The recipes given on this blog assume a familiarity with bread-making and sourdough. But here I’m going to collect up some useful links and then a brief guide to demystifying bread. I’ll add to both as I learn.
Useful Links & Books
All-round guides to sourdough
How to make a starter infographic. Top-notch clear intro by Stacey Nguyen.
How to make a starter. This is a no-nonsense but detailed guide.
Weekend Bakery. Precise instructions and clarity. Sourdough.
Virtuous Bread. Haven’t tried much on here, but this site gives me a good feeling. Has a global sensibility.
[Book] The Handmade Loaf. Authentically European and varied. Uses esoteric ingredients unapologetically.
Ye Olde Breade Blogge. German loaves, and more. Excellent.
Bread & Companatico. Italian, mostly, with a passion for regional authenticity.
[Book] Local Breads. France and Italy. Sourdough-focussed, fantastic, error-strewn (google before you bake).
Where to buy special flours (UK)
Shipton Mill Good miller. French and Italian white flours, plus chopped rye.
Doves Farm Another good miller.
Wholefoods in Kensington [London] Middle-class Mecca, with American sensibility. Esp good for meals, grain berries, flakes, also has malt syrup and molasses.
The Asian Cookshop Gram, millet, ragi and barley flours.
I find London’s multi-ethnic grocers good for: bulgar wheat, gram flour, casava flour, polenta, fine & coarse semolina, corn flour.
Bakery Bits Equipment, plus chopped rye and malt powder.
This is if a) you would like more explanation of the steps before beginning or b) your baking is going wrong.
Bread is not demanding, but it requires you to pay attention to its various states. If the recipe tells you one thing and your observation another, go with your observation. Dough fermentation speed, for instance, varies according to room temperature, pressure and humidity. Trusting your eyes is a safer bet every time.
State 1: yeast is lively. With dried yeast you can ignore this, unless it’s out of date. With a sourdough starter, don’t use it until it doubles in volume between feedings. If it can’t double between feedings, it will not rise your bread.
State 2: dough is wet enough. All flours differ in terms of the amount of water they absorb, so make sure your dough consistency is as the recipe describes. If in doubt, you are safer with a wetter dough. It will be harder to knead, but your bread will taste better. Never add extra flour when kneading to make it less sticky: it will get less sticky anyway as the gluten develops.
State 3: dough has been kneaded enough. For wet dough, I recommend this technique. Either way, your aim with kneading is simply to stretch the dough without tearing, then fold it back on itself. This develops the gluten that gives the bread its spring. The Window Pane Test is the classic one for testing if your bread is kneaded enough. It is practically impossible to over-knead by hand, so if in doubt keep going.
State 4: dough has risen enough. I can’t do better than Weekend Bakery on this one. Despite what they say about the ‘double in size’ thing being a myth, I also take a photo so I can check how much the dough has grown.
State 5: dough is baked enough. Tapping the bottom of the loaf is too much of a faff so I don’t do it. But it’s a good idea. Also, bear in mind that as your bread cools, the moisture will radiate outwards and soften your crust. So even if your crust seems crisp when it comes out, it may soften as the loaf cools. If in doubt, give it a little longer. Better to have a slightly burnt crust than a slightly uncooked interior.