A colleague was kind enough to share his rye sourdough starter with me recently. I accepted gratefully (and with some embarrassment that I couldn't get my own going - he had no trouble whatsoever!) and started thinking of all the different kinds of sourdough I could make.
It is the most active sourdough starter I've ever seen - tonnes of bubbles and probably takes about six hours to double in volume. It smells pretty good too - when it's just been refreshed I reckon it smells more like apples, but when it's due for feeding and refreshment again there's a much stronger smell of acetone. Not so nice!
My colleague used the instructions in Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters book and it reminded me that I haven't really opened this book for ages. It's the first bread book I bought, a number of years ago now (in fact, I think I had it around the time I left home!). The only bread I remember making from it was the sundried tomato, which I was a little disappointed with for all the faff it took. However this is an old memory, and perhaps with the bread and yeast experience I have gained over the intervening years I would find it less hassle. (But if you're looking for a fine tomato bread I can thoroughly recommend this one). Time to revisit this book.
As we were talking at work I decided to have a quick search on the internet (in a break I hasten to add!) and see if there were any Andrew Whitley recipes out there before getting home and looking in my book. I struck lucky and came across this recipe in Country Life. Elisabeth Luard has apparently chosen it as one of her greatest recipes ever. It's certainly one of the simplest bread recipes I have ever come across. There is not much kneading to speak of (well, not in my world anyway, because I don't tend to knead very much, and this dough was pretty soft and didn't seem to want me to knead it much) then a quick shape and into the tin, to be left alone overnight to rise..
I used a 1lb loaf tin, and fully lined it with baking parchment, without using any fat to make the parchment stick - I didn't want to risk my loaf sticking, and I didn't want to grease the tin so that the crust became oily. I covered with clingfilm and left it overnight (about nine hours) expecting to have to leave it a little longer in the morning. The next morning it was fully risen, sticking to the clingfilm (which I hadn't expected - next time it will be going into a plastic bag, puffed up to keep the dough moist but away from plastic) and asking to be baked. I quickly preheated the oven, and then gingerly peeled off the clingfilm, expecting collapse. I certainly didn't expect (or get!) any oven spring, but since I thought it had already been left too long I didn't hold out much hope.
Thankfully I was wrong. It rose a little, didn't brown too much, didn't stick to the tin, and although I didn't slash it (too soft) it hasn't torn either. And what's more, it's delicious. Only a little loaf, but that suits me perfectly and I think it would lend itself to some experimentation with different flours and perhaps added flavours. I made a couple of other things and in comparison to rye, this wheat based sourdough seems sweeter. I'm happy - I have sourdough, and am very grateful to my colleague who can manage a sourdough starter when I can't!