Have you ever seen anything so beautiful? Well, when you're nervously trying to culture your own leaven and make your first sourdough loaf, this is indeed a sight to behold. This leaven was alive and active and ready for action.
This is my second attempt at making sourdough bread.
Six months or so ago I started making my own leaven but because I neglected to care for it and feed it regularly, it kind of died. I threw it out and put off trying to make one again.
So when Jane, the sourdough expert in my circle of friends, offered to give me some of her well-matured leaven, I accepted without hesitation and promised to care for it and feed it well.
I did. I fed it for three days and used it on the fourth day.
[If you want instructions of making and feeding your own leaven, I suggest you read Jane's very detailed post on her blog, The Wayward Oven].
[A sourdough starter isn't difficult to make but it requires time and attention. All you need is a clean jar with a lid, some flour and water. And some patience for you have to feed and replenish it daily for six days or seven before it is ready for use. As it develops, the starter will collect the spores of airborne yeast which is what gives the starter it's character and flavour.]
I was very nervous, making sure I read the recipe (I adapted Jane's recipe for a seeded Sunflower Bread which she adapted from a Dan Lepard recipe) carefully and followed it closely.
I'd only ever used commercial yeast before and while I am confident when making breads with dry, active yeast, this was my first go at using a leaven. I wasn't sure what to expect - how would the dough rise, how long should it take to rise, how should it look when it's risen enough?
So, yeah, I followed the instructions of the recipe to the T.
[Of the started you create, you use only a small portion - about 100g or so, depending on the recipe - for the bread. The remaining 100g or so you keep and feed for future use]
I had to knead the dough briefly in two ten-minute intervals before leaving the dough to rest for an hour, to rise.
After an hour, the dough barely rose and I was panicky. Was it not working? Worried, I decided to just continue on - I was to shape the dough into a round and place it in a proofing basket or a floured kitchen cloth and place it in a deep bowl to rise further, for 1.5 hours.
I waited. Anxiously. Peeping in every 30 minutes or so. Yeah, I was a Nervous Nelly alright.
[I must mention that I woke up at 5am to start on my bread. It was 8am and I couldn't wait to see the dough after the second rise.]
I peeked inside the cloth again and was pleased to see it had risen. Not as much as I'm used to with the dough that uses commercial yeast, but it had risen. Surely that was a good sign. Perhaps leaven takes longer to rise, allowing the flavours to develop slowly? [I consulted Jane later and she confirmed that for a bigger rise, more time is needed. So I made the loaf again later in the day and let it rise for longer - about 4 hours - and true enough, the rise was significantly more and the flavour superior.]
Pleased with the moderate rise (or rather, because I couldn't wait to taste this bread), I proceeded to bake it.
I preheated my oven to 220C. Instead of placing the shaped bread on a baking sheet, I decided to bake it in my saucepan (I've done it before and it comes out lovely). So I placed the saucepan (stainless steel) in the oven to heat up.
After 10 minutes, I removed the pot and carefully transferred the shaped dough into the pan, seam side down. I put it in the oven and waited. It took about 30 minutes for the bread to be baked.
Whoooopp! Yup. I think I half-yelped as I took the pot out and saw the lovely crusted dome in the saucepan. What do you know! It looked beautiful. Nice and crusty [the sourdough crust is part of what makes it so popular and sought-after - nicely crisp and crunch] ... and it smelt divine. I couldn't wait to cut it open and peer ... no, gaze ... no gawk at the inside of my bread.
I cut it while it was still hot (after photographing it, of course) and it was glorious. It was still steaming and it smelt .... yes, once again, divine. Delicious. I knew it would taste great too. I just knew it would.
And it did. The pumpkin seeds (the original recipe called for sunflower seeds but I love pumpkin seeds and decided to swap) were a yummy addition and added crunch and flavour to the already tasty bread.
For the recipe and the very detailed instructions, head on the The Wayward Oven.
I called Jane immediately (well, a little later as I didn't think she'd appreciate a call from a howling, screeching me so early) and thanked her profusely for her starter and her recipe.
Even Mojo, my 12-year-old dachshund kept sniffing at the bread on the dining table and though he's on a strict diet (the vet says he's 1.5 kg overweight - for a small dog, that's a LOT) I gave him a tiny piece of the bread. He loved it (but then again he loves anything edible. Or even inedible).
The bread didn't last a day - I let a few friends and colleagues sample some and I ate the rest for dinner. It was too good to keep!