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.

Five cookbooks helping me get through the pandemic

My secret cookbook obsession is not a secret. It's hard to put into words just how much I love them. I love how the transport me to a faraway place and I am obsessed with the stories which come with each recipe. Food is so personal and so deeply ingrained into all cultures. I read them like novels and my favourite thing to do on a weekend afternoon is to read one cover to cover, making notes and googling the history behind each dish. However, I fear one day the house may collapse under the strain. They are in my kitchen, on my coffee table, under my bed, in my loft and hiding in the spare bedroom. One day I will get my dream kitchen with a library attached to house all my 300+ cookbooks. One day.

I have been a demon in the kitchen since we went into lockdown in the U.K. Cooking and baking is the only thing which seems to be keeping me sane right now. According to social media, it seems to be the same for a lot of you out there. Despite owning far too many cooking than a normal person should, I seem to be going back time and time again to the same ones. The cookbooks where I can pick any recipe at random and know it will always be a corker. The books with unidentified splashes on them, turned over pages and ineligible notes scribbled over the copy. They are the books which bring me comfort. Here are my top five cookbooks I wouldn't be without during a pandemic. What are your favourite cookbooks?

1. Ottolenghi's Simple
I simply adore this book and have done since I first got my grubby paws on it. I should really make that lemon and blueberry loaf cake again. There are a surprisingly good amount of recipes which can be made with store cupboard essentials and I have been taking full advantage of them. I've been really enjoying making the vegetable side dishes to enjoy with a BBQ in this warm weather.  Apart from the avocado butter, which was not worth the faff, everything I have cooked has come out perfect. Ottolenghi just has such a special way with flavours and he can do no wrong in my eyes. He is probably the food writer who I refer to the most in my cooking. We are an Ottolenghi household haha!

2. Meera Sodha's East
Admittedly I am cooking lots from this book because I am going to be reviewing it soon for my blog. But even if I wasn't, I would still be religiously flicking through the pages to hunt for something to cook. I didn't think anything would come close to my Fresh India book but Meera seems to have done it again with her latest offering. I love the fact she takes inspiration from all over Asia, putting her own spin on them. I am still raving about her mushroom bao. I can't believe I made bao! I just adore how she always puts fresh produce at the forefront of all her recipes. I feel we need all the veg in a time like this!

3. Rachel Allen's Home Baking
I love to bake and have never had as much time on my hands as I have now. So I seem to be baking non-stop! This is my favourite baking book. There is such a great range of bakes, from easy peasy to quite the challenge.  I love the combination of flavours she chooses. Her date and banana bread is a great riff on a classic. Over the next couple of weeks I want to try my hand at tackling the biscuits chapter. I don't really make many biscuits or cookies so would like to expand my repertoire.

4. Dishoom cookbook
Oh how I miss the London restaurant scene! Alas I shall have to just recreate it in my own house. This is such a beautiful cookbook, if not one of the most beautiful I own. It almost reads like a novel and the stories inside it are perhaps better than the recipes. It's given me such a yearning to visit Mumbai and see it for myself. The recipes are far from simple. But if you're looking to lose yourself for a few hours in your kitchen then this is the book for you. Some of the ingredients are obscure, unless you love to cook so you may have them, but they can easily be ordered online.

5. Meera Sodha's Fresh India
Two Meera books in one list! Can you tell I have a favourite? If you love India food then your collection really isn't complete without this in your collection. The ingredients are always so easy to find, recipes are easy to follow and there is a emphasis on vegetables. All three things which are essential in lockdown cooking. I haven't actually attempted anything from her pudding chapter so need to make that my mission over the next few weeks!


Five different types of bread to bake during the lockdown which aren't sourdough

There is something about this pandemic that is making people take up creating sourdough. I can completely understand why. Sourdough is quite time consuming and really is a labour of love. When better to give it a shot that when you suddenly have a lot of time on your hands. But if like me you're a little intimidated by sourdough, I killed my first starter and have yet to try it again, then here are five different types of bread to try. They are also a labour of love but a little less intimidating than the king of breads. I'll make at least one type of sourdough before the lockdown is up...

1. Challah
All I vaguely knew about Challah was that it was a Jewish plaited bread. I had never tried it before and judging by various recipes I gathered it was a sweet bread. I found an Ottolenghi recipe online in his Guardian column and thought I would give it a try, The recipe was so simple to follow and most of the time it was just left to prove, leaving you free to do other things around the house. It is tricky at first to try and get the braiding correct but once you have got your head around it you'll be fine. I adored the way it looked. It is so shiny! It's definitely one I will make again and I can't believe I haven't tried it before. We enjoyed it with just a lick of butter but people have suggested enjoying it with jam or cream cheese. It makes a great breakfast bread!

2. Pitta bread
I love a good pitta. they're just so versatile. You can use the in dips, stuff them with your favourite sandwich ingredients or use them as a quick pizza base. Mine didn't quite get the puff I was hoping for but they were absolutely delicious. I followed the recipe from Honey & Co's highlights on their Instagram feed. It can sometimes be a bit tricky following along with a highlight reel because it moves so fast. I make sure I weigh out the ingredients beforehand to ensure I don't get left behind. This recipe was so simple and there was something so satisfying taking off the frying pan lid to see bubbles had in fact been created!

3. White loaf of bread
My New Year's resolution was to not buy a loaf of bread this year and instead make them. So I was really keen to have a solid white loaf recipes in my arsenal. I love scrolling through Instagrammer Sophie from The Scandi Cook's feed. She does a cracking sourdough but also has a great white loaf. The instructions are so simple to follow and it makes a foolproof loaf. I've made it a few times now and each time has been just as delicious as the last.

4. Scalded rye loaf
I love Claire's Instagram and I own her book New Kitchen Basics - although I have yet to cook from it which I must rectify immediately1 She puts cracking recipes on her grid which always sound so simple yet incredibly delicious. I knew I had a bag of rye flour hiding away in the cupboard which I had bought from the Aldi 'Special Buy' aisle on a whim. I absolutely loved this bread and am already planning on making it again. It tastes a bit like wholemeal bread, quite nutty in places and has the best crunchy crust. It's chewy and so flavoursome. It works great as toast once it has lost its freshness.

5. Bagels
Bagels are a labour of love which makes them a great weekend project. Or a weekday isolation project! I used Edd Kimber's New York Style bagel recipe from his blog as I am obsessed with his Instagram at the moment. I didn't realise they had a 12 hour prove time otherwise I would have done them just before bed and let them prove in the fridge overnight. Serves me right for skimming the recipe! I substituted the malt syrup for honey. I wasn't sure when I would use malt syrup again so I didn't want to buy any especially. I much preferred the poppy seed bagels as I felt they gave them so much more flavour.

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