My Sourdough Story: Grandma’s Black Loaf

“To the loyal and to the blood-lovers, in the good families and in the fiery dynasties, life is family and family is life. It is the same people who give advice and their vices to live well who turn out to be the ones who give resource and reason to live long.” Criss Jami



Almost every sourdough-baker has their own story of bread-baking. Some filled with history, some filled with experiment, but, oh boy, all filled with both sadness and joy. I started baking at a very early age, so I had the majority of fails under the watchful eye of the family matriarchs, who guided me through – sometimes in a friendly manner, sometimes with ruthless rigour – all the mistakes I encountered around the kitchen desk. In my childhood-Eastern-Europe baking was a part of life, not some kind of fancy hobby, but way of and means to feeding a family’s stomach, heart and mind.
When I started to bake bread in my first own kitchen, my aim was to be a good wife by keeping things simple and authentic, so what better than to follow the trace of someone in the family, with my grandmother’s baking phenomena being the one. My grandmother’s culture was not at all like the popular 100 % hydration, wet-type sourdoughs of today, but it was a simple bone-dry ball of leftover dough that my grandma collected by scraping off the sides of the wooden dough bowl she made the bread in earlier. She kneaded it with some additional flour and left it to dry out on a little plate in the larder window. Two days before the baking process started, she soaked ‘The little Crumble’ (what she called it) in spring water, and there it was…live and fierce. This, she used for making a leaven, which then created the base of the final dough.
My sourdough story is full of history…and full of sadness. But that sadness does not originate from numerous fails (even though I had many), but it comes from the painful lack of love, nurture and advice, the late baking family members used to shower me in… They have gone and so many questions remained unasked. So many doughs remained unproven. So many techniques remained unwatched… Therefore, with every spoonful of flour, with every bake, with every heated oven, I still try to reapair the void, whilst trusting and praying that I would never bring shame on Grandma’s Loaf! And even though it may not be as wet, as full of air, as light as the engineered sourdoughs I pushed myself to make, it is hearty, filling and motivated by love.

“A house needs a grandma in it.” Louisa May Alcott

For the leaven:
80 g active sourdough starter
100 g rye flour
100 g vegetable juice (used cucumber)
For the dough:
28 g salt
500 g water (dependent on type of flour)
125 g vegetable juice
2 tbsp poultry lard
40 g white wheat flour
40 g white spelt flour
310 g wholegrain spelt flour
310 g brown, wholegrain wheat flour



For an active starter, if the sourdough has been in the fridge, take it out 2 to 3 days before using and feed it daily.
To make the leaven overnight: the night before making the dough, combine a tablespoon of active sourdough culture with the flour, vegetable juice and water for the leaven. Mix thoroughly to form a thick batter. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight, for about 12 hours.



To make the dough: Combine the salt and 50 grams of water in a small bowl. Set aside, stirring every so often to make sure the salt dissolves. Combine the leaven and the remaining liquid. Stir the flour into the water and leaven with a spatula. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours. This is the autolysing stage where the flour is fully absorbing the water and enzymes in the flour begin breaking down the starches and proteins. Pour the dissolved salt over the dough. Work the liquid and salt into the dough by pinching and squeezing the dough. To fold the dough, grab the dough at one side, lift it up, and fold it over on top of itself. Fold the dough four times, moving clockwise from the top of the bowl (or giving the bowl a quarter turn in between folds). Let the dough rest 30 minutes, then repeat. Do this a total of 6 times, every half hour for a total of 2 1/2 hours. The dough will gradually smooth out and become tighter with each folding.
Let the dough rise undisturbed. Shape the dough into loose rounds with surface tension. Once the dough is shaped, let them rest for 20 to 30 minutes to relax the gluten again before final shaping. Prepare a bread proofing basket/colanders/mixing bowls, line it with clean dishtowels. Dust it heavily with flour. Dust the top of the ball of dough with flour. Flip it over, the tops and sides of the shaped loaves generously with flour. Place them into the proofing baskets upside down, so the seams from shaping are on top.
Let the dough rise 3 to 4 hours, or overnight in the fridge.
To bake heat the oven to 240°C. Place a heavy-bottomed pot with lids in the oven. Tip the loaf into the pot so the seam-side is down. Score in a slight angle using a lame or a sharp knife, cutting almost parallel to the surface of the loaf. Bake the loaves for 25 minutes covered, then reduce the oven temperature to 200-210°C and bake another 10 minutes. Remove the lids and continue baking 15 to 25 minutes. Continue baking until the crust is deeply browned. Lift the bread out of the pot and cool completely before cutting.

“A Grandmother thinks of her grandchildren day and night, even when they are not with her.She will always love them more than anyone would understand.” Karen Gibbs

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