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Thursday, May 19, 2016

The trouble with sourdough

I have been tinkering around with sourdough for around seven years now.  In that time I have tried countless experiments and different methods and recipes but my basic go-to bread has always been white loaves, proved in banettons based on a recipe from the Bourke Street Bakery cookbook.  There was a time when I could churn out twelve of these loaves in one big batch and be reasonably happy with the results.

But, somewhere along the way things started to change.  We bought another sheep property, our children got older and their schooling required more time and commitment. My kitchen started to fill up with other things.  

I have continued to bake through all of this but recently my bread has been misshapen, cracked and either over or under proved.  Bread requires a certain amount of rhythm and lately I have been trying to force that rhythm around too many other things.

Last weekend I went back to basics by mixing up my usual recipe, paying particular attention to each tiny step.  Half of the dough went straight to the freezer to be used for scrolls or pizza bases. I divided the remaining dough into three pieces and gave it plenty of time to rest before shaping. 


I took my time with the shaping, paying particular attention to the seams and ends.

My loaves quietly proved for most of the day before I put them into the fridge for an hour or two.  I find the fridge helps to firm the dough, making it easier to slash the loaves without having the whole thing collapse at that crucial stage.

Before slashing, I made sure my little knife was razor sharp, thanks Terry.


Half of our dinner had already been cooked in the oven prior to bread baking; I had planned this to take full advantage of the oven heat.  As many of you know, bread baking requires plenty of heat but preheating an empty oven always feels like such a waste of resources, to me.


In went the loaves with plenty of water misted on them before I closed the oven door. 

These loaves made my heart sing as they came out of the oven. I am not suggesting for a minute that they were perfect but they were the best loaves I have produced in ages and that made me happy.


Coincidentally, the same day I had a friend ask me for some sourdough starter.  I happily handed over a suspicious package of white, bubbly substance in the street after we had enjoyed friendly bread conversation over coffee.  It was then that I realised all is well in the world of bread.   Like everything in life, it ebbs and flows.  

Has your baking ever gone a little bit off track?  Did you get back on track?

I hope your loaves are delightfully golden and please tell me you have real butter in your house. 

Happy mid-week, friends x

29 comments :

  1. First things first: only real butter and real olive oil in this house :-)

    Your bread looks pretty perfect to me Jane! I'm curious about you putting it into the fridge. Whenever I do that it seems to dry out the loaf, and it takes forever to come back to room temperature, although I usually put mine in overnight.
    Do you bake it whilst still a little cold from the fridge? I could see how that would stabilise it, but I always worried it wouldn't spring well if cold.

    I went through a sourdough rut a little while ago, and that was when finally came up with a recipe I was really happy with, although my technique changes slightly all the time. It depends what mood I'm in and how much time I have.

    I've recently been teaching my sister to make sourdough, and she's fallen in love with it. She was amazed that it's actually quite simple for the beautiful results she got. Watching a beginner baking bread, and having to instruct her, was a good way to get a glimpse again at what it's like to be new. Being a beginner, she followed every instruction perfectly and the result was such a beautiful loaf of bread. It was a good reminder to me to not rush baking bread and try to be a bit more present when doing it, not always possible but a good thing to aspire to :-)

    Happy baking Jane!
    Sarah x

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    1. I knew you would have proper dairy products Sarah! If I put my bread in the fridge it is always fully proved before I put it in. I let it sit at room temp for perhaps half an hour before I slash and bake. It really just depends on the day sometimes!

      I think going back and following a recipe properly is a great way to re-set and refresh our baking skills sometimes. Yes, to being more present...certainly a good thing to aspire to. Thank you Sarah x

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    2. I think I'll try fridging a fully proved loaf before baking and see what it does. I think it would definitely be helpful in summer when it rising so quickly and the heat keeps the dough very soft.
      Lately my dough has actually felt cold to touch even after rising on the bench due to the cool weather.

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  2. My biggest problem is that my girls have flown the nest and with just two of us, I don't get to make it enough! I've had some success with sourdough although I cannot get that real holey crumb yet, more practice needed. I love making white bread rolls too. I long for more time at home...

    Cheers - Joolz xx

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    1. Happy baking Joolz, perhaps try more water in your dough to achieve a more open crumb/bigger holes! I appreciate you calling in.

