It all began when a friend suggested we attend a one-day sourdough baking course run by the Bicycle Baker, local artisan bakers who sell delicious sourdough loaves around the Albury district.
The idea of learning how to make them at home was very appealing. Who doesn’t love the smell of freshly baked bread in the morning, the crunch of biting into a perfect sourdough crust and the unique taste and texture of hand-baked bread?
It was at this point, I should have shrugged and said, “Nah. Why bark when you have a dog?” After all, it was no trouble to nip down to the shops and buy a loaf. Takes me ten minutes, tops.
But no, because I’d done a bit of yeast bread-making years ago I thought it would be a quick refresher and I’d have the aroma of freshly baking bread wafting around my kitchen in next to no time. I expected this blog post to be titled #80 Bake a Sourdough Loaf.
Here I am, weeks later, agonising over every step of the procedure as this activity morphs into:
#80 Practise baking a Sourdough Loaf … again … and again … and again…
The class was great fun and we all went home with a fresh, delicious loaf of sourdough bread.
What I hadn’t appreciated was the effort that Nicky and Tim, aka the Bicycle Bakers, must have put in over the preceding weeks to help us all produce these perfect loaves on the day. Baking a sourdough loaf is nothing short of a protracted labour of love.
The sourdough starter is the secret, that magic ingredient used as a leavener in lieu of commercial yeast. Sourdough starter is needy. Very needy. In fact, we were advised to give a name to the little blob of sourdough starter we were handed at the end of the course. That’s because it has to be fed regularly, nurtured with care and even taken on holidays, lest it die of neglect. Like I said. Needy.
I thought of calling it Bear, so the phrase ‘Feed the Bear’ could become my daily mantra, but before long, I changed its name to Bambi.
Because I didn’t want to be the one to kill Bambi
The magic of sourdough starter is that it begins life as nothing more than a mixture of baker’s flour and water. But after daily feedings—you discard 80% of the previous day’s mix before adding fresh flour and water—you eventually have a little jar of bubbling, wild-yeasty-smelling starter that gets better and stronger the more times you feed it.
Modern day Bambi
If I may be allowed to mix my mythologies, Bambi can only be used for bread making when he reaches the Goldilocks point: not too bubbly, not too flat, not too whiffy, not too bland. I’ve learned through trial and error that this Goldilocks point is rarely reached at a convenient time for baking bread.
But once that moment arrives, you mix Bambi with your bread flour, water and salt, do a little kneading, then leave it to ‘prove’.
For THREE to TEN HOURS!
By now, it’s about four in the morning, but you’re so invested in your loaf that you get up to work it into its final shape, let it rise once more, slash designs on the top as best you can to let out steam,
then place it in a preheated oven that will never be as hot or as reliable as a commercial oven.
If you’re lucky, you may end up with a loaf that rises tolerably well and browns nicely.
When cut, it even has the look you’re after.
And the taste … ?
Hmm. It’s ok…ay.
But maybe I’ll nip down to the Bicycle Baker’s and buy a loaf to tide me over before my next marathon session.
Or I could just list Bambi on GumTree. Free to a Good Home, of course.
Wonderful if laborious process (inconvenient like childbirth) and you did well. I will never take my local bakery for granted again!
That’s exactly my feeling! I’m in awe of the people who do this every day.