Our Daring Bakers Host for December 2011 was Jessica of My Recipe Project and she showed us how fun it is to create Sour Dough bread in our own kitchens! She provided us with Sour Dough recipes from Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley as well as delicious recipes to use our Sour Dough bread in from Tonia George’s Things on Toast and Canteen’s Great British Food!
This was a great challenge, made even greater by the fact that I’d recently been wondering (and never getting round to finding out) how sourdough bread was made. Imagine my delight when I opened up this month’s challenge and saw that I was about to find out – and to do it, to. The whole experience was amazing and I now have a sourdough starter in my fridge – it’s yet to be given a name, which I understand is customary, though ‘Gooey Louie’ has been popping into my brain every time I look at it… Perhaps I’ll try and think of something less childish, though it will almost certainly also be less funny…
To recap on the challenge, then, before I stick in my usual stack of photos, we had to make our own starter, which means mixing together flour and water and leaving out at room temperature until yeast begins to form. I’m not sure if fermenting is the right word to use here, but certainly you go from having a sloppy paste of flour and water in a Tupperware, which can bring some curious looks from house guests, to a bubbly, yeasty, acetone-y living thing (which admittedly will still bring the strange looks from house guests, especially if you haven’t wrapped the box up in a towel to disguise the gloopy mass within). Once we had this, we had to use it to make a delicious sourdough loaf, which we then had to make toast with, and serve with something delicious. I went a little off-piste with the last part of the challenge, but hopefully to an acceptable degree…
We could choose from three different loaves; I went for rye, because I’d never used rye flour before and, crucially, it seemed like the easiest of the three recipes for my first go. I’m not very experienced with bread making so I thought I’d cut myself a break. The PDF file with all the recipes and notes can be found here, if you fancy making either French Country Bread, Russian Rye Bread, or Rice, Brazil Nut, and Flaxseed Bread – that last one sounds amazing and I might give it a go, now that I have Gooey Louie on hand.
I had a false start with the process, where I was so keen to get my starter to, well, start that I was putting it in places that really were too warm. The result was that I killed off the yeast and, when I had to leave it unsupervised for one day, it went mouldy. Oh dear. I started again but this time just followed the instructions and left the tub of starter *near* the radiator but not so near as to burn it alive. My flat is not the warmest, and having storage heaters makes it tricky to maintain a good temperature, but my second attempt worked perfectly. I took a bit of advice from the Daring Bakers forum and fed my starter a little differently than the instructions, though. For each day, you feed the rye starter with three tablespoons plus one teaspoon of flour, and a quarter cup of warm water. I split this in half, feeding it one and a half tablespoons and a half teaspoon plus an eighth of a cup of water every twelve hours – before and after work. Then, on the fourth day, I gave it the whole lot in the morning, and by that night it was frothy and bubbly – this lasted right through to the following morning without any further feeding, and then I mixed it in with much more flour and water for phase one of the finished loaf. This mixture was ready to use within twelve hours, and even after leaving it 24 hours it was just the same – ready for action.
Making the dough was the only step where I was unsure of the directions, because when I followed the recipe I wasn’t left with ‘a soft dough’ but a shaggy, sticky mess in the bowl. I added another handful of flour, but refrained from trying to make something that looked like dough as I understood the word - I remembered reading in the notes that adding too much flour would be a Bad Thing and that the dough was meant to be very wet. I greased and lightly floured the tin (just as an added security measure), then scooped the mixture out of the bowl. It was dry enough to stand up in clumps and peaks as it had been slopped, but it didn’t look like a dough to me at all. I smoothed it down into the tin with a wet spatula, tented some clingfilm over it and sat it in a warm place with a hopeful heart. The hopeful heart was mine, and in my chest, you understand.
After four hours it was doubled in size, filing the whole loaf tin. This I took as an excellent sign, and heated up the oven for it. I gave it fifteen minutes at the higher temperature, then 40 minutes at the lower one, and took it out. It sounded hollow-ish when tapped, had pulled away from the sides of the tin and had a very hard, dark brown crust. It hadn’t risen out of the tin at all, so be aware that the height you have when you put it in the oven is the height you will have when it comes back out again, and go for a deep loaf tin. It looked like rye bread, sure enough! I left it for a whole day before slicing (luckily it was Christmas Eve, so there was plenty to distract me, like all the booze you can see in the background of the photos), and when I did I was delighted to find that it looked just like the photo from the instructions. As for the flavour, well… It’s a malty and rich bread, with a long lasting flavour and a hint of sourness in the aftertaste. It’s dense and moist in texture but, as long as you don’t slice too thickly, not too heavy. I’ve honestly never had anything like it, and certainly never made anything like it – can I say once more how much I love being a Daring Baker?
For the toast part, I thinly sliced some of the rye, cut each slice in half and pressed a rolling pin across them to flatten. Then I popped under the grill (broiler) for a few minutes on each side, to make them really crisp – voila, melba toasts! I served these with our Boxing Day cheese board, and they were an instant hit. Rolled out thin like this their flavour is more subtle and pairs beautifully with cream cheese, cheddar, nettle gouda… Pretty much everything!
I’d like to say huge thanks to Jessica for this challenge, and also huge thanks to the great community at The Daring Kitchen for advice and encouragement at all times. Can’t wait for next month’s! And in the meantime I might even make more bread…
Update: I felt like I hadn’t done the crumb of the bread justice in my photos, here are a couple more. I cannot over-exaggerate how good this bread is with cheese.