Thursday, March 3, 2011

The sourdough experiment, trial 1

So the past few days have been a baking experiment for me. Well ok, mainly the preparation for a baking experiment. You see I'm trying to make my own home-made spelt bread, since the one in the shops that I can eat is close to a fiver to buy. So why is it taking days of preparation you may wonder. I'm attempting to make it using a sour dough starter, which requires cultivating a natural bacteria culture in flour by regularly feeding it and keeping it in a warm place like a hotpress (aka airing cupboard). The starter allows you to make a nice soft hopefully doughy bread loaf without having to add yeast. 

The tricky part is what is the best way to make a sourdough starter? We have 4 or 5 different recipes all of of which differ, not only in how long they leave the starter to develop, what it's made with and subsequently fed, when it's ready to use, how much of the starter to use in the sourdough loaf and how to continue looking after it. How confusing! You'd think it'd be like a sponge or a basic biscuit recipe which is pretty much the same all the time. So as it's my first time making one of these I went for the simplest of the recipes, one of the back of a Dove's farm spelt flour bag which only uses spelt flour and water to make the starter and the final loaf. 

Sourdough on day 1

According to it, by day 4 the starter is ready to use together with an equal quantity of flour and not alot of water. I may have already messed it up. Instead of feeding or even using the starter yesterday like I should have, I kinda just left it alone in the hotpress until I had more flour to use, so I started getting pretty worried because it still smelt quite piggy fartish and sort of nutty. According to the Blazing Salads recipe for making sourdough starters, which by the way takes nearly two weeks and more ingredients, the final loaf shouldn't actually taste sour. If it does it's because the starter has been left too long and the acidity levels in it have gotten too strong. It unfortunately doesn't explain how to fix this, so I presume another feeding is the way to go?

Sourdough day 5
To use the starter to make bread the Dove's Farm recipe said to use an equal quanity of starter to flour, 400 grams of each to be exact and 100 ml of water. I halved this since I wasn't too sure how my loaf would turn out and found that the 50 ml of water wasn't enough to bind the whole thing together so like when I make pasta from scratch, a good few gluggs of olive oil were added to help. When the dough had been kneaded for about 10 minutes by my mom, yes I called in help, I cooked off some red onions in white balsamic vinegar and a little bit of olive oil and chopped up the sundried tomatos in preparation for finishing the loaf. This may also have been where I went wrong because the dough was sitting for a good 15 minutes in the kitchen while I let the onions cool. 
Sundried tomato and red onion sourdough loaf waiting to go into the oven...
After mixing the onions and the tomatoes through the loaf, I left it on the radiator for 3 hours to rise as suggested by the recipe. It didn't look much bigger after all that time, but in good faith I put it in the oven anyway for 45 minutes. 
My completed sourdough loaf

My finished loaf unfortunately didn't take on a sudden growth spurt in the oven and still seems rather uncooked in the centre even though the full cooking time for the original recipe was 1 hour, so surely halving everything should mean half the cooking time too. It's a bit too dense for my liking as a loaf and does taste a little odd to me, so unfortunately I think my first attempt at making a sourdough loaf has been a bit of a flop and will probably be put out for the birds. 

I think next time I won't let so much time lapse between the last feeding and then using it and aim for the 8-10 hours recommended by the Blazing Salads recipe. I may use a smaller starter to flour ration next time as recommended by one of the other recipes I have.

If any of you can give me some suggestions to make this more of a success next time I'd really appreciate the feedback!


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