Hi, I’m Andra and I love sourdough bread

I thought I would start by sharing a couple of things about myself and my story.

My love for bread was inspired early on by my Romanian grandmother. As a toddler I spent many mornings on her bread shop counter, right next to the steamy loaves. I was only 3 years old and to this day the memory is as fresh in my mind as the freshly baked bread enjoyed by my grandmother’s whole village.

I have lived in London for the past 6 years, but I grew up and spent more than half of my life in Romania, where my family still lives today.

Sourdough bread in banneton
Sourdough scoring
Sourdough folding

How sourdough baking started for me

My sourdough journey started much later, almost 4 years ago, by chance. I was in my friend’s kitchen when she baked one of her first sourdough loaves. That was for me the moment of realisation. I realised that making great bread at home is something totally achievable. It was amazing how this extraordinary thing can come out of two hands and 3 ingredients. I got some of my friend’s starter and this is how it all began.

More than 1000 loaves later, here I am, still baking and hoping my story and my experience as a self taught home baker will inspire and help some of you.

The prep ahead of my first loaf

I was 5 days away from making my first dough. My plan was to wait for the weekend to come. I wanted to make sure I’ve got enough time to thoroughly go through the process step by step.

In the meantime I’ve ordered the minimum of tools/accessories for sourdough baking. I went on Amazon and got myself couple of things. A set with a round banneton, scraper and lame for scoring. Plus a baking stone (which I am still using today). If you don’t have a kitchen scale, that’s an absolute must.

Funnily enough, the item I forgot to order was the type of flours suggested by the recipe. I was convinced I’ve got some in my cupboards already which I can use. It proved to be wrong.

Before getting into sourdough, I was making bread at home using commercial dry yeast and one of those bread making machines, where you put everything in the night before and you get freshly baked bread in the morning. It was good, but nowhere close to sourdough.

My first loaf…

Friday evening I fed my rye starter. Saturday the first thing I prepared was a leaven (yes, the recipe I was following required one). I’ve followed step by step the recipe & schedule and by the evening, I was baking my first loaf.

Well, little I knew at that time about anything sourdough related, let alone the impact of the flour you use on the end result. I also had no idea that a 100% wholemeal would come out so dense. I have not adjusted the water amount in the recipe (who knew about hydration at that time). As a result the dough was very difficult to work with, and had a sandy texture. The stretch & folds were rather just simple folds, impossible to stretch that dense dough.

Truth be told, I had no clue what I was doing, other than following a recipe. I had no idea how the dough should feel like, when I had built enough tension. I didn’t know how to stretch without tearing the dough or when the dough was ready for shaping. And most importantly, I didn’t know how to recognise it’s proofed and ready to bake.

My learning from this and my advice to you

It is CRUCIAL not to only find a simple recipe & schedule to follow, with clear steps and timings, but also to use the same type of flour indicated in the recipe or at least as close as possible. This will significantly increase your chances of success.

So my first loaf was not the greatest attempt. I remember talking about it with some friends over lunch the day after, expressing my disappointment, but also my interest to make it work.

What followed…

It all went uphill from there, but it took a while. And this is because I was determined to master it.

I was not only improving my bread with every bake, but I was also buying more and more stuff for baking.

I bought my first dutch oven, a round one, as I struggled to create enough steam and get the much sought after ‘ear’ in a normal domestic oven. And you will learn that a dutch oven helps seal in the steam released by the bread.

Next, I bought a stand mixer and moved away from making the dough by hand. Mixing by hand is the way to go at the beginning, but as I was baking more and more I soon realised there was lots of dough going down the kitchen drain when washing my hands. Plus, I wanted to be able to make other stuff than bread.

Then I wanted to be able to also bake ‘batards’ (the oval loaves), not only ‘boules’ (the round loaves). So there I was buying more proofing baskets and another dutch oven, an oval one this time.

I’ve started baking more and more, the pandemic would have started as well by then and I was baking for friends, colleagues, delivering to their doors.

I was experimenting with different flours, different hydration rates, different timings. Moved from the rye starter I started with to a white starter. I still have this one after more than 2 years.

In June 2020 I decided to start sharing my baking journey, my experiences and my learnings on social media, and this is how Sourdough Explained came to life, a project close to my soul and now my full time job.