Just Loaf-ing Around with Sourdough

By Anne Lise Tan

I have a love-hate relationship with making sourdough bread. Last year, I started entirely
from scratch back home with my first sourdough starter. (Read: a sourdough starter is an
active colony of wild yeast that is cultivated by combining flour and water and letting it
ferment – this follows a similar concept to yeast, except you are cultivating the bacteria
yourself!) I was getting pretty promising results from the first few days of starter production (although I attribute this mostly to the warm and toasty weather in Singapore). But alas, this was a false hope and my starter quickly died off, resulting in a terribly flat loaf that became my first and last sourdough bake for a while.

Fast forward to a year or so, I spontaneously bought a jar of dehydrated sourdough starter
from a farmer’s market here in London- and decided to start afresh with my flatmate (who
equally loves to bake and cook). We named our starter “Cricket”, after the lucky cricket in
the animated film, “Mulan”- because we were really relying on luck, and luck alone, as we
embarked on our sourdough journey.

Cricket started off slow, it didn’t do much growing in the first few days after we fed it.
(Read: ‘feeding’ a starter means that you discard some of it, and add some more water and
flour- the exact ratios depend on how often you want to feed your starter and what kind of
flours you want. So far, we have been using a 1:1:1 ratio of starter to flour to water for
Cricket. We also use 50% wholemeal and 50% plain flour for a more balanced diet :)) Mind
you, London’s temperature does not often go past 20 degrees Celsius in Autumn. So, one
night I decided to put Cricket in the oven, and the next morning, I got the shock of my life
when our starter went through a massive growth spurt! (See image)

With so much activity, this also meant that it was time to bake with our starter! I first made
focaccia because this is a very forgiving bread and takes very little active prep time to make. I combined the starter with the other bread ingredients, gave it a few stretches and folds to build up the gluten structure and left it overnight to bulk ferment.

Tada! The next morning, I just had to turn it out onto a well-oiled baking tray, let it proof for a couple more hours, add toppings and bake! This was absolutely delicious and I added
crushed garlic, red onion, black pepper and Maldon Sea salt to give it flavour. That evening,
my friends and I made some shakshuka (in our new cast iron skillet too!) which paired
perfectly with the focaccia.

But onto the real star of the show, which was making a proper sourdough loaf. I was slightly intimidated by this task, knowing that I had failed once before. Moreover, this time I did not have more specialised equipment like a banneton proofing basket or Dutch oven in our flat kitchen… but we make do. I started the afternoon before, when I fed my starter and let it get active (Read: an ‘active’ starter means that it would have doubled in height and you can see lots of air bubbles). I combined the starter with the rest of the ingredients and gave it a few stretches and folds. Similar to the focaccia, I left it overnight to bulk ferment and in the morning, I turned it out and pre-shaped it into a loaf. (Read: pre-shaping is a crucial step in the sourdough baking process as it creates a tension on the surface of the dough that will help it hold its shape) I preheated my oven to 250 degrees Celsius with our cast iron skillet while my dough was chilling in the fridge. (Read: a VERY hot oven is also important when baking sourdough as you need the shock of heat to achieve the classic ‘oven spring’) Once pre-heated, I took my dough out and turned it onto my skillet, before scoring it and placing a makeshift aluminium tent on top. I also added a dish of boiling water to the oven to create steam. (Read: steam, scoring and an aluminium tent all contribute to the rapid rise of the bread before the crust is set. As the bread rapidly rises, it pushes against the tense upper skin and creates a beautiful ‘crack’ or ‘ear’ on the top of the loaf) After 15 to 20 minutes, I removed the tent and continued to bake the bread to a deep golden colour. And success! I was so proud of my first loaf and let it cool completely before slicing and freezing. (Read: slicing and freezing your sourdough beforehand is the best way to keep it fresh and convenient to eat!) I thoroughly enjoyed eating my bread that week with avocados and a fried egg or simply jam and butter… the possibilities are endless!

I would have to add a caveat that the highs are not without lows and my second loaf I made a few days ago was less successful than I would have liked. I made a doenjang (Korean fermented soybean paste) and seaweed sourdough which was relatively easy to
incorporate. However, I did not shape my dough well enough, hence it spread a bit too
much and was a little flat. Was still delicious, though! My third loaf though, was really
impressive and sprung into a perfect golden boule. I also added black sesame seeds and
date syrup to this loaf and it gave the bread a wonderful nuttiness and subtle sweetness.

Another small aside is that Cricket, our starter, inevitably produces a lot of discard every
time we feed him. But none of this goes to waste! Our flat has been making and enjoying
lots of granola and banana bread because of this and it is absolutely delicious to always
have baked goods in the house!

The beautiful thing about sourdough starters is creating your own little living thing in your
kitchen. It is different to growing herbs or edible plants because this little starter baby
literally gives life to other baked goods like breads, cake etc. Hope you enjoyed hearing
about my sourdough journey thus far and hoping that I can continue making more
successful sourdough creations in the future!


Note from the Editor: Thank you Anne Lise. Your contribution came just at the right time. A dear friend of mine*, said that the food displays on the blog look like what experts cook, not beginners! She was referring to my posts which go under the “Beginner’s choice” title. Your sourdough bread look like they came from a bakery, it’s great to hear that you are still a beginner at sourdough baking.

*She is the author of Star Sapphire, and goes by her pen name “Han May”. You might enjoy her book if you like spaceships, aliens and adventure! It’s a fun read.

Posted by Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 28 October 2022

3 thoughts on “Just Loaf-ing Around with Sourdough

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