On the radio this morning Peter Florence was talking about Hay Festival. It seems, in this anniversary year of the festival that the performers are turning on the audience and asking them questions. Monty Don’s question is, “What is the last thing you made by hand?”
My answer is sourdough bread, baked over a period of 7 days, with the dough made on the evening of the 6th day and risen overnight, then knocked back and raised again for another 6 hours.
I have made bread for years and find that the making and rising and kneading of bread fits well around waiting for paint to dry and stretching legs and relaxing brain. In the past I have always used either yeast, which is lovely, or easy blend yeast which is easy and I have always been intrigued by the idea of sour dough. I have heard stories about bakers who have sour dough starter that has been handed down over years, like a family heirloom. It has a distinctive scent, taste. It takes time and a little care, to feed it and grow it and keep it alive. And if you can get the skill and the knack it will strengthen and grow until you have a very distinctive taste. At Hobbs House Bakery their leaven is 55 years old.
I wanted to grow my own and having begun I now feel like having different ones, with wholemeal and white and rye flour, but I was very nervous of the process.
So, the dough was much messier than I am used to, much more moist, and I made the mistake of putting it into too wide a container for its final proofing, but persisted and the end result is a loaf with a lovely texture, scent and taste and a jar of leaven still working and strengthening for the next loaf. Next time I will use a loaf tin I think.
I loved the time it took to make from the first stirring together of flour and water to the final kneading and proving for 6 hours ( could have left it for 8 but grew impatient).
There are so many recipes online for how to make a starter. I used this one, which was easy, although I didn’t use yogurt and only used about a teaspoon on raisins, and this one for the bread recipe, with improvisation thrown in, ie lots more flour as the dough was too sticky for my liking.
So, that was the last thing I made by hand, and this is the thing I am making by hand at the moment: