Herman’s adventures in Scotland

It seems that as well as keeping my husband and my cat alive, I am now able to keep a sourdough starter alive for 10 days.  Herman has survived his time in my care!

As I mentioned in my Say hello to Herman post, Herman was brought to Scotland by one of my colleagues from our London office as part of a German friendship cake recipe.  After an arduous journey from the Big Smoke and three near misses with my very curious cat, he has made it to the end of his time with me (and is still going strong actually).  On Sunday, I fed him for the final time and divided him up into four equal-sized portions.  One portion was for me to bake the German friendship cake with and the other three were to be passed onto trustworthy keepers for the next stage in Herman’s journey.

I know I was supposed to bake the friendship cake with Herman but after my recent adventures with fresh yeast and real bread, I couldn’t resist the temptation to turn Herman into a proper sourdough loaf.  So, armed with my copy of Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet and glued to his reliable advice on sourdough, I took to my first sourdough recipe.

I was initially concerned that I’d added too much water to the recipe as the dough was extremely wet compared to the many doughs I have worked with over the last few weeks.  I rely heavily on my instincts when baking and cooking and on this occasion they almost lead me to abandon Herman in his bread-form before he had even got started.

After an initial rise of 6 hours, I finally decided not to give up on him.  He had appeared to double in size (I find it very difficult to tell when it’s such a wet dough) so was prodded and poked a bit – my vague attempt at kneading a very sticky dough – and finally placed into the bread tin to rise for another 6 hours.

And lo and behold the doughy sticky mixture that my instincts told me would never turn into anything edible, turned into a pretty good loaf.  When tasting the loaf for the first time, I did however have a slight blonde moment – despite being quite blonde I don’t have many of these such moments, I promise!  It immediately struck me that the bread had a distinctly sweet flavour – not what I was expecting at all. It then dawned on me that I had been feeding Herman with flour, milk and SUGAR because his final destiny was supposed to be a CAKE.  No harm done though. The sweet flavour only added to the wealth of flavours in this loaf that exploded in my mouth on the first bite.  If it didn’t take a full 12 hours to rise, I’d be making this a lot more often.

Herman’s sourdough loaf recipe

Ingredients
325g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
150g Herman
220ml warm water

Method

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt.  Pour in Herman and most of the water and mix until all the ingredients come together to form a dough.  If the dough is slightly dry, add more water.  Mine was really quite a wet, sticky dough so don’t be afraid if it’s also at the other end of the spectrum in terms of moisture.
  2. Turn the dough out on to an oiled work surface and knead for around 5 minutes or until the dough has an elastic texture to it.  Because my mixture was so sticky, I used the dough hook on my mixer to knead the dough for around 3 minutes at this stage.
  3. Cover the bowl and leave to rise for around 6 hours or until the dough has at least doubled in size. I found the setting on my oven for a 35C heat and placed the dough inside for a couple of hours because my kitchen wasn’t particularly warm.
  4. After the initial 6 hours, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for another 2 minutes to distribute the air bubbles evenly around the dough.  Place the dough into the bread tin, cover with a tea towel or oiled piece of cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for another six hours or until risen again by half.
  5. Heat the oven to 220C and place a large baking tray in the base of the oven.  Sprinkle the top of the loaf with flour and cut a slash down the middle if you’re able (mine was too wet!).  Pour a cup of water into the tray in the bottom of the oven and place the bread in to bake for 20 minutes.  The steam from the water will help to create a nice crisp crust to the bread.  After 20 minutes reduce the heat to 200C and bake for a further 25 – 30 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven, turn out the loaf onto a wire cooling rack and leave to cool, if you can resist!

Say hello to Herman…

Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to Herman, my first sourdough starter.  He has been entrusted into my care as part of a German friendship cake recipe which was passed on by one of my colleagues from our London office.  The photo below was taken just after he arrived yesterday morning from the Big Smoke.

For those who aren’t familiar with sourdough, the starter (i.e. Herman) is combined with a bread dough to create a loaf with a slightly sour or tangy taste. The starter consists of a small amount of dough from an old batch (in this case dough from my colleague in London)  and is fed with flour and water at regular intervals to keep the yeast culture alive.  While alive, the starter produces bubbles.  If the bubbles stop, Herman will be no more! Because a starter will happily exist if fed and kept at room temperature, many bakeries have kept their sourdough starters going for years.  A different fate is in store for Herman, however!

As temporary keeper of Herman, I have to give him a good stir every day and feed him with flour, sugar and water on the fourth day of our time together.  On the ninth day, I have to feed him again and then divide him into five portions.  Four portions will be passed on to friends with a copy of his care instructions and I will then make the fifth portion into a sourdough cake.

I’ve certainly tried sourdough bread before but I’m not entirely familiar with sourdough cake.  The cake that my colleague from London made got mixed reviews so I may be venturing onto Google to find a different recipe.  Here’s hoping I’m able to keep Herman alive until then!  I’ll keep you updated on his progress.

If anyone would like to adopt a portion of Herman in 10 days time, let me know! I wouldn’t want him to come all the way up from London for nothing!