Had I known that a hot water bottle was going to cure so many of my culinary ailments I would have invested in a dedicated kitchen one years ago.  I’m specifically talking about anything needing a bit of prolonged fermentation in conditions a little warmer than a British kitchen in winter.  My slightly floppy yoghurt-making attempts were revolutionised in the early part of last year with the simple addition of my husband’s blue hot water bottle and, just a few weeks before the year was out, I got sourdough sorted.

The temperature in my kitchen fluctuates a lot and I don’t have an airing cupboard so although I seem to remember I once got a rye sourdough started successfully (what on earth happened to that?) my attempts to bring a wheat sourdough starter to life had not been very successful.

I think I was also suffering from a bit of commitment phobia.  I mean, you hear stories, don’t you?  About how you have to feed sourdoughs on a daily basis and can’t go away on holiday anymore (unless you can find someone to feed the sourdough as well as watering the plants and feeding the cat).  I like going on holiday.

Anyway, it turns out that it was all much, much easier than that.

Once again, Andrew Whitley’s recipe from Bread Matters came to the rescue.  It involved quite a few pages of reading so it looks like it might be an involved process but, once you’ve made one loaf and adapted the process slightly to fit your lifestyle, it is no more effort than making any other loaf of bread but the results are something else.  A fantastically open-textured (i.e. holey), chewy, crusty loaf with a depth of flavour that is rarely encountered these days.  The bread keeps for around a week and is fresh enough to eat untoasted for several days.

I started cultivating the starter by putting the required quantity of flour and water in a bowl and fermenting overnight with the aforementioned hot water bottle on top.  Once the starter was established and I had made my first loaf I felt confident to abandon the hot water bottle and just ferment the starter/dough at room temperature.  It has been very reliable so far.  I have scaled up the starter so that I can easily make two loaves at a time and keep the starter in the fridge.  That way I can just bake sourdough once a week if I want to. The night before I want to make my loaves I refresh the starter and leave it at room temperature overnight.  I can then make and bake the final dough any time during the following day and the whole process takes no more than six hours with not too much work on my part.

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