It may not look like it, but this is breakthrough bread. I've been wanting to know how to make a good, crusty, chewy loaf of sourdough for a long time - I'd like to think the interest came before it became so modish that even supermarkets have 'sourdough' (it's often nothing of the sort). And now I have.
Quite a few years ago I went on a one-day sourdough with a well-known, well-respected baker and author*, but I came away utterly confused. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, and now that I do know, I can see that it was all very badly explained. And the fact that he insisted on using mineral water at exactly something like 37.287964 degrees C and had a room full of sourdough acolytes** didn't help. So I came home and carried on trying to reach myself from different books***. In the process, I've made the most evil-smelling sourdough starters, and the flattest loaves I've ever seen (that weren't meant to be that flat). I've read through pages and pages of recipes which make it sound like alchemy, and recipes which haven't been checked so leave you high and dry on Day 6, and recipes which treat starters as if they were precious living things that almost require their own nursemaid.
After reading Charlotte's glowing review of the workshop at Hart's Bakery in Bristol, I put my name down on the waiting list. I'd bought bread and cake from the bakery, so knew it was brilliant, and was really pleased when I at last got a place on a workshop earlier this month. It's a great way to do it: make the doughs in the evening and come back in the morning to bake and eat the results. The idea of bringing a guest in the morning to help eat is inspired - we made very generous amounts of croissants, almond croissants, pains au chocolat/aux raisins, and Danish pastries and the communal breakfast is a lovely, sociable, sharing end to the session.
But the real take-away value is the fact that I learned how to make sourdough with simple, fresh, clean-smelling starter which is easy to maintain (no reverence required). Laura Hart**** explained and demonstrated the various mixing and stretching and handling techniques (including using a thin plastic shower cap to cover the bread - great idea) in straightforward terms and without any fuss or over-complication. I've been practising over the last few days to get my dough and loaves right (or at least the way I want them to be) and today is the ta-dah day.
Every sourdough loaf that's come out of the oven in the last week has been enjoyed and eaten quickly while hot with lots of butter, and there's been a good deal of of toast, too. So it's not that they have been bad - it's just that this one is good. Very satisfying.
Asterisks added later:
*a man, **all men,***written by men
I can draw my own conclusions,