Thursday, 9 February 2012

Adventures in sourdough

Habit is a wonderful thing.  Assuming, of course, that the habit itself is wonderful and not the self-destructive variety.  I often wish I could get into the compulsively tidy habit, for instance, rather than having the habit of glossing over the worst of it.  It's habit that has led me, over the last 18 months or so, to be able to knock out a good basic white loaf from memory as I do it so often.  I hold my hands up and admit that the purchase of my much-loved, much-used KitchenAid has made this habit somewhat easier to get into as it does all the muscle work in the form of the dough hook, and I can get on with other things for the 10 minutes or so that I leave the dough to knead.  I was never averse to kneading dough by hand; it's just that the mixer gives me more consistent results with much less physical graft on my part - win:win, surely?

So, while I'm at the point with my basic loaves where I can start experimenting with the consistency of the dough to improve the bread (a wetter dough gives better texture, I've found recently), and keep 300ml stashes of potato water, that is, water that potatoes have been boiled in, in my freezer with which to make the bread (a tip from Nigella that just works, but please don't ask me why - just do as I do and you will forever be grateful to Ms Lawson and if there is any justice in the world also to me - hell, I'll take reflected glory, I'm not proud), I have always been wary of sourdough.  Oh, of course, I've read about it, read plenty about it, and even 6 months ago took a wide variety of bread books out of Wellington Library with which to better research it.  At this point I even made an attempt at a very complex starter which involved at least two different trips to Moore Wilson's in order to get the exact organic rye flour specificed.  No good.  My starter turned purple.  Yes, purple.  I didn't fancy purple bread, although I was intrigued at the thought of it, and I ditched the whole thing.

Until now.  I've been reading good things about the River Cottage Sourdough and the good results it gives and, joy of joys, the ingredients were straightforward.  So straightforward I could get them at New World rather than Moore Wilsons, which I am trying to avoid at the moment for reasons my bank manager would be proud of.

And so, it begins.  This can also be a lesson in reading the damn recipe - it starts with 1kg of bread flour, at least half of which should be wholemeal, so I merrily got out my large Mason Cash bowl, measuring a huge pile of 500g white bread flour, 500g wholemeal, then actually read the recipe to discover I only needed 100g of this mix at a time.  Hey ho.  It can wait, then, and I'll use it to feed the sourdough on a daily basis.

Into the airing cupboard it went, after mixing in enough water to get it to the consistency of thick paint (thanks to Hugh F-W for the brilliant analogy), and it only took a few hours for fermentation to begin.  Now I am babysitting the starter, nurturing it as if it were a fragile baby bird, and all looks well so far.  Oh, and from my experience last night, never, ever try to explain the process of sourdough when you have been to a friend's house for dinner and both you and your enquiring husband are several glasses of wine merrier.  It was a long-winded, slightly unsteady, explanation that cleared nothing up whatsoever.

Wish me and my baby bird luck.

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