Meet the Magical Horace…



There’s sourdough and then there’s sourdough.


A natural artisanal sourdough is a live culture that’s fed daily.


Meet Horace.  My eight year old.


This precious sourdough starter began life in a little Kilner jar as fresh homemade yoghurt, sultanas, water, rye flour and flour.  And after 5 days of caressing and feeding he came to life and was born.  Horace lives in a yoghurt pot in a corner of the kitchen and is fed every day with equal parts flour to water to keep him alive and healthy.


I ponder on a Friday night about all the different sourdoughs I can make. Am I going to make traditional Pain de Campagne (classic country farmhouse)?  What flour shall I choose? – spelt, rye, organic white? At this point I feed Horace. Without Horace, I am nothing.  He needs to be fed before I can make my sourdough and that’s 12 hours in advance to make sure he’s got enough yeast cells in him to give my bread the necessary lift.


More often than not, I go for the classic Willie’s sourdough (that’s my nickname).  As Horace comes to a lovely rise, about 7am in the morning, I take 200g of him and add him to the dry mix and water.  My chosen dry mix is Canadian wholemeal flour, the same of white and a touch of rye. To boost Horace and introduce a bit of speed for the enzymes, I sometimes add a bit of malt flour – it makes him go crazy!


Hands on time!

I’ve used Dan Lepards’ sourdough method for years, and some bakers that I’ve shared this with choose this method for their home baking. You can’t rush a good thing.  It involves patience and nurturing; mixing and resting – slowly increasing Horace’s rest periods in between from 10 minutes to 2 hours until he’s nicely aerated and full of lots of lovely bubbles to his structure.


It’s then time to divide, shape and rest in the banneton (proofing basket) where I leave Horace to rise naturally, which could take anywhere between 4 – 6 hours.  Funny that I should have named him Horace, meaning “Time Keeper”, when he’s anything but this!  But don’t panic if you need to go out.  You can pop the sourdough into the fridge and pick it up again in the morning. Although I rarely choose to do this, it does give the sour notes time to develop.


What I do a lot of, is make crackers for my kids when I replenish Horace.  When I take away a little bit of Horace to feed him fresh flour and water in equal parts every day, I take this live but not so active piece of Horace and add wholemeal flour, cold pressed rapeseed oil, salt & pepper, smoked paprika, onion granules, a pinch of garlic powder and sesame seeds.  Rolled out, cut out with a ravioli cutter and dried in the oven at 120 degrees C for 15-20 mins, creates great kiddies’ cracker snacks.


Horace gets better with age.  Although he’s only 8 years old, in theory he could live forever.  He already has sons and daughters.  The little bit of Horace I recently gave away is now called Laurace…and so his legacy lives on.  I find it comforting to think that generations might enjoy the same toasted sourdough, topped with smashed avo, beautifully crisp bacon and poached egg and sriracha of a Sunday morning – Willie’s Sunday fave.