Sourdough September part 2: It's alive!

September 18, 2017

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So you'll remember two weeks ago I tried to bring my old sourdough starter back to life after more than six months fermenting in the fridge. We were looking at a starter in a sorry, forlorn state, covered in a layer of 'hooch'. I was a bit worried it was beyond hope. Well, it went better than expected.

My sourdough starter on day 5

For five days I dutifully disposed of half the sourdough starter, as instructed, and fed the remainder with 50g of water and 50g of flour, every 12 hours. For another two days, I then increased the feedings to 100g of each, without disposing of half the starter beforehand, to give me enough starter to bake some bread with.

So far so good. The starter started bubbling, as it should, and continued to show some life, enough that I felt it was a good idea to actually make some bread with it. Sourdough is not quick to make and can take in the region of 15 to 17 hours to make, most of which is spent waiting, although it does allow the baker to get on with other things in the meantime.

Using Paul Hollywood's basic sourdough bread recipe from his book How to Bake, I took 500g of the starter and mixed it with 750g of flour and 15g of salt, enough to make two loaves. After kneading it - well, getting my Kitchen Aid mixer to knead it - I left it for its first rising - five hours. The result was this:

My sourdough dough

Not bad, eh? This was looking promising. I tipped it out onto a floured wooden board and proceeded to beat the... air out of it. I cut the beaten dough in two and put each half into a proving basket, lined with floured muslin and put each basket into a plastic bag. Hey, presto:

Sourdough in the proving baskets

...And another 10 hours of waiting...

Eight hours later, the dough had risen to more than twice its size and was in danger of spilling out over the top of the basket like something from The Blob. It also looked rather wobbly. I put a pizza stone in the oven and turned the oven temperature to 200degC. Once it was at temperature, I carefully tipped the first basket of dough onto the pizza stone, where it promptly spread out flat. Oh, dear. After 40 minutes in the oven, it came out like this:

The complete sourdough loaf

Not what I had hoped. It was still tasty despite being a lot flatter than I wanted it to be. Thankfully, advice was on hand from the folks at Geoff's Real Artisan Bread (the people who do a fantastic cinnamon swirl): "It looks like it's over proofed by quite a few hours. Either less starter, less water, less bulk or less final proof would help it."

It turns out 25g to 80g per loaf is what one should be looking at when making sourdough bread, substantially less than Mr Hollywood has suggested. That would explain why the dough didn't take as long in the second proofing as the recipe said it would. On the upside, it would appear my resurrected starter was still alive and more than capable of producing a rise in the bread dough.

The starter is now in a smaller jar in its own place in the fridge where it will spend many more years - being taken out on a regular basis to make bread I hasten to add. Here's to more adventures in sourdough!

baking, bread, sourdough


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