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Photograph: Time Out
Photograph: Time Out

Rate My Bake: An expert baker reviews Londoners’ lockdown sourdough

They might be proud of it, but how will Londoners’ freshly baked bread fare under the expert eye of The Dusty Knuckle's Daisy Terry?

By Kate Lloyd
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Huge numbers of Londoners took up baking in lockdown. So many, in fact, that at times it felt like we were living in the Warbutons factory, loaves whizzing past us everywhere we looked on social media. But, out of all the people who clammered for flour in supermarkets and begged their baker friends for sourdough starters, did anyone actually get any good? This is what we wanted to find out with our highly scientific investigation, ‘Rate My Bake’. We asked you – our readers – to send us snaps of your sourdough and then got Daisy Terry, founder of incredible east London bakery The Dusty Knuckle, to review some of them from pictures alone. The criteria were simple: just tell us which dough you like the look of because of its crust, crumb, size or personality. The results? You’ll have to keep reading to find out. Below are Terry’s thoughts on Londoners’ hard work. The bakes aren’t ranked, but if you scroll to the bottom, you’ll find her three favourites.

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Photograph: Elliot Hughes
Photograph: Elliot Hughes
Photograph: Elliot Hughes

Elliot Hughes

Elliot, 29, from Tooting, used to bake a lot with his mum when he was a kid, but it took lockdown to get him cooking as an adult. His best loaves have come from a starter made with milk and yoghurt – but it’s taken trial and error to get good. ‘I think it’s the anticipation I like,’ he says. ‘You spend all this time feeding the starter, stretching, folding and waiting for it to bulk, only to end with a dense pancake at the end of it.’

Daisy’s verdict: Lovely to see some wholegrain used. The crumb looks so soft, also very nice-colour bake.’

 

Photograph: Sean O'Neill
Photograph: Sean O'Neill
Photograph: Sean O'Neill

Sean O’Neill

‘I found a 16kg bag of flour in a shop right at the peak of flour hysteria and dragged it the long walk home,’ says Sean, a 24-year-old charity worker from Kentish Town. He started baking in week one of lockdown, and this white loaf is the first he felt proud of, after ‘a few duff-to-passable attempts’.

Daisy’s verdict: ‘I have seen bread like this being sold for £5 a pop – very professional and impressive! You could maybe take it a bit further in the oven for that cracked crust but that is personal preference and you may love it like this.’

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Photograph: Sophie Law
Photograph: Sophie Law
Photograph: Sophie Law

Sophie Law

‘I started baking as a way to learn something new during lockdown,’ says radio newsreader Sophie, 39. Her first attempts looked like ‘a cross between ciabatta and a dead hedgehog’, but this white sourdough with spelt dusting was a win. She scored it with a razor blade she got by convincing her husband to take apart his Stanley knife. I actually bounced up and down outside the oven,’ she says, ‘when I saw how well this bread was rising – my husband thought I’d absolutely lost my mind.’ 

Daisy’s verdict: ‘Big and amazing. By the looks of things, you may want to get some more life into your starter. This will help you get strength and may regulate your crumb structure a bit. It will mean that you get a little more rise in the oven. Saying that, getting a big round loaf like this is a triumph by anyone’s standards.’

Photograph: Samuel Calverley
Photograph: Samuel Calverley
Photograph: Samuel Calverley

Samuel Calverley

Assistant editor Samuel has been baking bread for years and last year started making sourdough from scratch. ‘Now the mother is about 15 months old and nearly died due to lack of flour during this pandemic,’ he says. After some searching and at £2 a kilo, he’s now stocked up on flour from Italy so has been making a loaf every few days. He ate this loaf with some carrot soup. 

Daisy’s verdict: ‘The dough looks lovely and strong in the pre-shape pic. The “burst out” on the bake can sometimes mean that it’s just a bit under-proved or that your score wasn’t quite deep enough. Who cares, though? It’s just the way it looks. The inside looks marvellous.’

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Photograph:  Nunziella Salluce
Photograph:  Nunziella Salluce
Photograph: Nunziella Salluce

Nunziella Salluce

Digital designer Nunziella, 30, is Italian and – as an Italian – she says baking is in her blood. She and her fiancé really stepped up their baking in lockdown – sourcing flour and yeast on eBay. ‘I think our first starter was “born” on 17 May,’ she says, explaining that she followed YouTube videos explaining how to mature it. She’s had some disasters – like during the heatwave when the dough fermented too much and collapsed (‘There was lots of Italian shouting involved’). But this bake was the first she’d describe as Instagrammable. 

