Monday, May 11, 2009

Rebirth, buttocks and other simple pleasures

Looking for signs of life

After a hiatus of about six months, due to an assortment of feeble excuses, I've started baking sourdough again. My cultures, two Italian starters that I got from the indubitable Ed Wood a couple of years ago, plus one home-brewed starter made with rain-water last year, had been languishing in jars at the back of the fridge.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, one of the Italian starters had 'died', by which I mean that the sourdough organisms had been replaced by a foul-smelling brown goop, the cloying stench of which filled the kitchen for hours after I was silly enough to open the lid of the jar.

Luckily for me, the other two starters had somehow managed to survive the months of neglect. Over the course of a fortnight I revived the first these: the Italian starter from Camaldoli Hill in Naples. It had turned into an almost solid whitish-mass under a layer of black hooch that smelled powerfully of vinegar and alcohol. A series of daily 'washings', each of which involved vigorously mixing the starter in about a litre of water, discarding all but a cup of this dilute solution, and then feeding it enough flour to make a thick batter, gradually reduced the acidity and woke up the sourdough bugs. After a few days, the starter produced a tiny bit of froth and bubble. Then, finally, it sprang to life, trebling in volume and giving off that most wonderful fruity, zingy scent that says "I'm happy - let's bake".

So, I did !

Here's a pic of the first loaf just after it emerged from the oven last night, filling the house with that earthy, primally-satisfying smell that only freshly baked bread has. I left it on the rack for a while to cool off, making those wonderful little crackling sounds (it, not me). A little later, while it was still nicely warm, my partner and I shared the first slices.

Yum and double yum !

The Recipe

It seems miraculous that such a work of bread-art, with all its wonderful flavours, smells and textures can be conjured up from the very simplest of recipes by the most amateur of bakers such as myself. If I can do it, you can.

The recipe I used for this loaf is my take on the San Francisco sourdough recipe in Ed Wood's Classic Sourdoughs.


1/2 cup of liquid culture
3 1/2 (-ish) cups plain flour
1 tspn salt


I like the 'liquid' culture to have a consistency like a thick batter at room temperature - it will pour out of a jar, but only slowly. In a bowl, combine the culture, 1 cup of flour and about 1/2 cup of water (or enough to give a thicker but still pourable consistency). Cover and leave for 12 hours at room temperature - here in the autumnal cool of Sydney that's about 15-22°C (60-72°F).

Mix in another cup of flour and a little water - just enough to give a consistency that is somewhere between batter and blob, ie. a bit thicker than the previous stage. Proof for around 8 hours at room temperature, after which you should have a nice fluffy thing in the bowl.

Spoon knead a cup of flour into the mixture to form a sticky dough. Turn out onto a well-floured board and hand knead, adding more flour as necessary to stop it sticking. If all has gone well, the dough will now approach an erotic state of firmness and elasticity like a lover's buttocks beneath your hands. I like the dough to still be a little moist (another erotic adjective there) rather than getting to the point where it stops taking up any flour.

Roughly shape the dough and pop it into an oiled, floured loaf tin. I like the dough to be about half way up the tin initially. Sprinkle a little flour onto the dough, cover the loaf tin with a cloth or container to keep the top from drying out, and let it rise until it's a little higher than the tin.

While the dough is rising, pre-heat your oven to 200°C (400°F). When the dough looks ready, pop a pan of water into the oven on the bottom shelf to provide steam then put the loaf tin in. Close the oven door gently ! Bake for about 40 minutes or until the loaf is golden on top and sounds nicely hollow when you tap the bottom.

Allow the loaf to cool on a wire rack.



  1. So glad you've got a sourdough blog going! I shall haunt you, haunt you, I tell you! Muwahahahahahahaha!

    Also great to hear that you got the starter revived and you're back to baking sourdough. Oh, the insanity...

  2. Wow. If only my wholemeal sourdough would rise that much I'd be ecstatic!