I have been baking bread for over thirty five years (goodness, writing that makes me feel old) and have tried lots of different techniques and recipes. As with all things I want to ‘master’ I stick at them until I can finally feel I have achieved what I was setting out to achieve. So, I must admit that sourdough became quite an obsession during 2018 and early 2019, with several mistakes along the way.
Now, much further down the line, I guess I have about an 85% – 95% success rate for most of my loaves – see some of my successful ones here There are many recipes, books and websites telling you how to craft the perfect sourdough loaf, and I have tried several of them with various levels of success, but here is the one which works well for me. Elaine also has a great Instagram page which has been so helpful on my sourdough journey. After growing more confident and becoming used to my Starter and different flours, I have been able to ‘tweak’ timings and technique to get a result I am happy with which suits our taste and lifestyle.
AGA: For Aga bakers – I generally cook my sourdough in a Le Creuset/Dutch Oven in my Roasting Oven with the pan on the rack on the floor, with the lid on. I give one loaf 40 minutes with the lid on and then 10 minutes with the lid off (45 and 20 if two loaves are in at the same time). All Agas run at different temperatures and I always say ‘its like cooking by accident’.
AGA MODULE: We turned our Aga off for a few weeks in the summer of 2019, which is usually unheard of. Our back-up cooker is the Aga module, one of the early versions, probably around 18 years old and I have tried an experiment to see how my sourdough bakes in there. The top oven, a normal cooker oven I believe, was at 240º and with the Dutch Oven on the bottom runners managed to burn the bread slightly on the bottom. The heat from this oven is fierce. Whereas the bottom fan oven at 240º produced a paler, more spread loaf over the same amount of time with what feels like a less fierce heat when opening the door. Having tried them both I much prefer the results from the top oven which gives a much darker crust.
STARTER: Over the time I have been feeding my starter (culture), which was gifted to me by my foraging friend Vivia, she has changed so much in smell, texture and performance; this is because of the change in flour for feeding, our water supply and the different environment. For a couple of the early months she was very ‘sour’, but now it is far sweeter and I am familiar with her enough to know when she needs feeding or is ready to use. She produces the most delicious, light and airy loaf with so little trouble.
Each good established sourdough starter deserves a name and I named mine Pandora. In Greek myth Pandora was the first woman, made by Hephaestus, son of Zeus, the god of craftsmanship, out of Earth (flour in my case) and water. The name Pandora means ‘all gifted’.
In the Spring of 2019 I started a Rye starter who has proven to be lively and strong and establishes a more rustic loaf than Pandora. I’ve called him Pan after the Greek God of the Wild and it is fitting that his name is also a shortened version of Pandora, and, I was also reading Philip Pullman’s ‘The Secret Commonwealth’ when I eventually named him, with a small nod to Pantalaimon.