll explain why. What I’ve learnt since developing my starter is that you generally feed it equal parts flour and water, eventually discarding as it starts to grow – now this guide didn’t do that. It made amazing looking starter in the first few days (day three starter was big, bubbly and beautiful), but it didn’t say to discard any until about day 5 and the water content was just too much.

In hindsight, I probably should have used day 3’s starter, but I wanted to follow the rules so I kept going with it until day 5. By this time it was basically drowning in water, so I did some research, fed it more flour, and it was ‘fine’ to use for making bread but if I didn’t have yeast it probably would have had a very poor rise.

The starter guide I wish I’d used (and the one I’ll be following from now on) is from King Arthur Flour, who have an entire guide on making sourdough which I found really useful. They also have an amazing post on maintaining a smaller amount of starter if you aren’t going to be baking with it constantly, which I’m hoping to try in the future. I would type out this starter recipe for you guys, but honestly they will be able to explain everything far better than I can, so just head on over to their post once you’ve finished reading this!

But yeah, definitely do your research before beginning a starter, because I didn’t and although it was usable, I really feel like I wasted a ton of flour on some pretty meh starter.

The only good photo I got of day 3 starter, but it was very funky and bubbly!

So now onto the actual bread. I, very stupidly, didn’t really look into a sourdough recipe until after I’d already begun my starter – another mistake I hope you guys learn from. After doing some research and learning that I had absolutely none of the equipment typically used in sourdough making, I settled on a beginners sourdough recipe, again from King Arthur Flour, which seemed easy enough to achieve as a first-timer.

This recipe didn’t call for a proofing basket (which I don’t have), a casserole dish/dutch oven (also a no), and included yeast in case your starter wasn’t quite up to scratch (which mine most certainly was not), so it was basically a saving grace. I also noticed that it was quite easy to manipulate this recipe to fit you and your schedule – not quite ready to bake? Give it a longer proof in the fridge. Want it to be more of a sandwich bread? Bake it in a loaf tin. I think this is truly a foolproof recipe that even the most inept baker would struggle to mess up.

I found the recipe really easy to follow, and also nice and fast too – after all the drama with the starter I just wanted the bread and I wanted it ASAP. The one thing I really wish I’d had was a lame to score with – none of my knives were sharp enough to do a really good job. I definitely want to try out a more traditional sourdough recipe in the future once I’ve bought all the kit, but I think for a first-timer bread this recipe is awesome – super easy and super delicious. So without further ado, here’s the recipe and instructions!

What you’ll need (makes 2 loaves):

  • 227g ripe sourdough starter
  • 340g lukewarm water
  • 1 to 2 tsp instant yeast (if your starter is pretty good only use 1, if it needs a little work use 2)
  • 2 1/2 tsp salt
  • 602g plain/all-purpose flour

How to make:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and then turn out onto a well-floured surface. Knead for 15 minutes, stretching, folding back over itself and turning 90º before repeating, in order to develop gluten within the dough. If you find that the dough is sticking to the surface then add a little more flour, however be conservative with how much you use as you can accidentally add too much flour to the dough, resulting in a tough, dense bread.
  2. Allow the dough to rise in a lightly oiled bowl, covering loosely with a floured tea towel or clingfilm. You want this to rise somewhere warm, so somewhere like the top of the fridge is ideal. Allow it to rise until it has doubled in size, about 90 minutes or so. If you find that your dough has doubled before the full time is up then don’t be afraid to use it, and similarly if it isn’t finished by the 90 minutes then allow it a little longer. If you would prefer a stronger sourdough flavour, then leave the dough to proof in the fridge overnight.
  3. Once the dough has proofed, gently divide it in half. Shape the two loaves into your desired shape (I went for a rough oval) by folding all four sides into the centre to create a kind of square shape, pinching the seam to ensure it’s sealed. Then, flip the dough over and rotate the dough quickly, almost dragging the dough in a circle until it has rounded in shape (better instructions here!).
  4. Place the two loaves onto a parchment-lined baking tray (I needed to use two) and loosely cover again with a tea towel or clingfilm. Leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 220ºC. I also added a baking tray filled with water to the bottom of the oven to create a humid, steamy environment which sourdough loves.
  5. Once the loaves have risen, spray with lukewarm water. This allows the crust to remains soft and flexible for as long as possible in the oven, giving a better rise. Sift a thin layer of flour over the two loaves, then make slashes along the loaves with a lame or sharp knife. These will allow the bread to expand quickly without tearing, and can also be decorative!
  6. Bake the bread for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown and hollow-sounding when you knock on the bottom. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Despite the vast amount of mistakes I made, I truly loved this entire process and I can’t wait to give it another go now that I have a lot more knowledge. Even with the mistakes it made two delicious loaves, and there’s something really awesome about baking something like bread which is such a staple – oh, it also makes your house smell incredible.

I hope you guys enjoyed this post, let me know if you give sourdough a go and how you find the whole process! See you next time,

A x

1 Comment

  1. April 30, 2020 / 3:29 PM

    I definitely need to hop on this trend! Even if it is just to make my house smell like freshly baked bread haha

    Lily Loves | https://www.lilyloves.net

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