Five tips I have found helpful when baking sourdough bread for the first time

So I did it! I have come the ultimate lockdown cliche. I have kept a starter and am now utterly obsessed with making sourdough. Bread, pancakes, crumpets, brownies. You name it! But it hasn't been easy getting to this stage. I killed my first starter and realised it really is an art. Yes, it is time consuming but it's 100% worth all the effort. I could have cried when I pulled that first successful sourdough loaf out of the oven. Special thanks to my friend Hannah who has been extremely patient talking me through the process and always answering my frantic Whatapp messages. At the minute I have only used the method suggested by The Boy Who Bakes but it's working pretty well so far so I am going to carry on for a while before I start experimenting. Here are five tips which I feel have really helped me get to grips with the process. Hopefully they help you out too!

1. Feed it at the same time every day
I find getting into a routine with your starter is exactly what it needs if it is kept at room temperature. It helps it to thrive. As your starter matures, it will crave 'feeding' and this helps it to keep it nice and bubbly. I tend to feed mine between 10-11am and around 10pm if it needs two feeds. A good starter will double in size every eight hours or so. So feeding it in the morning was a great way to test if your starter is healthy. You will then have time to feed it a second time if needed. If you aren't intending to use your starter every day then keep it in the fridge, It will only need feeding around twice a week. But I tend to give it a big stir every day even if I don't feed it.

2. Set timers as reminders 
There's no denying sourdough is a time-consuming process so you have to keep on top of things before each hour just blends into another. The build up before it goes into the fridge to prove is important. I tend to tuck and turn the dough every half hour for four hours. I always set a timer on my phone to remind me when the 30 minutes is up. I often get caught up in doing other things around the house and before I now it I am in bed at midnight thinking about the dough I forgot about!

3. Get into the habit of using discard
Every time you feed your starter you have to take half out and leave in a 'discard' jar. Before you know it, after a few days that jar is overflowing and you're fast running out of other storage jars. Don't through the discard away as it is such a waste. I've used it so far to make pancakes, crumpets, brownies and banana muffins. It adds such a unique flavour to everything. Next on my list to try are crackers!

4. Try lots of different places around the house to prove
Everyone's house differs when it comes to finding the best proving spot. I usually prove my dough in my microwave with the door shut but for some reason this didn't quite work for my sourdough. Now I turn my oven on for 15-20 minutes at 75 degrees. I then turn it off before placing my dough in there with a tea towel draped over the bowl. I know people who place the dough in their airing cupboard or by the radiator. Try a few different places to work out the best one for you. It really is trail and error!

5. Don't panic if the dough feels too wet
When I pour the salt in the dough and add the remaining warm water, the dough looks almost too wet to function. I did panic a bit and debated adding more flour but resisted in the end. The resistance paid off! Trust the recipe you are following as it will all come together in the end. It takes me about two hours of the first prove before the dough looks less sloppy.


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