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  3. Hi Jane, I have been making sour dough for years and I marvel at your and Celia's loaves. Mine are never as fantastic at that. I think I need to experiment a bit more but I usually go back to my tried and true method. BTW we have, and have always had, real butter in the house. :)

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    1. Thank goodness for real butter Glenda :)

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  4. We converted to real butter about a year ago, and I can never go back!

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  5. Good morning, Jane.
    Thank you so much for your blog. I have a new oven and am so shy about getting back into baking again, let alone going back to bread baking.I am in awe of you and Celia and my friends from the Kneading Conference. Intimidated a bit, if I were honest about it. So it's nice to know your bread baking isn't always perfect.
    I tried to make bannock (it's a bit like damper) the other day and laughed out loud when I thought of how my efforts would have been greeted by my First Nations (Indian) friends who first taught me to make it more than 30 years ago.
    Your photos are wonderful and opening your latest post is such a pleasure in the mornings.So sometime this weekend I will try bread again.I guess the birds would eat it if we can't.

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    1. Thank you for your kind comments Joanne, it is so lovely to hear from you. Happy baking!

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  6. First of all, yes to real butter :-) It really should be my husband who comments here as he is the bread-baker in our house, although now he is away during the week it's become a weekend activity (there are various jars in the fridge that Must Not Be Touched). He's been experimenting with sourdough since he had a couple of months out of work last summer and now turns out fairly consistent, delicious loaves, baked one at a time in our largest cast-iron pot. It's not terribly energy-efficient! He's been working on getting a 'good crust' (which I have to admit to finding tricky to saw in to); the children's favourite is still his basic fougasse. He is a big fan of Ken Forkish (Flour Water Salt Yeast) and Chad Robertson (Tartine Bread). I really should take photos of him in action and write a post about it. Your bread looks absolutely delicious and I'm glad you're back in the groove. Sam x

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    1. Oh how lovely Sam...please write a post about the bread making in your house. I was thrilled to some bread activity from you on Instagram. I might have to look into those books your husband recommends, as you can probably imagine I have hardly any bread books! x

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  7. It's just rude not to use real butter :)
    Sourdough is something I've wanted to get int for a while but just a little hesitant... don't know why but I dream of sourdough pizza bases and homemade bread roles and toast smothered in homemade jam... I hope I'm not the only one who dreams of food :)
    Love your posts, thanks for sharing x

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    1. Always dreaming of food Dani, always. Thanks for calling in x

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  8. These loaves look delicious, and coffee and bread chats are my favourite.
    I'm feeding the starter tonight for a day of bread making tomorrow. I'm down to the last few slices in the freezer from the last batch of baking which is my cue for more sourdough.x

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  10. Your bread looks lovely Jane. I am pleased you found some time to nurture it! xx

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  11. I love baking sourdough bread, our oven is old and dodgy so a pizza stone has been very helpful. My problem is I make such a mess when I bake that I have to make sure I have the whole day free to do a deep clean of the kitchen as well!

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    1. There is nothing like a good mess in the kitchen as a sign of productivity! Happy baking :)

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  13. Always butter Jane. Always.
    Like you, my loaves over a 6.5 year journey go up and down. Some days they are superb looking, mostly they are average looking and sometimes they are really crap looking. It always come down to time and juggling what else is going on in the day. Beautiful loaves require love and attention (and predictable temperatures...which makes summer tricky.) I dropped my standards long ago. As long as they are tasty and provide something nourishing for our bellies its all good. And when those beautifully mindfully made loaves come along. Yeah, there is a small whoop whoop to be heard.

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    1. I knew I could rely on you for wise bread words Brydie, of course everything you say makes perfect sense. Hooray for butter and the occasional jump for bread joy!

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  14. always real butter for me too. sometimes you need to take a step back and really focus on what you are doing, even if - or maybe, especially if - it's something you have done for aeons. I do find that with cooking (baking). the emotional and edible results are always so much more satisfying.
    beautiful wisdom and pictures and loaves, jane :-)

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    1. Thank you for your ongoing support and wise words e! Happy baking to you.

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Hello and welcome. I will try to reply to all comments eventually because I love the conversation! Jane