How I Learned to Make Sourdough Bread
By Jewel Castillon
Time seems to slow down because of COVID-19. They say that the pandemic is is a one-in-a-century event.
At Covid-19 Alert Level 4, businesses and offices were closed except for essential services like groceries, pharmacies, hospitals, etc. People were staying most of the time in their bubble unless going out for essentials like buying food or medicines.
But I won’t go into much detail about it. Instead, I wanted to talk about my recent interest in making sourdough bread and how I pulled it off.
The coronavirus lockdown provided me with the best opportunity to work on my newfound interest. So, what a better way to use the extra time staying at home than to learn how to make sourdough bread.
It is a very basic bread recipe with only three ingredients: flour, water, and salt.
Sounds very simple, right?
Doing a bit of research about sourdough, I found out that this was how bread is made in ancient times, around 5000+ years ago.
The thing about this bread is that it relies on fermentation to do the job. And fermentation means giving time for the elements to work.
I will not post a recipe here, as there is an abundance of online recipes. You can find and get one yourself.
What makes sourdough bread special and intimidating for beginners like me
At first, I was a little bit intimidated because the way to make this bread is not how we make bread in this modern period, which is reliant on commercial yeast to leaven the dough and to shorten the proving process.
In making sourdough bread, time is needed and essential. And yes, patience is your best friend. And the longer the dough ferments, the better the texture and flavour become.
In our modern time, we have so many distractions. It seems that there is so much work to do and not enough time to do something that interests you. Especially in making our typical bread that even with instant yeast that speeds up the proving process, still, you need to take the time.
Creating my “Sourdough Starter”
To make sourdough, you need a ‘starter,’ which is a live fermented culture of flour and water.
“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start” was the song that played in my mind as I created my “starter.”
Here are the steps I took to make my starter:
- I first mixed equal amounts of flour and water on a bowl.
- I placed the mixture on a clean glass jar.
- Then I left it on the kitchen counter for a few days to let the fermentation process going.
- To know that the bacteria are alive and fermentation is taking place, I checked if tiny bubbles have appeared on the surface of the mix.
- I also sniffed to check the expected sour smell and tangy but not putrid.
Feeding my living “Sourdough Starter”
I had serious doubts with the sourdough starter that I made.
I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right or not. Then I saw that the texture of the mixture has changed.
Then it became gooey, and there was a sour smell coming from it. It took me five days before I fed my starter because I wasn’t sure.
Only when I saw it growing slowly, doubling in size, three to four hours after I fed it that I realised my starter is alive! Yay!
Flour naturally contains yeast and bacteria, so when water is added into it and left alone, it will begin fermenting.
How to make the sourdough bread
So, what’s next? I taught myself to make the sourdough bread.
With my new-found enthusiasm for successfully creating the sourdough starter, I got into it. I watched a couple of YouTube videos.
At first, it didn’t sit well with me because making the sourdough bread seemed so onerous and the many steps were so overwhelming.
But since my starter is alive and active, I decided to proceed so I can use it. 😊.
Making fermented flour pancakes to inspire me
To have an inspiration, I cooked some fermented flour pancakes because it’s easy. And wow, they do taste good, really good.
Here’s what I did:
- I poured my excess starter on an oiled pan as you do with pancakes.
- I sprinkled it with chopped spring onions, sesame seeds, salt, and pepper.
- I drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar.
It makes for a good and tasty breakfast. Once, we had it with baked beans, and it’s yum.
Then I thought, if this is how good the fermented flour pancakes taste, how much more the sourdough bread.
My sourdough bread making attempts
Going back to the sourdough bread. I gave it a go.
Here’s my first attempt:
The hollow sound that you hear when you tap the bottom of the bread indicates it’s cooked inside.
Simplifying the process in my second and third attempts
In between my second and third attempt, I began to think of how I may be able to make this as simple and easy as I could without compromising the method of using natural fermentation.
After all, this ancient bread-making method is done when people didn’t have high-tech and fancy equipment that we have now.
Back then, people perhaps would just mix the flour and water in a bowl- probably made of earthen or wooden material and leave it for a few hours or even days to leaven.
Then they would place the dough on a smooth stone slab or straight into a clay oven or maybe a pit, using live coals or wood for baking. This process was their tradition and culture in making bread, which is very basic.
Below is my 3rd attempt. This batch does not look like the usual sourdough bread with either an oval or round shape. First, because I don’t have the sourdough banneton that is used to prove the dough; instead, I used regular bread pans to mould and prove the dough, hence its shape.
I am satisfied with how the crust developed, the moist textures inside and the good taste. And yes, look at those holes as well.
I am pretty sure that my sourdough bread will improve as I continue baking it, learning and mastering the skills along the way.
The important lesson that I’ve learned is that when you want to know something either to know how to make a particular bread or anything in life, just go at it. Start somewhere and keep going. Like my attempt at making sourdough, I just start doing it, and along the way, you will pick up new skills and become better.
Don’t let doubts or failure discourage you. Keep going until you come up with the best result. And don’t be afraid to be a little bit adventurous, try different ways of making this bread and choose the method that will best suit your time.
Below are some photos of my sourdough bread.
About the Author
Jewel is a passionate cook and baker. She has the penchant for developing her techniques and recipes.
After finishing her NZ Diploma in Advance Cookery with Patisserie at the former Aoraki Polytechnic (now, Ara Institute of Canterbury), she put up her cafe, Food Haven in 2015. She and her husband operated it for four years.
In between her job as a researcher for the Climate Adaptation Platform, Jewel continues to pursue her passion for cooking and gardening, learning and discovering more.
She will be blogging about food and gardening in LOVE Timaru. Watch out for her articles. 🙂
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