Posts Tagged ‘sourdough’

Today we baked. I made sourdough and hot cross buns – two lots because I accidentally made the first batch not vegan. A cross on the bread and crosses on the buns. Crosses for this most holy of days.

As the buns cooled, we held an online Zoom meeting with our dear brothers and sisters from church, meditating together on Jesus’ way to the cross and on his death, led gently by a few different church members. After the quiet of that time together, I went into the garden with my Bible and reread John’s account of the passion.


Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’

John 18v37

As this Easter passes, I want to hold onto that challenge from the Lord Jesus – to listen to his voice, to be of the truth, to hold onto the cross.

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Encouraged by a friend who was asking about sourdough a week or so ago, I posted my recipe and resurrected my starter. It had been sitting in the kitchen for many many months and had turned to a sort of strange buttery substance with a black liquid on top. I probably should have thrown it away but I kept on meaning to restart it.

I actually managed to inspire myself as I reminded myself of the joy of sourdough baking – it’s honestly like a sort of magic – making just flour, water and salt raise itself into a loaf. I used a spoonful of the ancient buttery starter, and threw the rest away, and followed the starter recipe. And today we had sourdough for lunch in the Vicarage – a sharp nutty loaf to go with some simple cheese. The starter has a bit of a way to go to make a perfectly textured loaf, and I need to get back in the sourdough groove, but it was still delicious.

When I restarted this blog, I wrote about our parish smelling of bread and spices. Sometimes the scent of bread and spices is right here in our Vicarage, not in the streets outside, but we hang onto the hope of the gospel – the bread of life, the aroma of grace. In these uncertain days, bread and spices will keep us pointed to the only way of hope.




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Ages ago, when I was slightly more on top of life, I went through a phase of baking sourdough. I love the taste of the bread, and it keeps brilliantly. And if we’re all going to stuck at home for a bit, I think the relaxing rhythm of the baking would be good for us all. And a friend has just asked online for sourdough recipes, and I discovered most of this post lurking in my vast drafts folder.

There are loads of sourdough recipes online. So when I first had a go, I cobbled one together from the internet and a packet of bread flour, because I’d not yet bought a book. It works just fine. It looks long, but it’s actually pretty simple: make the starter over the course of a week, knead over a morning, an afternoon or an evening, prove overnight, bake in about half an hour.

I made my sourdough starter from the recipe on the flour packet, which was as follows:

Day 1: 75g flour, 75ml water. Stir to thick paste. Leave in jar with about 1l capacity in a warm place. The Vicarage kitchen was fine, so it doesn’t have to be super warm.

Day 2: Add the same again.

Day 3: And again. The mix was starting to bubble a bit and smell a bit yoghurty.

Day 4: And again. By now I’d realised that 75g flour is about 125ml, so I started using a heaped 1/2cup measure for the flour. This isn’t baking, so an exact measurement isn’t that important.

Day 5: And again.

Day 6: And again.

Day 7: And again. This is then enough to start making the sourdough. The starter was bubbling nicely by now and smelling full of lactobacillus. It tastes quite sour. Unsurprisingly.

So then I started with the bread itself. And all you need to add to the starter is flour, warmish water and salt. My recipe is a slow kneading one, which can be done over a few hours, but is pretty flexible if you’re in and out of the house. It can also be done in an evening though if you’re out all day. There are heaps of other techniques all over the internet. Basically, you’ve got some yeast in the starter, so you can make bread with it somehow. The yeast works better if worked slowly but I’ve made pizzas using a dough that’s only had a few kneads over an hour or two.


  • 200ml sourdough starter (original recipe said 150-250g but you need to scoop it out anyway and this is over 150g)
  • 500g bread flour (any sort)
  • 1 tspn salt
  • Around 350ml water (for the example loaf pictured here I used about 1/3 strong brown flour to 2/3 strong white and about 400ml water – the starter was quite stiff)

The key thing about sourdough is that you make quite a wet dough compared to the dough you’d make using instant yeast. I started first with strong white flour and exactly 350ml water. Trying it this way gives you a feel for the sogginess of the dough, but I don’t bother measuring now. You need more water if you’re using brown flour, or a mix. The recipe is very flexible. If your dough is super wet you’ll get a flat loaf with quite an airy texture. A drier dough gives me a denser loaf which holds its shape better. All delicious though.

I mix my dough in a pyrex bowl, using a silicone spatula. Then I leave it, covered with a cloth for ten minutes. No kneading. And then I do a series of kneadings and leavings as follows:

Mix dough, leave 10 minutes, in your bowl, covered with a clean teatowel or a muslin cloth, if you have some lurking.

Knead by folding over about 15-20 times. It will be sticky, so oil your kneading surface, and the inside of the bowl before placing it back, then leave it for another 10 minutes, covered. I have a plastic scraper that I use to gather everything back together and avoid lots of dough getting left on my board.

Knead 15-20 times on oiled board, leave 10 minutes in oiled bowl, covered. You really need the oil.

Then repeat again 4 times, leaving your dough for:

30 minutes

1 hour

1 hour again

1-2 hours NB All these times are pretty flexible, and you can probably get away with missing one or two of the kneads out.

Finally knead 15-20 times and leave the dough to rest on your board, covered with the cloth. Whilst that is happening, wash and dry your bowl. When your ten minutes are up, take your cloth, cover it liberally in bread flour and place it in the bowl, where it will serve to shape your bread in its final prove. Then fold the dough into a vague round shape, using lots of flour and pop it in the bowl (which should be about the same size as the dough, with a bit of room for rising), scatter over some more flour and then pop another cloth or some other cover on (I have a silicone cover that is super useful for this sort of thing).

