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How (not) to fail at sourdough

Yes, I totally jumped on the sourdough-bandwagon! All this time at home during lockdown was the perfect excuse to start my own explorations in the world of flour and water.

This post is not about how to make a starter and, eventually, bread – there are plenty of pro’s out there who can do that so much better than I ever could. But what I will tell you is what I’ve learnt from my mistakes, some great tips and tricks  and a few of my favourite resources in this magical mystery world of ‘levain’.

open tabs with sourdough recipesDon’t lose the recipe

Right, this might seem obvious but yeah, it happened to me. I had been googling a fair bit to find the ‘perfect’ recipe and had multiple tabs open on my phone with various searches on sourdough. I started confidently with my starter, following the instructions for day 1. And between day 1 and 3 I managed to lose the specific tab with the specific recipe with the very specific instructions. So I tried to find it and when that failed I just tried to follow The Internet’s general, though extremely varied advice. You might not be surprised to read that this resulted in what might have been the beginning of a new biosphere, but mainly ended up in our bin.

spelt, plain and rye flourMake sure you have enough flour (during a worldwide pandemic)

If you are going to build a living organism (technically it’s alive – thank you bacteria) from flour and water, it’s quite essential you have a sufficient amount of both. Water luckily comes straight out of our tap, but flour? In a matter of days it turned into gold dust, as easy to find as toilet paper. I had some flour to start with, but with feeding my starter daily my supply was slinking quickly. I checked shop after shop and started to worry. I even dreamt about it! After two weeks or so I was lucky enough to score some rye and spelt flour but honestly, the stress! Oh and it’s true what they say: rye flour works like absolute magic for your starter!

Glass jars sourdough starterGet big glass jars

A starter exists out of equal parts of water and flour, and due to the natural bacteria forming it will start growing and eventually double in size after a feed. That means it needs some space to move. Never have I been so appreciate of big glass jars in my life: peppers, gherkins, mayo,… the bigger the better! Or just  divide your starter over multiple jars when it doesn’t have enough space. That’s what I had to resort to after I found out my starter had been planning it’s escape and was overflowing the jar.

sourdough discard pancakesDiscard and conquer

Most recipes for sourdough tell you to discard part of the starter when you feed it. That sounded like utter waste, especially with flour being in high demand, so I looked for a recipe that didn’t require this. I found it on The Kitchn and followed it to the letter (until my starter didn’t want to look like it was supposed to, at which point I had to improvise). Nonetheless, that leaves you with A LOT of starter. So I found my way to another ingenious little corner of The Internet: sourdough discard recipes. There are so many great things you can make with the discard (some turned out better than others) so there have been quite a few experiments in our household – results described below!

bubbly sourdough starterPatience

Good thing we were in lockdown because this baby takes it’s time! As I mentioned I followed The Kitchen’s recipe to make my starter, but after about 10 days (and a dwindling flour supply) my starter still refused to rise. I was getting quite worried about it, but as I didn’t have enough flour I decided to put it in the fridge and give it a break. When I got it back out a week later a layer of liquid had formed on the top. I scooped it off (as instructed by The Internet) and fed it again, but this time with rye flour. I saw it change almost instantly in front of my eyes. Those bubbles! That rise! It finally behaved and looked like the ones on all the blogs I had read. After 2 or 3 days I did the float test, whereby I dropped a spoonful of starter in some warm water. It floated, and voila! I had succeeded in creating a successful starter!

sourdough brickRise and shine

Creating a starter that is alive and kicking is one thing, baking bread is a whole other ballgame. I’ve baked 4 loafs of breads now of which the first one failed miserably. Well, not miserably because it looked like bread from the outside but when we cut it in half it was super dense inside, like a brick. The reason? The dough hadn’t risen properly. As I only had access to spelt flour at the time I had looked for a specific recipe for a spelt sourdough bread. I had followed this recipe by Mary’s Nest, which also required no kneading! Maybe it wasn’t warm enough in our house, maybe it needed longer, in any case: I got suspicious of recipes that don’t require kneading. For the other breads I baked I always kneaded the dough for about 10 minutes and let proof overnight. Each of them has turned out well, so for now that will be the method I stick with.

Success (and failures)

Now let me share with you how you can get baking too!

sourdough bread in cast iron pot

Starter and bread

There are so many recipes and methods out there, but here are the ones that I’d recommend:

  • Sourdough starter (The Kitchn): this is the method I followed to make my starter, as this recipe does not make you discard part of the starter every time you feed it (zero waste!)
  • Sourdough starter + bread (Patrick Ryan/Firehouse Bakery): I intend to try this one for our next bread. I really like the YouTube video where he explains it in a very accessible way. And the window pane test is a good one to try out yourself when kneading.
  • Sourdough starter + bread (The Boy Who Bakes): Fellow Great British Bake Off fans might recognise Ed Kimber. He has been guiding us mere mortals through quarantine with his sourdough starter, breads and discard experiments. I’d recommend following him on Instagram, great step by steps in his highlights and amazing bakes!

Once you get a hang of baking regular loaves you can start branching out! Two wonderful loaves I’ve made so far were:


Sourdough (discard) gems

Some of my personal favourites that I’ve tried so far! The scallion (spring onion) and sesame seed pancakes are so easy, yet so tasty with a soy sauce dip. The brownies were an absolute hit: so gooey and moorish! The pancakes were nice in my opinion, though my boyfriend wasn’t a fan.

After my first bread failed I followed my friend’s advice and tried the recipe she used for my second attempt – which proved to be successful. Unfortunately this recipe is only in Dutch. For my last two breads I only had plain flour at hand, so I looked for a specific recipe with it and this one has been a winner!

sourdough pizza

Not the best

I’ve tried out two different recipes for sourdough pizza (I could only retrieve the last one I tried so that is the one linked below). Neither of the two got much rise and turned out just about okay. As mentioned above the no-knead sourdough spelt bread didn’t go very well for me, but maybe you have more luck.

Looking forward to try

Instagram has been RAVING about this recipe, so can’t wait to try it this weekend!

Have you joined #TeamSourdough during lockdown? Any recommendations or great recipes to try out?


18 thoughts on “How (not) to fail at sourdough

Add yours

  1. I started making sourdough a few months ago when a friend shared her starter with me. I bake almost every weekend now! The one thing I can’t get down is scoring. I’ve only just started making bread that doesn’t stick to the pan (or the parchment paper, mostly because I started using a silicone mat instead). I love having tasty homemade bread every weekend though!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sourdough bread is the best; it takes all day for the dough to do its thing, but we bake it in a cast iron cauldron and love eating it for dinner! I had no idea one can do desserts with sourdough, but I look forward to trying something new!

    Liked by 1 person

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