The sourdough diaries: a lesson in patience


If there’s one thing i’ve learnt since embarking on my sourdough mission, it’s that you can’t rush the bread baking process. I fought this for a while; patience is no virtue of mine. I was four loaves down and two in the compost bin before the message sank in. 

Lesson No 1: your sourdough starter is the boss of you. And don’t forget it. It will let you know when it’s ready. If it’s not bubbling merrily like the life and soul of a party, don’t start making your dough. Feed up your starter with some flour and water until it regains its mojo — it will save you the exasperation of a heavy loaf that failed to rise to a satisfactory golden arc. Similarly, if your dough doesn’t rise sufficiently pre-baking, don’t just shove it in the oven and hope for the best. Because the best will be a brick-like loaf fit enough for breadcrumbs or the compost. Take my word for it.

My first two sourdough loaves turned out so-so, and i thought there was only room for improvement. I hadn’t factored in the prospect of going backwards, which is where my impatience led me. So, it was with some trepidation that i embarked on Loaf No 5. I needed to recover my confidence and get the compost bin back on a low-carbohydrate diet. This loaf simply had to work.

I was inspired by the black-freckled, flour-dusted olive bread in Dani Valent’s cookbook In the Mix, which comprises recipes that can be made in the high-tech Thermomix food mixer. I had a Thermomix on loan for reviewing purposes, so decided to put to the test its turbo-charged kneading (it kneads in 2 minutes what would take 20 minutes by hand).

I followed Celia’s basic sourdough recipe on her blog Fig Jam & Lime Cordial, because Valent’s bread wasn’t sourdough, and added chopped, pitted, black olives.

I fed Stella — my sourdough starter (read about her history here) — mid morning, then again at lunchtime before i went to work. She immediately  emitted a couple of farts of cooperation. When i returned from work late that evening she was bubblesome with anticipation ahead of the bake. So, it was about midnight when i mixed my dough, let it rest, then popped it in the Thermomix for a 2-minute knead. The Thermomix lightened my late night load somewhat and the dough came out glossy and smooth.  I left it in a bowl to prove overnight.

By the following morning the dough had tripled in size, which may be too much but the starter that Celia kindly gifted me makes a forgiving dough. I shaped it and let it prove again. Then I then slashed the top,  spritzed it with water, and put it the oven, which had been pre-heated to its hottest. After a few minutes i was relieved to see it rise further, which is a good sign. At that point I decided to give it some privacy and stopped watching it like a woman possessed.

The end result was a loaf that had risen satisfactorily, it had a good crust and a softish crumb that was flecked with the sweetness of olive. My new-found patience had paid off.

My partner is eating it, unlike the earlier loaves. “Can you make it lighter?” he asked.

“Yes,” i replied. “But it will take practice.”



Filed under The Sourdough Diaries

2 responses to “The sourdough diaries: a lesson in patience

  1. Oh, you are SO getting on top of this, Rachel!! Look at all those holes! That is a near perfect olive loaf. Stella and Priscilla always seem to bounce back – it’s very reassuring (but I agree that they are bossy girls). If you DO want a lighter loaf, you can try a few things – more water in the mix, a shorter second rise (the theory being that you’ll then get more oven spring), or trying to bake it on a pizza stone or in a preheated cast iron pot (those last two options are a bit trickier). But seriously, it’s already looking REALLY good. 🙂


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