Updated: Apr 27, 2020
Whilst I've loved the opportunity to start my own business over the last couple of years, it's not left a huge amount of time for us to do baking at home. Pre-Cakery, I'd often make bread on the weekend - and had several brief forays into the world of sourdough bread. As it's quite an involved process, you need a fair bit of time on your hands (which I don't have with a full time job, a business, a child and a husband) and so Derek, my sourdough starter has been consigned to the back of the fridge for several years.
But as we've got all the time in the world on our hands at the moment, I've taken the opportunity to have a bit of an experiment with Derek. The first attempt this time went less well but I'm quite chuffed with loaf two and I thought I'd share what I'd learnt about this seemingly dark art.
Let's start at the beginning. Derek the First was born back in 2012. You may not know, but back then I wrote a blog for a year called 366 Recipe Challenge. It's a bit of a diary of a lot of cooking, the challenges of being mum to a toddler, the long overdue demise of my first marriage and a bit of an ode to my lovely Husband back when I had a bit of a girly crush on him.
I also started my love affair with Dan Lepard's book Short and Sweet back in 2012 - which is still my favourite, dog-eared reference when I want to bake something fabulous for the family. Dan briefly mentions sourdough in this book so I decided to give it a whirl. My first starter got a little bit excitable and exploded out of his Kilner jar so was christened after Derek Branning, a particularly volatile Eastenders character of the day. Derek the First met his end at some point - probably when I moved to Bristol post-divorce. And sometime in the intervening years, the current Derek was born, used a little and then consigned to the back of the fridge. Derek the Second survived a kitchen refit and moved to our new house last year (despite Hubby's attempts to acquaint Derek with the food waste bin) and was bought back to life this week by liberating him from the fridge and with some luck and some TLC, we've managed to make some lovely loaves.
Sourdough - a dark art?
Now sourdough is one of those artisan things that seems like too much faff and easier to buy. If you read up on it either via books (I have many) or the internet, you can get exhausted by the complexities of hydration, autolysing, percentages and temperatures. Despite my love for Dan Lepard, every time I've used his recipes, my dough has been quite wet and so the resulting loaf hasn't had any shape and turned out barely higher than a frisbee. Having done a bit more research, the obvious answer was less liquid and a bit more flour. Sure, I know the old breadmaking adage of 'the wetter the better' but finding a balance between high-hydration baking and a decent shaped loaf that doesn't involve too much faffing became my new goal.
Derek has always been maintained with equal amounts of flour and water when he's been fed so we switched this up to a 60:40 flour to water feed. This got him super-excitable. We then went for a slightly lower water volume in the final dough, an overnight rise in the fridge and then a final baking in a dutch oven (or a casserole) and we have success.
I'd like to caveat the following recipe with the fact that it worked for me. I've only tried it once so far in its current form so will update it as I repeat and refine but fingers crossed, we've found a recipe that will fit in around a (usually) busy lifestyle.