You know what I love? Sourdough bread. To me, that’s what real bread is. I love the tangy taste, and I find the texture is also nicer than that of ordinary bread.
There’s even some evidence that those with gluten sensitivity may be able to eat it without issue, as the fermentation process degrades the gluten. (It’s still not recommended for those with coeliac disease, however.) And it’s thought that it could be easier to digest for non-coeliacs too.
What is sourdough bread?
You may be wondering what the difference is between sourdough bread and its ordinary counterpart. The answer is that sourdough is made with a fermented starter instead of fast-rising yeast. You make the starter by mixing a little flour and water and leaving it to ferment for at least a week. Adding a little more flour and water on a regular basis stops it from going off. The fermented starter contains natural yeasts which help the bread to rise. The fermentation is what gives sourdough its tangy taste. This is the traditional way of making bread.
Making my own sourdough bread
So I love sourdough, but what I don’t love is buying it. It’s expensive, and many supermarkets don’t sell it at all. When you do find it, it’s usually made with white flour, and I prefer to avoid refined grains. That’s why I decided to try making my own!
Making the starter
I made the starter a week in advance, by mixing a tablespoon of wholemeal bread flour with a tablespoon of water. Every day, I added another tablespoon of each and stirred it well. I left it out on the counter for the first week, in a glass jar with the lid resting loosely on top. For the first week, it’s advisable to leave it at room temperature and only cover it lightly to allow it to ferment. A week may seem like a long time to wait, but you only have to make the starter once – after that, you can just keep adding to it and use it whenever.
After a couple of days, my starter began to smell sour and some bubbles appeared in it. This is a good sign, and shows that it’s starting to ferment. By the one-week mark, it had a very strong smell – almost like nail polish remover!
Making the bread
Sourdough takes much longer to rise than ordinary bread made with yeast. It needs to be left for at least 8 hours, so a good option is to make the dough the night before and let it rise overnight. This was what I did. Since I was at my parents’ place, I used my mum’s breadmaker. I put 500g of wholemeal bread flour, half a teaspoon of salt, two tablespoons of sourdough starter, one tablespoon of oil and about 300ml of water in the pan. I then let it run the wholemeal dough program and left it to rise in the pan overnight.
The dough needs to rise twice, but the second rise is much shorter. In the morning, I took it out of the pan, kneaded it for a couple of minutes, and put it on a baking tray (I didn’t have a loaf pan big enough). I left it to rise in a warm place for a little over an hour, and baked it for about 45 minutes.
The moment of truth
So what was the bread like? It felt very solid when I took it out, though it had risen considerably in the oven. It was also very difficult to cut through! But I was pleasantly surprised when I tasted it – it wasn’t overly dense, and had a nice sourdough taste. I thought it could have done with a little more salt, and I felt it probably should have risen more. It couldn’t compete with sourdough from a French bakery, but then it was my first attempt! On the whole, I really enjoyed it.
Improving the bread
Keen to know how I could improve my bread next time, I did some research. It seems homemade wholemeal bread is very prone to being dense, sourdough or not. I found a few tips online for making it lighter and softer:
- Add a little white flour. Since white flour is refined, it contains a higher concentration of gluten, which gives bread its structure. The disadvantage is that the bread will no longer be 100% wholemeal.
- Add some vital wheat gluten. This gives the bread more structure, whilst keeping it wholemeal.
- Let the dough rest for around 20 minutes before kneading. This can soften the grains and allow the flour to absorb the water, resulting in a softer loaf.
I will definitely be giving these tips a go, and I’m excited to see how they turn out. I’ll give you an update if I have any luck!