Sourdough bread has appeared by chance around for thousands of years. Some leftover porridge was left out in the sun, and as luck would have it, a crust formed as it dried out. Then, due to the action of fermentation, the crusted porridge rose!
I’ve accidentally done exactly this when camping. A crust formed, it rose, and, viola! Delicious! It’s entirely possible that this was how bread originally came about. So bread is the result of a happy accident – and centuries of refinement give us all manner of variation on the theme. From those crusty Italian loaves to the dense rye breads of Europe, and all manner of styles in between – they’re all wondrous creations, perfectly suited to the culture which evolved them.
But when it comes to flavour, flexibility and simplicity, nothing beats the original method – sourdough has as many variations in itself as there are human cultures. And that’s the point, and the pun – sourdough is all about culture, only not the human kind, but a more fundamental one – bacterialogical.
Sourdough bread comes from a bacterial and yeast culture; a micro environment made up of airborne yeasts which have been transformed by the process of controlled fermentation to become a fantastically complex living thing. This living thing, something I often refer to as a pet you keep in your fridge, is also more commonly known as a ‘starter’, or ‘mother’, or ‘ferment’, or any one of a number of other names. My own ‘starter’ is getting on for about 20 years old now, though it has been refreshed with other starters which are much older.
I’m going to show you a method where you can easily culture your own ‘starter’. Then, I’ll show you how to make fabulous bread using it, without using anything more complex than a whisk – and even that’s optional. Of course, you’ll need an oven and a fridge, and some easily obtained containers, and maybe a couple of loaf tins. But that’s about it. My method doesn’t even require much kneading. It couldn’t be simpler. I’ve been using variations of it commercially and domestically for about 20 years, and I’ve made literally millions of loaves of every shape, size, colour and flavour. It really is an incredibly flexible method, and once you get the hang of it, you can play till your heart’s content inventing new ways and recipes.
I’ve decided to break this method into three further articles, because there’s too much to digest in one hit, and because there’s three stages to the process. They are:
1/. Starting a starter,
2/. Making some dough, and
3/. Baking the Bread.
So stay tuned. You’ll need to print out all three future articles before you get started, and then work your way through each one. Oh, and don’t be too precious about them – there’s plenty of flexibility in the method. Measurements are not that important – process and observation is what it’s all about.