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Whole Grain Sourdough at Home by Elaine Boddy: cookbook review

October 3, 2020

Sourdough by elaine boddy book

Sourdough from scratch

Sourdough was the darling of lockdown. Perfect loaves with stretched crusts dusted with circles of flour, cut open to reveal a honeycomb of holes formed by abundant, fermented bubbles. Instagram was full of these gorgeous things (along with a landslide of banana bread).

My experience of baking sourdough bread has not produced such splendid bounty. Starters have been like demanding children that can misbehave at any time. Domed perfection is elusive – more like a flat boulder. And the cookbooks I have on the topic (and there are many) give either scant instruction or overwhelm with an opus of percentages, scientific theory, technical terms and recipes which extend for pages.  This is especially true of baking with whole grains where there is a dearth of information amid the white flour versions.

So my enthusiasm for sourdough baking had waned, and then along came Whole Grain Sourdough at Home by Elaine Boddy.

I’ve known Elaine online for countless years via our blogs and can’t remember how we first connected.  ‘Healthy, tasty food that I love to make, eat and share’ was at the heart of her Foodbod blog and she filled her corner of the internet with delicious recipes inspired by her time in the Middle East.  So when Elaine came back onto my radar recently with a new blog and at the centre of a sourdough community with bakers around the world, my interest was piqued. Her Instagram feed is full of beautiful loaves and she shares many freshly-baked success stories from people who have followed her methods on her Instagram stories every day.

It’s Elaine’s distinctive method that is at the heart of her book although she downplays this saying that it’s something she’s developed that fits in with her life. The tone of the book is friendly, the instructions clear, there is no hype just an openness to share her experience of making sourdough that she finds so rewarding.

Elaine’s sourdough journey

So how did she get here? Through her Foodbod blog she made lots of connections including Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial who sent dried sourdough starter to people around the world. Some went to Selma of Selma’s Table and it was from Selma that Elaine got her own dried starter.

Elaine says, “Sadly she is no longer with us but she was the one that inspired me. I made my first ever loaf – which was amazing. This dough grew and this loaf grew, I broke all the rules and ate half the loaf immediately. My son has always been a bread lover, he had some too and decided that he wanted sourdough on a regular basis.”

Like most people she read a lot about sourdough and baked a few ‘bricks and frisbees’.  She refuses to use the term failure and says every loaf is a step to learn more about baking. As sourdough became a regular part of her routine due to her son’s demands – “I had to make enough for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday” – a method evolved that fitted into her everyday life.

Elaine joined several online sourdough groups and found there was a negative response to her approach from some people. She says that there was a bit of snobbery about sourdough baking and ‘the right way’ of doing things. So she set up her own Facebook group which grew quickly into a supportive, generous, sharing community of avid sourdough bakers all around the world. Elaine doesn’t think there is a single way to bake it, just the right way that works for you.

Coiled filled sourdough rolls in a book

Coiled filled sourdough rolls

What you’ll find in the book

I think the real difference about Elaine’s book and her whole approach is explained in the title ‘sourdough at home’. Most other books are written by chefs who make bread in large quantities in restaurant kitchens – the amount of flour they use and the starter they discard is prohibitive. The waste when making sourdough is one of the things that was off putting to me. Elaine makes her bread to an achievable scale, without discarding excess starter and without taking up masses of room in the kitchen of home cooks.

To quote a sentence from her introduction:

I am a self-taught home baker; I bake bread for my family in a standard domestic oven, in a typical home kitchen, with everyday ingredients that are easily accessible and with kitchen equipment that is readily available and inexpensive.

There is thorough attention to detail, for instance she warns not to throw starter down the sink or it will harden like cement and a comprehensive explanation of the flours used, their origins, their make-up, the way they might behave. Elaine also gives timetables so you can work out when you need to do each step for making the loaf right from taking the starter out of the fridge to taking it out of the oven.

Thumbing through the pages and the beautiful, simple photography, there are so many recipes I’d like to try. As well as the master recipes using white flour, wholemeal flour and the different ancient grains, she adds other ingredients like poppy seeds, walnuts and peanut butter; she suggests ways to use other liquids such as beer and buttermilk instead of water.

Whole wheat, tomato and garlic focaccia in a book

Whole wheat, tomato and garlic focaccia

Ancient grains and appealing recipes

Where most sourdough books focus on white flour she dedicates the majority of pages to whole and ancient grains including whole wheat, einkorn, spelt and rye. Her recipes prepare you for the different way these flours will behave and I have never come across such a comprehensive guide to baking with them.

There are ‘baby loaves’ with roasted cashews; almonds and raisins; chia and flax seeds. In the slices of dimpled, sourdough focaccia you catch glimpses of molten Cheddar in the holes; roasted tomatoes and garlic are scattered over a deeper brown wholewheat version. Elaine includes recipes for tin-baked sourdough loaves for making sandwiches, a variety of biscuits (I’d call them scones), ten types of rolls some coiled and filled.

