Adopting A Sourdough Culture


imageAbout 6 months ago Hilary Cacchio, ma tante, set me a challenge; to give sourdough a chance! I’ve always maintained that making sourdough is for people with spare time and Hilary has always disputed this and so she equipped me with some of her sourdough culture (affectionately known as Sidney), and following her Introduction to Sourdough Workshop, I was swiftly baptised into the world of bread-making.

I work long hours and commute into London 5 days a week. My weekends are precious and I try to cram as much into them as possible. I was confident that sourdough was for the time-rich and that I couldn’t possibly fit it into my life, but the workshop was really interesting and I found myself motivated and wanting to bake!

Initially my husband was a little wary of the bubbling gloop suddenly residing in the fridge;  especially once I explained that it is ‘alive’ and requires feeding and care. Like new parents we peered into the jar unsure what we had committed to and diligently weighed ‘meals’ of flour and water to keep our new charge healthy. Over the following weeks our sourdough culture was unintentionally christened ‘Sybil’.

Caring for a sourdough culture is infinitely easier than I imagined. On several occasions I have completely ignored Sybil for two-three weeks, languishing on her shelf in the fridge: we may have become fond of her but she can’t come on holiday with us! The first time we left Sybil we thought we’d killed her…we arrived home from our holiday to find her jar swimming with a clear unpleasant-looking liquid. Fortunately a quick phone call to Hilary soon reassured us that Sybil was alive; she had been busy making something called hooch and once this had been poured away a feed would soon see her back to normal.

It took me a couple of weeks to fit the stages of making a loaf of sourdough bread into my schedule. We love having freshly baked bread for breakfast on a Saturday morning (a little weekend luxury). So I take Sybil out of the fridge on Tuesday evenings and give her 5 feeds, one roughly every 12 hours, to build-up her volume ready to make dough on Friday evenings. If I know we’ll be home late and time might be short I sometimes pre-weigh the ingredients for the dough on Thursdays so that it saves a few minutes the following day.

I have gravitated towards Hilary’s Very Simple Italian White Sourdough as my staple bread because it’s so versatile. I often make a double quantity of dough; using half to make a loaf for the weekend and half lives in the fridge providing flat-breads and pizza’s for the rest of the week. This way I’m only taking the time to make one batch of dough but creating the time-consuming elements for a couple of suppers for the week. Plus the dough needs to lose some of it’s rise to make thin crust pizza bases and flatbreads. If I have any dough left by Thursday I tend to roll it out into a thin sheet and sprinkle with seeds to make some of Hilary’s crackers.

Once I’ve made the dough on Friday evenings, and if I’m short on time Hilary advised to knead the dough for 4 minutes continuously rather than kneading for 30 seconds and resting for 10 minutes, I leave it in a cool place to bulk prove overnight. We’re always awake early at weekends (a reknowned habit of commuters) so I shape the dough and allow it to rise again whilst I make tea or coffee then head back to bed. By the time we’re ready for breakfast the dough is ready to bake. There’s nothing nicer than the smell of baking bread and fresh coffee to start the weekend.

The introduction of sourdough into our lives has changed the whole routine of breakfast at the weekends. Whilst a bacon sandwich is still a delight, so is avocado, poached eggs and roasted tomatoes, or sauteed mushrooms. Sourdough makes fantastic toast and when the bread is slightly past it’s best by Sunday evening it is wonderful toasted with pate or home-made baked beans.

I didn’t realise how versatile a sourdough culture can be. It doesn’t just add ‘rise’ to doughs it also adds flavour. Hilary has introduced me to so many interesting things to use my sourdough culture to make from scones, to batters, to enriched doughs…it seems that the possibilities are endless!

I guess what I’m trying to say is that sourdough bread does take time to make…but that it’s little bits of time rather than a large chunk and so with a little planning it can easily work with the busiest of schedules. We’ve found that bread has gone from being the base for more exciting ingredients to something that we savour; partly because of the time and effort which has gone into making it but also because it is far superior to the vast majority of the breads we’ve purchased.  I love that the dough I make on Fridays lasts almost a week and provides two breakfasts, possibly a lunch, and the basis for two suppers. What have you got to lose…give it a go!



Posted on: 12th February