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Sourdough September – Postbag

If you follow any social media then hopefully you will have spotted the #SourdoughSeptember hashtag. It was started by the #RealBread campaign, and the intention is to encourage people to buy and bake sourdough. The campaign is a very good one, but we know from your messages to us that sourdough is good all year round. A quick look across the internet and you can easily find lots of discussions about sourdough including many who at times seem keen to turn it into something of a black art. When I am asked about looking after a sourdough starter for instance, I generally hear stories of methods used verging on the mystical and try to show how easy it is to keep without witchcraft…

This week, to celebrate Sourdough September, I thought that we could take a leaf out of BBC Gardeners’ Question Time and have a sourdough postbag, answered by our in-house Queen of Sourdough Vanessa Kimbell. Judge of the sourdough section in the World bread Awards and tutor at The Sourdough School in Northampton, Vanessa is well placed to handle some questions and to share her tips.

Ask Vanessa:

Question: I've had a couple of goes at Sourdough but both loaves have been too flat - delicious but flat. Any ideas? Susan Petherick

Answer: There are several basic problems that can cause a flat loaf typically due to either under or over proving of the dough.

Under proved – this is when your bread has not risen. There are a number of possibilities for poorly risen bread, amongst others:

1. Your starter is not active enough; perhaps your leaven was not ready. A simple check that your starter is ready to use is to take a teaspoon of it and drop it into a glass of water. If it floats then it is ready. Otherwise, it may need another hour to get going or, if it has been around for a long time, may be exhausted and need another feed of flour and water.

2. The water you used was too cold – leave for longer until proved. The dough will be fine but will just rise more slowly.

3. You have not given your dough enough time to rise. You can check that the dough has properly risen by gently prodding the dough with a finger. If the dimple springs back very quickly then it is under proven; not at all then over proved – somewhere in between is just right!

Over proved. Your dough looks magnificent, but when you turn it out it turns into a pancake. There are a few common causes for this:

1. Reducing the proving time (see under proving)

2. Reducing the temperature of the water. 20-25C is about right. Slightly cooler, especially in a warm room will give you more control. A thermometer is helpful for this.

3. Reducing the amount of leaven you are using.

Please don’t do all three at once! Try one thing at a time, make a note of the temperature of your water and you will find a balance.

We can send you a pot of Vanessa’s fresh sourdough starter

Question: We had a starter that we kept going for about 2 years. Since then we have been using Sekowa from BakeryBits. But recently we have been trying to get a starter going again. Having gone through the process of feeding rye flour to the mix, keeping it warm etc we have something that looks like a viable starter. Using it for bread making however hasn’t produced the results. It gives a nice tangy sourdough but lacks the ‘oomph’ to give any decent rise. Have you any suggestions for getting some more life and lift into the starter, please? - Brian Fiddian

Answer: I use organic stoneground flour to get a starter going. I find it easier to get a wheat starter going and then use rye to feed it with once it is established and I know from experience that this works. The process of making your own starter is fun! You can see it coming to life and there is a real sense of achievement when you bake your first loaf. The reason I use stoneground organic flour, such as Stoates is that the roller milling process heats flour to such a high temperature that it kills the naturally occurring yeasts that reside on the outside of the wheat, which is often why certain sourdough starters fail to get going. I also recommend organic flour because it has not been treated with foliar fungicide, which can also inhibit your starters development. When your starter is beautifully bubbly, you can do a float test to check that it has enough yeast to make your first loaf. To do this, use organic white flour instead of wholegrain flour for 2 consecutive feeds, which really boosts the yeast activity. My challenge to you Brian is to use a Stoates flour to make a starter – we’ve popped one in the post to you.

Question: Newcomer to sourdough, I bought your San Francisco dried starter, but never really understood it, and gave up. Now I’ve got another strain, and after about 3 months, have got a delicious savoury flavour, but it's so hard, I'm wearing out the bread-knife and worrying about my teeth! Recipe: Starter 150g (1 pt water 2 pts flour), water 250ml, white strong bread flour 350g, wholemeal 20g, rye 15g, salt 1 tsp: sometimes kneaded, sometimes blended in bread-maker, room temp 8-10 hours, till x2 in size. Knock back gently into ball, sometimes into a tin, leave 3 hours. Pre-heated fan-oven with water-pan @ 220C, 20 min, then 190C for 20 mins. Looks perfect, tastes great, solid and tough as a brick. Please, please, please help! Vincent McLoughlin

Answer: Oh Vincent.

I am surprised that you had trouble with the San Francisco starter, we get such positive feedback for it. Your recipe…I am not going to try and correct it – I’d rather you followed my tried and tested overnight recipe here but there are a few things that stand out that are causing your sourdough to be a house brick. The hydration is quite low, but this is probably not the whole story. Kneading sourdough in a bread maker won’t help as can be a bit brutal for a sourdough which is more delicate than a yeasted dough. I suggest you use a stretch and fold method, which is a much more gentle way to get structure into your bread. Also be careful when you add the salt. Salt has a tightening effect on the gluten, so if I am going to stretch and fold (rather than a no knead technique) then I reserve about 20g of the water from the recipe and mix the salt in after the Autolyse. So, my challenge to you is to make an overnight no knead bread - we’ll send you some more flour to try it.

Question: Wonder if you can help explain an issue I seem to get regularly with my sourdough loaves? Despite scoring the top, the loaves always seem to rip along the side during the bake. The bread still tastes fine and has a good texture but it is just misshapen. Any tips would be appreciated. Darrin Romp

Answer: Darrin this loaf looks beautiful. It is nicely shaped – the blow out is a classic case of an uneven oven – something which is extremely common. It might be because of a poor seal in your oven, or that your oven is hotter on one side than the other. I had the same problem when I moved house and it drove me potty, I tried everything and eventually I was recommended a La cloche. I was sceptical at first (and I remember Patrick patiently telling me that it was exactly what I needed) but I do remember the joy of taking my perfect loaf out of the oven from the cloche. They are not inexpensive but they are priceless. They are made from clay and protect your loaf whilst it is baking. It seals in the moisture so the crust is baked in its own steam, which forms a superb crust and prevents this blow out as the bread is baked evenly on all sides. I use them in all of my classes. – We’ve sent you a La cloche and we’d love to see how you get on!


Vanessa Kimbell's Fresh Sourdough Starter

Fresh sourdough starter from Vanessa Kimbell, taken from a 200 year-old culture in France. It is fed on organic white wheat flour and water and delivered in a convenient pot to keep a small quantity in your fridge between use.

Stoate's Organic 100% Wholemeal Flour

The ideal breadmaking flour. Milled from a blend of high protein wheat with nothing added and nothing taken away. It contains all of the natural fibre and wheat germ for a tasty and healthy diet.

La Cloche Baking Dome

Make fantastic bread in your oven every time with a La Cloche. Ensure perfect golden, crackly crust and moist, evenly baked bread with this amazing product, based on 1000s of years of bread baking traditions.

This week’s Prize Loaf

Well done to Gaye Fisher! - we will send you a selection of our favourite goodies to play with including a sample of our new nuttimalt which is getting a fantastic reception from the first to try it. To enter your loaves for the weekly prize simple share your loaves on Facebook and Twitter (be sure to copy us in using @bakerybits)

Gaye baked my Beetroot Bread recipe from last week’s newsletter. To save her banneton from becoming discoloured, she lined it with a floured cloth. She said “The cloth makes it a bit difficult to turn out so I put some baking paper on the top and turned it out onto a peel. Then slipped the baking paper plus dough onto the base of the Cloche.” A brilliant idea!

Don’t forget to take a look at our clearance lines.



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