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I've been making sourdough bread quite a lot lately. It tastes better than shop bread, it's cheaper, and it's an incredibly satisfying activity. Also, it fills the culture food making hole in my life made by my leaving my tempeh starter behind in Glasgow. Basically, instead of using dried yeast as leaven, live, cultured yeast is used instead. The yeast in question is plain old Saccaromyces cerevisiae in my case, but other strains can be used too. If you're brave, the old fashioned method is to leave a flour and water mixture uncovered until it foams and smells sour, but it seems like rather a leap of faith to expect to aquire benevolent yeast from an environment containing two active and germy humans. So, for now, I'm using starter sired by some Tesco quick-rise yeast I had lying around, and against the internets' experience, it seems to be working.

I found the recipe in The Complete Tightwad Gazette, an astonishing 1000 page slab of money saving tips and anthropological insight into American culture in the 80s and 90s. It seemed pretty simple, so I had a shot. I liked the denseness and the lack of overpowering yeast taste which I disliked about other homemade breads I'd made before.

A note before I give you the recipe: all the measurements are in American cups. I'm used to this, as I find measuring by volume to be less expensive and fussy than weighing things (a measuring cup can be bought for under a pound, a decent scale costs at least fifteen), and it's trivial to convert from volume to weight. Here's a chart giving densities of some common foodstuffs, as well as a calculator. Another method I use is to count the number of cups in a standard pack.

First, starter. Mix two cups of chlorine free water (buy mineral water, or let some tap water sit uncovered for two days), two cups of flour (don't use "strong bread flour"; this is expensive and creates gluten strands which are irritating when you're pouring the stuff out the jar) and a tablespoon of yeast. Loosely cover this and leave it at room temperature for a day or two, until it foams and has a nice, sour smell. Whenever you remove starter for bread, replace one and a half cups of water, and the same volume of flour.

As I cleaned up after my starter when it merrily reproduced its way out of its jar, fed it flour and water from a spoon, anxiously smelled it whenever I opened the fridge, and agonised over pouring the first batch down the sink when I left it out and it started smelling funny, I began to think of it as a little pet. Of course, I do tend to recklessly anthropomorphise things.

Making the bread is pretty easy, though it does involve long waits. Mix five and a half cups of flour (I use a mixture of stoneground wholemeal and Lidl's own plain white), two cups of starter, a cup of water and a tablespoon of salt. When it's more or less all together, lift it onto a floured surface and start kneading. I fold the dough in half, squash it down with the heels of my hands, and repeat until my hands are red and I have a sense of righteousness. Then plonk the dough back in the bowl, cover it with a damp cloth, and leave it to rise overnight. In the morning, knead the dough again, cut it in half and put it in two greased, floured loaf tins. Leave to rise for four hours. Then bake for half an hour in a 180°C oven which also has a pan of water in it.

Don't wait for it to cool: slice off a piece right away, put some marg and your preferred spread on it, and eat it. Yummeh.


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