News & views | How I fell out of love with sourdough

News & views

How I fell out of love with sourdough

Those of you who follow me on Instagram or who read my recent article in Club Oenologique, may recall a smug series of posts about a month ago crowing about my newly acquired prowess as a sourdough baker.

True, I did mutter about beginner’s luck at the time but I really thought I'd nailed it.

So what happened after such a promising start? I feel I owe it to my starter to explain why it’s all over

“So, sourdough, I admit it was love - or maybe lust - at first sight. I was swept away by your charms. Glowed with pride at hanging out with such a handsome loaf.

But once I got to know you better I realised it wasn’t all plain sailing. You were, I discovered, temperamental. Moody and inconsistent. Sure, you flattered me in the early days with your crisp golden crust but were sulkily capable of turning yourself into a leaden dough that I couldn’t even shape into a loaf..

And talk about high maintenance. Gawd you were needy. There was one stage in the process when I had to handle you every 30 minutes. Even my husband didn’t expect that.

And the mess! I’m not that domesticated at the best of times so having to scrape and scrub sticky dough off my lovely wooden kitchen table (which still hasn’t recovered, just so you know, Sourdough) is just one extra task I can do without. And the endless washing up ….

Also you weren’t good for me. I mean I’m trying to keep my weight under some control under lockdown and you were tempting me to eat far too much bread. Or ship it out to the neighbours whether they wanted it or not (and I suspect they probably didn’t).


It’s not as if I can’t buy a decent loaf. All those wonderful bakers in my home town* whose loaves, as you can see above, are better than anything I could possibly make myself. Basically I was doing them out of business and that’s not good in these hard times, you have to admit.

Finally - and I know this doesn’t reflect well on me - I was finding it hard to be a one bread woman. I want to play around with other loaves - flatbreads, focaccia, fougasse - some of which involve - yes, I know you’ll be shocked - commercial yeast. And are the better for it.

Just making the same bread day after day was, dare I say, boring. And it’s not as if life is massively exciting at the moment

So, sorry Sourdough. I genuinely did feel for you but like so many holiday romances it was just a flash in the pan (or the cast iron Le Creuset in your case).

I really hope you’ll find someone else who can give you the love and attention you deserve.

All the best

Fiona

Which include, in Bristol, Farro, Harts Bakery and Bakers and Co and easy access to Gloucestershire-based Hobbs House

If you still want to have a go read my rather more optimistic first piece.

Image © Krasimira Nevenova at shutterstock.com

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Comments: 6 (Add)

Fiona Beckett on January 23 2021 at 10:01

Hi Mark. You've clearly nailed it - good for you! I still don't think I'm going to go back to it. As I mentioned Bristol has some wonderful bakeries and I enjoy trying out other breads. But I'm sure other readers will benefit from your very helpful tips. Many thanks!

Mark on January 23 2021 at 09:55

I too gave up sourdough but that was pre-covid. Then I went on a course and it transformed how I keep and use sourdougn. Now it is almost mess free other than flour to dust my chopping board, and gives consistent results. I use rye flour starters, mixed and kept in a little Addis screw-top pot in the fridge. All the faff about throwing half away is unnecessary and to get the starter to begin from scratch is simply a case of putting 60g rye flour, 60g water into a bowl with a loose lid. Keep adding a 50/50 mix in small quantities for a few days when bubbles will show on the top. Transfer enough to half fill the Addis pot and store into the fridge. It will keep happily for a week. Don't do more than half fill or the pot lid will blow off. With some force too as it went through the plastic shelf above it.

On bread day eve (about 3 times a week for me) put two thirds, usually 120g of starter, into a bowl, mix in the same 50/50 water and whatever flour you want for the bread. Refill the Addis pot with the same weight 50/50 mix you took out and stir it all up. Cover the starter loosely overnight. On bread day, put the starter into a mixer's bowl, approx. 240g. Using the same 50/50 formula, mix in the total flour you want less 120g (in the starter already). Add 9g salt. Then mix it all using a dough hook, slowly adding water until the dough is soft but not sticky. I usually add up to 400 g to 600g flour. Leave for 20 minutes before another quick mix. Put the dough into an oiled bowl to rise, loosely covered. Then use as any bread dough after the first rise. I use bannetons and tins depending on the shape we want. Bake 220 for 30 mins, with a tray of boiling water in the oven.

Fiona Beckett on May 17 2020 at 22:09

Hi Claire. I totally get this. You want to be someone who's mastered sourdough and the couple of loaves I made that worked were unbelievably satisfying but going forward it just takes too much effort. Good luck with it!

Claire Davies on May 17 2020 at 16:21

I did manage to make my first successful loaf of sourdough last week - after 3 attempts at the starter. The instructions for the starter say I can store it in the fridge & just bring it out 24 hours before I want to use it to feed. We will see what happens, as like you, I don't want to just make sourdough & as it seems to require a lot of planning ahead I can't see it being something I make all the time. Have been making yeasted breads for years, so wouldn't want to just abandon them all.

Fiona Beckett on May 17 2020 at 15:21

I do like the taste of sourdough and the starter never got smelly, it was just the effort of looking after it (and cleaning up after it)!

James Watters on May 17 2020 at 14:31

I’m with you - today! All that mess - and it smells quite unpleasant. Especially when the commercial yeast produces such good results.

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