If you don’t use enough flour, it will stick to the cloth, which can be quite a stressful experience as you try to extract it onto a very hot baking sheet. So ladle on the flour. This is how I did it for my first few loaves. Then I had a birthday and a banneton for a present (a 1kg banneton is perfect for this recipe) which is a bit easier – you just flour the banneton and top it with a cloth. The cloth and bowl combo worked fine though. My bowl has a capacity of about 2l.

Then pop your bowl or banneton in the fridge and leave it overnight, or a couple of nights. It will rise very beautifully.

Then, when you are wanting to make your bread, pop a baking sheet in the oven and whack the temperature up to the highest it will go. This is about 250C on my oven (I think – it’s past 240C anyhow). Also place handy a sharp carving knife or similar, a small deep baking tray eg a cake tin, with a glassful of water in it and some polenta or more bread flour. Retrieve your now risen loaf from the fridge.

Once the oven is hot, take the baking sheet out and put it on a slip proof, heat proof surface (I use the top of the cooker). Sprinkle the tray with polenta or flour and then invert your bowl or banneton on the sheet. It will start to spread out. Cut a deep cross in it, about half way through the dough. Then pop it in the oven, followed by your water filled tin on a shelf below.

Cook for 15 minutes at your top temperature and then turn the oven down to 200C for 20 minutes. And then take out of the oven, cool and eat warm with butter. If there’s any left it is delicious in any way and especially makes the world’s best toast.

I have to go now and resurrect my starter. See you back here in a week with a loaf?

IMG-20130917-00180 (1)

One I made a *lot* earlier than this blogpost

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Blogging is a funny old thing. Sometimes I can focus myself and write something every day. Other times I can’t think of anything to say. And then time goes by and there seems to be too much to say. So today I’m just going to say a bunch of random things and am hoping that will clear the blogjam that I’ve been experiencing the last week or so.

  • My kitchen was full of smoke earlier because I had a sourdough loaf in a very hot oven. First time for sourdough in ages too – perhaps my blog has become sourdough-fueled and I hadn’t noticed?
  • I have just agreed to lead a seminar at the Proclamation Trust Ministers Wives conference I’m going to in March. I’m more of a writer than a speaker so if you have any top tips for speaking and seminaring I’d be very grateful to have them.
  • I have been debating with myself about how much self-publicity is appropriate for a Christian writer. I don’t want to be a blog bore about the book. But having said that I’ve had a couple of very kind reviews and wanted to tell people (they were from Eddie Arthur and Deb). The recent Christian New Media Conference, with its awards for Christian bloggers and tweeters and websites makes me wonder about this too. Should Christians promote themselves and award prizes to one another? How much self-promotion is appropriate? I am still thinking about this.
  • Our area has a very low breastfeeding rate (around 50% against national average of over 80%). It’s not in the new trial where mums are going to be paid to breastfeed, but a friend who is breastfeeding has found herself singled out for being odd at clinics. Not exactly an encouragement. Tchuh.
  • I am going on an outing with Year 5 on Friday. Wish me luck. Thankfully it does not involve going on any rides.
  • I have about a squillion books waiting to be reviewed on the blog. They are sitting in a pile on my desk, scowling at me. Sorry if it’s your book that’s waiting.
  • Someone from the BBC asked us if we’d like to have a documentary made about life in the Vicarage. We thought about it for a nanosecond or two. And declined, like sensible people who worry about cameramen tripping over the clutter in the hall and generally having too much to do already. Wonder if anyone else is brave enough to agree?
  • We had a great firework party last week with our youth group and a couple of other groups. The weather that day was terrible, but thankfully the rain held off whilst the bonfire was lit and then returned in a deluge just at the end, so that everyone left promptly.
Vicarage Fireworks

Vicarage Fireworks

That’s enough wittering. Perhaps some more coherant blogging will flow now.

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It’s not all cake in the Vicarage. There’s bread too. Last week I made my first couple of loaves of sourdough.

I’ve been making my own bread on and off ever since we lived in Singapore and the only bread to buy was either ridiculously sweet chewy sliced rubber stuff or tastier but eyewateringly expensive. I started with a bread machine that broke from overuse and since then I’ve generally used my Kenwood mixer to make the dough. I very often make dough for pizza at home or for breadsticks for our weekly Cake and Chat community coffee morning. Although, after watching The Great British Bakeoff the other week, I think I may be making the sticks all wrong – they’re doughy rather than snappy. Still tasty though. I hardly ever make a proper loaf.

I’ve been thinking about sourdough for a while. It’s the bread of geeks, as you’ll see if you google it, made without any added yeast but a starter made from flour and water which is left to brew its natural yeasts. And then I was reading the side of my flour bag (I suffer from acute narrative hunger and need to read everything – one reason why the internet is so bad for me) and there it was – a sourdough starter recipe. So I consulted Annalise Barbieri’s lovely blog because I knew she made sourdough and also some recipes I found online. And then I gave it a go.

The flour and water concoction magically became my starter over the course of a week and a very sticky dough became my first loaf.  Although it spread out rather alarmingly, it came out of the oven with a lovely crust and proper airy texture. The second loaf was less airy but less spread too. I’m finding it a fun way to make bread, especially since the recipe I’m using doesn’t involve much kneading, just a brief punch a few times over the course of a morning. It also keeps really well, although there’s not much been kept. Sourdough has a low GI and is easier to digest than bread made with added yeast. And a loaf cost less than 50p to make. Brilliant.

A couple of days after starting my starter, I discovered that it’s Sourdough September. So I seem to have timed it quite well. Anyway, I’ve just pulled a new loaf out of the oven and I’m going to call a friend now and invite her over for coffee and a slice of bread.

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