Having posted a few pictures of my sourdough loaves in recent weeks, a few people have asked me for my recipe. Making sourdough is about a lot more than just a recipe. True, I follow the book Tartine Bread very closely (a very generous gift from my friend Rita Munn in Tennessee which really got me going on sourdough bread baking). But the truth is, I’ve only ever become “good” at sourdough (and I put “good” in parentheses because I still have so much to learn) by baking a lot of loaves and talking to other people who bake sourdough. A recipe will get you started, but only practice – and probably a lot of shitty results – will get you to the kind of loaf you’re after.
Practice will teach you when your sourdough starter is happy and well.
Practice will teach you how the dough should “feel” when it’s ready for breaking.
Practice will get you good at working with a dough scraper and a dough knife. Practice will give you the confidence to let your bread rise in baskets and flip them over into a hot oven!
Practice as often as you can, and don’t be sad if you have to throw away a loaf or two (or make a lot of breadcrumbs) – it’s all part of the learning process.
If it makes you feel any better, this is what my loaves looked like in the beginning:
The best help I’ve had with sourdough baking is through talking to fellow bakers, most recently Ed Fryer (#edbakes), and also Gloria Nicol and Azelia Torres. This has been especially true of getting to grips with sourdough starter, the place where everything begins.
I do recommend the book Tartine Bread for its extremely detailed description of how to make sourdough, including step-by-step photographs from start to finish. It also has a good set of recipes on which to build on once you get comfortable with the “basic country loaf”. I’m sure other bakers out there have similar tomes they could recommend.
Finally, there is no substitute for hands on guidance. Dan Lepard runs excellent sourdough masterclasses at Cookery School at Little Portland Street in London. Rachel Demuth also runs top notch bread making classes at Demuths Cookery School in Bath. Again, I’m sure there are loads more classes you could choose from as sourdough is become super trendy (and rightfully so).
If you do start getting serious about your sourdough practice, you might find you have a lot of extra sourdough starter on your hands, in which case I recommend making some Sourdough Pancakes and/or Sourdough Crepes.
Any other recommended reading on sourdough? Recipes that use up sourdough starter? Fabulous baker peeps that sourdough bakers should follow? Please share in the comments!