Mouldy old dough

Flat as a pancake. My mood, that is. But given that we’re all in the same pandemic-riddled situation, swamped by a dank, oppressive January gloom, I thought I might offer up a bit of levity. Or should that be levain?

Veteran and budding bakers will be familiar with that word, indeed it may fill some with bread dread, because this is sourdough territory. And sourdough, for those who don’t know, is the stuff of nightmares. Aye, it tastes magnificent, but it’s the devil’s own work.

My own sourdough saga all started innocently enough, back when the pandemic was still in its infancy and we had the motivation and time to dabble with new hobbies and fads. Now, I’m no Lorna McNee, no Michelin stars are shooting their way into our wee west Glasgow kitchen, but when it comes to cookery, I’m not too shabby. I’m comfortable with both run-of-the-mill products and alien ingredients, the latter of which usually require Sherlock-like sleuthing skills to locate, and the proffering of a small fortune to purchase. Porcini mushrooms, anyone? Organic tempeh?

But when it comes to baking, I’m a bit of a (plum) duffer. I can just about manage a batch of scones or a no-cook cheesecake, but that’s about the extent of my skillset. Mairi Berry I ain’t. And yet, a new oven and some spare time prompted me to get up to my elbows in self-raising and raisins for a bit of bakery experimentation. Amazingly, it went rather well. Cakes, cookies, muffins galore. So flush was I with my success that I decided to ramp up the artisan ante.

And so, the great sourdough saga began. My first attempt could have stood in for a discus at the Tokyo Olympics – flatter than a pancake and harder than teak. I’d have given up there and then, but the gift of a sourdough bible refreshed a stagnant sense of determination. But seriously, I hadn’t a clue. Hadn’t a scooby about the time involved, the tortuous processes, the kit required and the associated expenditure – FIFTY QUID for a steel and that’s before I get to proving baskets, scrapers, scorers and peels…

Sourdough, it turns out, is not for the faint-hearted. There’s the brewing up of noxious starters; wrestling with amorphous Blob-like bowls of bubbly dough as it tries to make its escape from being blasted in an oven that’s hotter than Hades; there’s the dizzying array of more-expensive-than gold ancient grain flours; and the culinary carnage which comes from trying to manipulate a substance more sticky than Gorilla glue.

And yet, it’s strangely addictive, this mouldy old dough. Every time a bake off is planned, it feels like entering a gladiatorial contest where there can be only one winner. So far, that winner ain’t me. I’m still limping over the finishing line with my misshapen monstrosities (although they do taste pretty damn good). However, the lady’s not for turning. One of these days I shall emerge victorious with the perfect sourdough specimen.