At Great British Chefs
, we received a sourdough starter from eco-chef Tom Hunt
of The Forgotten Feast
. We gave it to one of our staff members, Doreen, to look after. Here's how she got on....
Blog post & photography by Doreen Joy Barber of Tasty Fever
I should confess now that I'm not, by any means, the most responsible person to look after anything. I would say I'm about average as far as the responsibility-meter goes: good enough to mind someone's cat over the weekend, but probably not someone you'd give a plant to, unless it's a cactus. I can look after a cactus, no problem.
So when I was asked to take care of Cleo, the Friendship Bread sourdough starter, I was a little nervous. We didn’t have any spares--no extra bits of starter as a back-up just in case I killed our Cleo. This was a one shot deal, and I had to step up to Tom Hunt’s set of instructions to look after Cleo.
So I could eventually eat her.
Although the page-long instructions were a bit intimidating, the actual investment of time (and, importantly, money) was fairly minimal. On the first day of feeding, I picked up a bag of organic wheat bread flour from a local shop and, upon arriving home, put Cleo in an appropriate container for her to grow in (a cute mug made by my friend Takae Mizutani). After following the instructions for Cleo’s first feeding, I wrote a note to my housemates so that none of them would mistake Cleo for a randomly dirty mug.
The daily caring for Cleo took very little time, perhaps only two or three minutes at most in general. Even someone as slack as me could manage this. It helped taking photos of Cleo as she progressed and sharing them with Tom Hunt on Twitter, as he was able to give me advice and check my progress.
I wound up not making Cleo on Day 3 in the evening, as per Tom Hunt's instructions, but rather the following morning, which was a nice way to spend a Saturday morning. To take Cleo from the stage of sourdough starter to full-fledged baked bread takes some time: 4 hours, in fact. However, I planned ahead by having a Saturday morning of pottering around the house. During the first resting period of the dough, I went out and bought pastries from my local French bakery, grabbed the newspaper and threw a load of clothes in the laundry.
During the second resting, I hung my newly-cleaned clothes out to dry, had a pastry with a cup of tea while I read the paper, took care of a couple of e-mails and made plans with a friend to meet up later.
By the time I had taken Cleo out of the oven, not only had I baked a massive loaf of freshly-made bread that magically did not burn in my oven, but I also managed to do a number of household tasks I would have done anyway. It all worked out really well. With the exception of the baking step, I didn’t necessarily have to stay at home, either. I could have also just as easily popped out to visit a friend at a local coffee shop, gone to my local greengrocer’s, had a walk around my neighbourhood or visited my friends working at a record shop a short bus ride away, provided I came back in an hour and a half.
My loaf of Cleo was fantastic, and it didn't last long!
I’ve passed on Cleo starters to Mex and Eliot here at Great British Chefs, and I’m now keen to bake more bread, particularly on days and evenings I need to be around the house anyway. It’s extremely satisfying to pull out a loaf of bread you not only made, but looked after as well.
If Cleo comes your way, or another sourdough starter (perhaps with a different name--maybe Clifford, Claudia or Clare), don’t be afraid! The time you will spend on making real bread will result in something really delicious. There are plenty of resources online on how to take care of a sourdough starter, particularly The Real Bread Campaign. You can always just make bread from a recipe as well. On Great British Chefs, there are recipes for onion bread and for sun-dried tomato bread.
So have a go!
Do you bake bread at home? Do you have a favourite recipe you like to bake from, or do you think it's too hard? What do you think goes best on a fresh-baked loaf of bread? Let us know over on Great British Chefs' Facebook page!