“D’oh”

Back near the beginning of the year, you may recall, I began my experiments with sourdough. It was before lockdown and it was just a whim… a vague desire to see whether it was really possible to create, from scratch, a viable culture of micro-organisms with which to make bread. And then came coronavirus and everyone had to stay at home and madly started hoarding random things… including yeast. There was no yeast in the shops and so, suddenly, sourdough became “the thing”. By this time my culture was well established and I was using it for most of my yeasted baking. I’m sure that most cultures that were started during lockdown have long since passed away, but mine is going strong.

Anyway, a couple of months ago Kate (Tall Tales from Chiconia) mentioned that it is traditional to name sourdough cultures. I wasn’t feeling inspired, so I asked Mr Snail to come up with a suggestion. He though about it for a while, and finally proposed Homer… “because ‘D’oh!'”

And so, Homer is our sourdough starter. This meant that when we passed a portion on to a friend, it was naturally named Bart. Apparently Bart too is still going strong.

Anyway, in recent months I have become a little more adventurous with Homer and was delighted to discover what beautiful sweet, enriched dough it is possible to make. I found a recipe for cinnamon rolls that I adapted slightly to make apple Chelsea buns, and it was a triumph… better than my previous attempts made using commercial yeast.

The filling is grated apple with the juice squeezed out through a cloth, then mixed with melted butter, cinnamon and brown sugar. The glaze was made from the apple juice mixed with a bit of sugar (rather than the traditional milk and sugar mix), Although the dough is sweet, it actually doesn’t contain too much sugar, so the result is not sickly, especially if the apples are a bit sharp.

Homer is also now our go-to source of yeast for all bread-making and the packet of commercial yeast is languishing in the fridge, being used only occasionally because I feel I should use it up.

Dough!

A few weeks ago, before we were all confined to barracks, I decided that it would be interesting to have a go at making sourdough bread. It takes a while to get the starter in a usable state and my first attempt just didn’t work – ending up watery and smelling rather unpleasant. Attempt number two was much more of a success and I have been carefully nurturing my lovely culture for a couple of weeks now. And then yesterday I noticed that it had gone mad and was bubbling out of it’s jar. So, the time was right to give it a go. I wanted to start simple and so I settled on a white loaf.

There’s mixing and kneading and leaving it to prove twice before finally knocking it back, shaping it in a basket and leaving it overnight in the refrigerator. after all the investment in time, I was itching to find out what it would be like. And the result? Delicious – a wonderful light loaf, not at all sour, but with a different taste to yeasted bread and a great texture. The next challenge is to keep the starter (now transferred to a much bigger jar) happy long-term and to experiment with some other flavours.

The recipe I worked from was in the Shipton Mill book A handful of flour. The starter is made with 1/5 wholewheat flour and 4/5 strong white flour, mixed with the same weight of water. I fed it every day for over a week, then every couple of days for another 10 days or so.

I like yeasted bread, but this is a rather good alternative – and how bread was originally made before commercial yeast was available. I’m really taken with the idea that every culture is unique because it’s the result of the person who makes it and the place and the specific conditions as well as the ingredients selected. So my sourdough will taste different to that made by anyone else – how great is that? Do you have experience of making sourdough?

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