In response to my questions about this on the 'ish forum, the lovely SusieGee offered me some of her sourdough starter. Just over a week ago I took her up on that offer and she not only gave me a pot of gloop, but very kindly photocopied extensive information on how to look after and cook with the starter.
The first thing I noticed about the gloop was that it was sluggish (compared with Herman), separating, and very sour. So that's normal for sourdough starter - I probably needn't have thrown out my first attempt, then. I have to admit to skimming off the clear, sour liquid that keeps rising to the top. I don't care how many experts tell me it's fine, just stir it in - I do not want that much alcohol/vinegar in my bread, thank you.
My next confession is that I looked at all the instructions and thought,
No.Apparently cooking a sourdough loaf requires 6-8 hours of kneading, rising and knocking back at frequent intervals. I've heard people rave about how nice sourdough bread is. If that's what it takes to make it, I'm sure the result has far more to do with the rising and kneading than with the type of yeast that's used.
I'm not interested in perfecting a gourmet loaf - fresh baked bread is pretty good to start with - I just like the idea of keeping a yeast culture alive rather than having to buy fresh all the time. I decided to use much the same method as I usually use for slow-rise bread, just substituting sourdough starter for the yeast:
To one pound of flour add a teaspoon of salt, about 5 fl oz (one small cup) of starter and enough water to make a fairly wet dough. Mix thoroughly and leave overnight (I do this bit just before going to bed). At the same time, feed the starter with roughly equal quantities of flour and water to replace what you've taken out, plus a little more because the yeast does consume its food. Next morning, knead in a bit more flour, put into a loaf tin and leave for a couple of hours to rise. In fact, it rose so quickly that I knocked it back after one hour and gave it another hour to rise again. Cook at gas mark 6 (200 C; 400 F) for about 45 min.
I tried wholemeal bread first, thinking the stronger flavour of the flour would help disguise any sourness. The result was a revelation!
The loaf rose much more than it usually does with fresh yeast and the texture was lighter and softer, which I guess is what you'd expect with more rising. There was a slightly sour tang, but we both liked it. A second wholemeal loaf was just as good, and today I tried white.
This wasn't as dramatically different from my usual white bread, because that usually rises more than the wholemeal. I didn't notice much of a sour taste, either. Maybe I'm just getting used to it or maybe, with a couple of refreshes and repeated skimming, the starter is getting less sour. Either way, this is excellent bread.
In other sourdough news, I think I've found the
killer appfor Herman...