If you found yourself regularly donning your apron during lockdown, you’re not alone.
A YouGov survey found that almost half of the respondents had done some baking within the first month of lockdown, and a survey from The Grocer published in May 2021 found that 27% of respondents bake more than once a week.
Out of all of the delicious baked goods that the nation has been making, sourdough has proven to be particularly popular, with ‘sourdough recipes’ being the top trending food the world chose to bake in 2020 (Google).
It’s easy to see why sourdough has soared in popularity: it’s a low FODMAP food, meaning that it’s suitable for people with a range of dietary restrictions, it’s full of healthy bacteria, and of course, it’s delicious! However, not all sourdoughs are created equally. In fact, many of the sourdoughs you see in the shops may not even be the real deal.
That’s why the Real Bread Campaign launched Sourdough September in 2013. The aims of the mission are to share the delights of genuine sourdough, and educate others on how to spot a fake sourdough, or a ‘sourfaux’. To help find a delicious, genuine sourdough, Denby are here to share four warning signs to look out for when buying the bread, and give you some tips on how to bake your own too.
Sweetener is used
Sugar and sweeteners are important ingredients for many other types of bread. As well as giving the crust that nice golden colour and helping the bread retain moisture, these ingredients also act as a food for the yeast. The yeast converts the sugar and sweeteners into carbon dioxide, which therefore helps the bread rise quicker (Freshly Baked). However, genuine sourdough has a natural fermentation process, so yeast, and therefore sugar, is not required for it to rise.
A long expiry date
Sugar and sweeteners also act as a preservative, so without it, the bread will have a shorter shelf life. If you see a sourdough with an expiry date that’s weeks away, this will almost certainly be a sourfaux.
Yeast is in the ingredients list
While yeast is a key ingredient for most other forms of bread, it’s not necessary for sourdough loafs. This is because fermented flour is used, which allows bacteria and yeast to grow naturally when left for enough time (Spoon University). Instead of yeast, a genuine sourdough will have one of the following listed: “sourdough starter”, “mother culture”, “starter culture”, or “starter”.
It contains vinegar
Sourdough gets its distinctive tart flavour from the acids which are produced in the fermentation process. While this is a difficult taste to replicate, this doesn’t stop some from trying. A sourfaux will often use vinegar to imitate this tangy flavour, so keep an eye out for it in the ingredients list.
Top tips for making sourdough at home
In order to be sure that your sourdough is the real deal, why not try baking your own? Not only will it taste delicious, but you’ll get a great sense of satisfaction too. If you’re thinking of taking on the challenge, consider using the following tips.
Store it in the fridge
If you’re a beginner, the best way to store your starter is in an air-tight jar in the fridge. It’s a good idea to use a transparent jar so you can easily check in on how the starter is doing. For beginners, it’s advised that you store the starter in the fridge rather than on the kitchen counter, as it won’t need as much attention. However, avoid completely neglecting the starter — try to feed it at least once a month, but ideally once a week.
Look out for grey liquid
If you see a grey liquid form on top of your mixture, there’s no need to panic. While many new sourdough bakers think this is the end of their starter, it’s actually just excess alcohol that’s formed in the fermentation process. Simply mix the liquid in with your next feed, or drain it and pop your starter back in the fridge. Seeing this grey liquid is often a sign that your starter hasn’t been fed enough, so consider checking on it more regularly.
Strengthen your dough
Keeping the dough strong is incredibly important. A weak dough can lose its shape and end up completely flat. To strengthen the dough, let it rest for half an hour after making it, and then stretch and fold it in a large ceramic bowl. To make sure it’s adequately strong, you may want to let it rest for a further half hour and repeat this process once or twice more. As well as keeping the dough strong, this process allows a little air to be trapped in the mixture, which will help it rise.
Prove it in the right conditions
To keep your dough at the highest quality possible, make sure to keep it in the right conditions during the proving process. It’s best to store your mixture in a strong and durable bowl, as this will give it a lovely rounded shape, and an even rise too. Ceramic is the best option, as metal bowls can become too cold and therefore slow down the speed at which the yeast works.
Make sure to flour the bowl well before using it so the mixture doesn’t stick to the side. You should also cover your tea towel with flour before you place it over the mixture, as it may stick to the top when it rises.
Baking the bread
You may have heard that the only way to bake a sourdough is in a Dutch oven. However, if the mixture is prepared well, this doesn’t have to be the case. The bread will bake just as well on a strong and sturdy baking sheet. But if you’d prefer to bake it in a container with sides so you’re sure that it will keep its shape, you can always pop it in a cast iron casserole dish instead.
Hayley Baddiley, Global Marketing Director at Denby says:
“It’s not hard to understand why this delicious bread has soared in popularity with home bakers over the past year. As well as being one of the healthiest loaves available, it has a distinct flavour that’s very moreish.
“It’s well worth taking the time to make your own sourdough, and it can be a great family activity too! I like to serve my sourdough alongside a main meal, on a platter in the middle of the table so that everybody can help themselves. And to reduce food waste, I use it up as croutons for soup.”