I’ve bookmarked the ones made of khorasan flour which ooze warm almond butter and banana.  One tip she gives for her oaty, seeded or nutty crackers is that they freeze well. I’m already planning a time to whip some out and serve them just cooled from the oven with a cheeseboard (on day in the future when we might be able to share one again).

It is her unassuming approach of documenting her journey and passing on things that work for her that sets her apart. She stresses that there is no single method to making sourdough and that everyone must experiment to find the best way for them. It’s this generosity of spirit that has inspired her followers to share their own bakes with pride and asking for her advice when things don’t work quite as well as expected.

Whole grain sourdough book with bread and butter

What Elaine says about her book

I’ve interviewed Elaine a few times and she explained what she has included in her book:

“As the title says it’s about wholegrain sourdough with over 60 recipes using lots of different flours but also basics as well at the beginning of the book.  I’ve tried to put all the information I ever get asked; details on how to make starter using strong white bread flour and lots of different flours. Information about sourdough success with full details on how to make my master recipe, the reasons I do the things I do and any help you need for your dough.

If you are new to sourdough you can pick this book up and make it from scratch. If you are well versed in sourdough you might find some hints and tips in there that you haven’t seen before. Recipes all of the recipe include whole grain and ancient grain flours that includes wholemeal, wholewheat, einkorn, spelt, rye, emmer, khorosan and more. All recipes include at least two of those flours and some contain other ingredients like seeds and nuts, also how to use the dough in other ways.

I explain how to use the flours, how the flours will feel, how they will behave, how the dough should look, how it should feel as it goes on and how it should develop. The book will guide you through using these flours in your breads and then taking it forward into other ways of using them.

I love grains, when the publishers  contacted me and asked me to do a book about grains I was very interested. I use grains in many of my meals. I often throw them in dough too. So to have details in the book about how I use them is wonderful. There are full details in the book on how to cook grains and how to use the grains.

My book includes tips and lots of alternatives, things you can add, and things you can do differently.”

sourdough loaf

Sourdough loaf made by Elaine

What you’ll need to bake sourdough and more

Elaine started her sourdough journey without any particular equipment and still keeps things simple recommending a pyrex bowl, a shower cap, a banneton, a lame and a roasting pan or pot as some equipment you might like to invest in eventually. Digital scales, a good bread knife and a filter for your tap water are also covered. Again she explains what part these things play in the process so you know why they could impact the result.

The thing that threw me completely was an alternative of putting the bread into a cold oven. This advice that flies in the face of everything I’ve ever read but is the method Elaine uses most often now. I can’t wait to try it.

All my kitchen stuff is in storage right now but as soon as I have access to it I’ll let you know how I get on. I can’t wait to get my hands into that dough and, who knows, you might be seeing slices of it on Instagram spread with good butter.

I’ve tried to be objective with my review even though I know Elaine but honestly I really cannot fault this book. It’s truly a comprehensive guide, beautifully written, very accessible, reflecting her dedication to experimentation and natural curiosity about sourdough and grains. If you only buy one book about sourdough this should be it.

Advice from Elaine

You can find Elaine on her website, Instagram, and Facebook where there is lots of helpful information. She has a supportive Facebook group dedicated to bakers of sourdough who want to discuss what they’ve discovered, share their triumphs and learnings in a very nurturing and generous environment. She says “It has been a joy to see so many people getting involved and being able to share this amazing joy from my kitchen to theirs.”

My interview with her is on her Instagram IGTV.

So have you tried making sourdough and how did you get on with it?

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Elaine Boddy permalink
    October 3, 2020 4:45 pm

    Thank you so so much, Sally, your post is amazing, and I’m so thrilled that you like my book so much. Thank you so much for sharing this xxx

    • October 5, 2020 1:04 pm

      Can’t wait to bake loads from it Elaine. So much information, so many tempting recipes.

  2. October 3, 2020 7:08 pm

    Yes indeed Sally! I have been following Elaine on her instagram posts and her sourdough bakes are wonderful! I had some luck on and off with sourdough baking but yet a long way to go! Hope you are well:))

    • Elaine Boddy permalink
      October 3, 2020 8:17 pm

      Thank you x x x

      • October 5, 2020 1:07 pm

        Always good to hear people connecting across the world through food 🙂

    • October 5, 2020 1:06 pm

      I’m good thanks Shy and I hope you are too. I relate to what you are saying and found that the commitment to keeping a starter and baking loads was too much. Elaine’s method is infinitely more achievable and fits into everyday life – testament to this is her avid followers around the world who share their beautiful loaves.

  3. October 6, 2020 7:58 am

    My sister in law makes delicious sourdough bread – still, I think she can pick up a few things from this book.

    • October 6, 2020 11:46 am

      There are definitely tips that experienced sourdough bakers should find of interest. Elaine sees it as a journey of experimentation and there is no single right way. Lucky you to have a sourdough baker in the family 🙂

      • October 6, 2020 6:19 pm

        Love fresh bread, and y sister-in-law makes a great one. She was very happy I forwarded her this information as she said she will now try not preheating the pot – if she will be happy with the result, it would save a lot of time. Thanks for sharing this!

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