I've never (knowingly) eaten sourdough bread before, but it keeps popping up on cooking programmes and in recipes and everyone seems to be unanimous that it is the BEST bread ever. It seems a bit fiddly to make - about three times fiddlier than normal bread - but I'm okay with that.
The first thing you need to make sourdough is a starter culture. It's just bread flour and water, but yeast from the flour and in the air causes it to ferment. To date, I've made three starters, but the assorted 'recipes' I've tried have not been successful. They're all a bit vague about things like what temperature it should be kept at, whether to keep it in a sealed vessel or not, and other things that those in the know, know and take for granted, while us novices struggle to keep the thing alive.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) seems to be fine.
Apparently your starter has to have a name - mine is Kevin. Yesterday I felt brave enough to hoik half of Kevin out of the jar to make a 'sponge' with. This is the first phase of baking your loaf. You add more flour and water to the starter and leave it until it's bubbling like a bubbly thing (I left it overnight). Then you add more flour and a pinch of salt, stir it all up and knead it for ten minutes. Then you need to let it rise (all day, basically), knock it back and prove it again (overnight). When it's doubled in size, you can bake it.
So I did. The result had a crust of steel and the density of concrete. Useful as a weapon, but not my idea of a perfect loaf. I will try again, of course.
But one of the things that has me baffled about maintaining your starter is that you have to throw part of it away before feeding it with a bit more flour and water - every day. For such a tree-hugger-like activity, the idea of all that waste just puzzles me. So I thought I could do something with it - the starter is essentially just a batter. You could make pancakes with that, I thought. But then I also thought, if I add some salt and baking powder to it, I could make crumpets. So I did, and they were very close to being wonderful (I burnt the bottoms in my excitement). I think you could also use this batter to make blinis.
I'll let you know if I ever manage to make an edible sourdough loaf.