Since learning how to make sourdough with Wye Weight in Monmouth last November I have developed a passion for making my own. Every week without fail Bob (my starter) is fed and, armed with some gorgeous “Sourdough School” books I was given for Christmas, I’m having fun trying out loads of different flavours.
But it has really made me think how the process of making a sourdough loaf is very similar to writing a book…
The sourdough starter is the key ingredient. The nugget of an idea that develops into a full, wholesome story. You nurture your starter to keep it healthy and it repays you many times over by bubbling away until it is ready to grow into something much bigger. Then you simply feed it with three simple things – preferably organic - to turn it into the wonderful end product of which no two are ever exactly the same.
Firstly the flour. I love to use different combinations. Wholemeal, white, malted, rye. Whatever is chosen it is then enhanced with any variety of seeds, herbs or other natural ingredients. Pumpkin, sunflower, poppy, chia and flax seeds or garlic, rosemary, jalapeño peppers, cheese… there is no end to what you can experiment with. These are your characters, who give your story depth and substance. That bring it alive.
Secondly fine, organic sea salt. This is the tension and suspense that gives it some oomph. Without it the loaf lacks texture; becomes less interesting.
Thirdly water. This is the plot. The essence of life that binds it all together and makes you care about your story and the people in it. It touches on all the characters and works in harmony with the flour and salt to lift the dough and make it a success.
Then the stretch and fold technique - repeated at regular intervals. This is the writing and editing. The re-writing and re-editing. Developing the gluten in the dough is the refining of the manuscript, over and over, over and over. It starts off overly sticky, then becomes smooth and pliable. You keep working on it until it is of the correct consistency. Able to hold its own.
Later comes the pre-shaping and final shaping tasks - the copy edit and the final proof read. These steps cannot be missed. Failure to do so will make the loaf lose its surface tension or even collapse; it may still taste nice but won’t live up to expectations. Just like a book, it might be the best ever plot but if it contains errors it detracts from the joy of reading it.
Finally, the baking of the loaf is the printing and the binding. The thrill of the bake as the aroma of freshly baked bread fills the kitchen and the sourdough emerges in its final form. The excitement of seeing the end product. To be enjoyed and relished. Devoured in one sitting or savoured slowly. Something to talk about, to share with friends and family.
Then, once it’s done, you’re already starting to think about the next one and which characters to use…