Flour. Water. Salt. The three simple, humble constituents of a homemade loaf of sourdough bread; a prime example of Aristotle’s observation that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Flour, salt and water

Just over a week ago, I vigorously whisked up a mixture of water and spelt flour, which I kept at room temperature while ‘feeding’ it almost daily, first discarding a similar amount each time to maintain a relatively stable quantity.

After a week, the smell of the mixture suddenly changed; from a sharp acrid tang reminiscent of cider vinegar and fusty cupboards, it became a gentle mellow thing. When I fed it this final time, instead of discarding a portion, I made it into what is known as a sponge, by adding a mix of rye and wheat flour and water.

Sourdough starter fermenting

Sourdough starter fermenting

The sponge rested overnight, then the final addition of flour and salt was incorporated to form a dough. I kneaded this, then shaped and rested it several times through the course of a day until finally it was ready to be split, shaped and proved one final time, and baked.

The result was three beautiful sourdough loaves; from a mixture of spelt, rye and wheat flours. The transformation from three simple ingredients to these majestic tangy loaves with such an open texture and flavourful crust rather takes my breath away.

Three loaves of homemade sourdough bread

I am surprised still by the vigour of the starter – even in the fridge, where the cooler temperature should now reduce its need for feeding to once a week or thereabouts, it has continued to ferment and grow, pushing its way out of one container already. The yeast and ‘friendly’ bacteria that have created these loaves, giving them their texture and taste, were conjured from the air – what a marvellous trick.

Homemade sourdough bread, sliced

Slow fermentation and the presence of Lactobacillus make sourdough bread more digestible than modern rapid-culture loaves, with better absorption of vitamins and minerals from the grain, and a far lower glycaemic index or load. If you’ll excuse me, I’m just heading back to the kitchen for another virtuous slice of bread…

Poached eggs on slice of homemade sourdough bread

Poached egg on slice of homemade sourdough bread

I used the instructions in River Cottage Bread (Handbook No. 3) to create my sourdough starter, and turn it into these handsome loaves.


15 thoughts on “Alchemy

  1. I am very impressed with your sour dough, you must have some very good natural yeasts in the air where you are! I have never been so successful, especially with flours that are usually so difficult to get a good rise. Well done, enjoy! Christina

    • Thanks Christina. I have frozen two sliced loaves to prevent myself eating them all :).
      I was impressed too, especially for my first attempt – when we tried to harvest natural airborne yeasts for something before (fermenting elderflowers for champagne I think) we were not so successful and ended up adding brewers yeast.

  2. I am so excited reading this, as I know it has finally given me the courage to have a go myself – your results look wonderful, and clearly tasted wonderful too!

  3. Your bread looks amazing! Isn’t sourdough just wonderful? I saw your tweet earlier and simply had to look up your blog – I am also in South Wales, so I guess our gardens have been suffering the same rain these last few days 😦

      • I love it too! I have only just started making it and the sourdough starter is now a firm fixture in our fridge. The rain & flooding has been terrible – fingers crossed for some more sunshine…it’s lovely here today, so I hope you have a good & sunny day too! Kirsten

  4. Mmmmmmm now that sounds and looks seriously good. I chuckled at the thought of the starter escaping from its confines. Intrigued to know what is atop that slice of bread about to enter your mouth? πŸ™‚

      • Aaaaaah – I can see it clearly now – lens out of my reading specs dropped out so have been struggling a bit recently but problem is now sorted. Must be a home grown egg – yolk is such a glorious colour πŸ™‚

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