Daisy’s verdict: ‘Lovely, pretty scoring. What a picture! The slight downward slope towards the bottom can sometimes mean that you didn’t develop enough gluten on the mix/folds, but I am really picking hairs here – this is a beautiful loaf and I bet it was delicious as hell.’

Photograph:  Andra Constantinescu
Photograph:  Andra Constantinescu
Photograph: Andra Constantinescu

Andra Constantinescu

Andra, 42, is a classically trained chef who now lectures on the food industry at universities. That doesn’t mean their cooking experience has been smooth sailing – some of their sourdoughs have ranged from raw to inedible since they started making them in 2012. This particular loaf was a challenge in itself. ‘I mistakenly destroyed my sourdough starter by using self-rising flour,’ says Andra. ‘So I had to start from the beginning and spend two weeks building up a new starter.’

Daisy’s verdict: ‘Wow! A really lovely, open crumb – this is what we aim for here at The Dusty Knuckle, and it’s tricky to get. Slight sloping towards the base can sometimes mean you could get a bit more strength on the mixing – you can also get this sometimes from slightly over-proving after the final shape. This is really pernickety, though – this loaf is beautiful and I would love a slice.’

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Photograph: George Jijiashvili
Photograph: George Jijiashvili
Photograph: George Jijiashvili

George Jijiashvili

Video-games analyst George, 29, has been baking for two years. He even runs a sourdough Instagram with his wife. This loaf’s a wheat flour sourdough and he says making it was one of his hardest ever bakes. ‘A lot of trial and error was involved in figuring out the optimal proportions of flour, water and starter, as well as the kneading/shaping techniques,’ he says. 

Daisy’s verdict: ‘Your pre-shape shows great gluten development, which is such a skill and can take many bakers years to learn. Brilliant job.’

Photograph: Vicky Gerrie
Photograph: Vicky Gerrie
Photograph: Vicky Gerrie

Vicky Gerrie

Production manager Vicky, 29, has been baking for five months. In that time, she’s had some flops (literally). ‘The first loaf I tried to bake didn’t rise,’ she says. ‘I tried to score the top of it and it just sank.’ This little number is a light rye sourdough, which was quick to bake in the hot weather.

Daisy’s verdict: ‘This looks like a very professional loaf! Wonderful wild crumb and lovely pattern on the crust from the banneton. I would be very proud if I baked this.’

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Photograph: Mark Dalby
Photograph: Mark Dalby
Photograph: Mark Dalby

Mark Dalby

Mark likes to leave his sourdough to proof under cute covers shaped like animals, rather than the tea towel and/or cling film trick. His sourdough is just as unusual – it’s a sourdough-ciabatta hybrid. ‘It was an experiment to see if it was possible,’ he says, explaining that he used his Dutch oven to cook it in. Oh, and in case you were wondering, his starter’s called Pete.  

Daisy’s verdict: ‘Very, very impressed by the beautiful sourdough ciabatta which is a very tricky number and looks incredible. A special mention to you for boldly attempting and nailing it.’

Photograph: Emily Darlington
Photograph: Emily Darlington
Photograph: Emily Darlington

Emily Darlington

Project manager Emily, 29, started baking just a few weeks ago, after getting inspired by bread-making Instagram channels. ‘I think the funniest thing has been just how much sourdough baking has taken over my life – it’s really become all-consuming,’ she says. ‘Creating my starter (Stan) was like looking after a baby: I was getting up early in the morning to feed it before starting work, moving it around the house with a thermometer to make sure it was warm enough and congratulating it (out loud) when it finally doubled in size. My housemates now know Stan the Starter by name.’

Daisy’s verdict: ‘Fantastic dark caramelised crust and open crumb structure on this one. Impressive! It’s my second favourite.’

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Photograph: Charlie Mackay
Photograph: Charlie Mackay
Photograph: Charlie Mackay

Charlie Mackay

Charlie says that during lockdown they’ve gone from zero to one hundred with bread making. This round guy is Charlie’s first ever sourdough, so it’s no surprise its creation was documented step by step – from starter to dough to fully fledged loaf. I’ve become obsessed with sourdough now,’ says Charlie. 

Daisy’s verdict: ‘Amazing open crumb structure on the second photo. We often struggle for good describing words in the bakery when we talk about bread in depth – but we refer to crumbs like this as “lacey”, and it is something we really aim for; it shows fantastic fermentation and is such a lovely texture to eat. Maybe try using a bit more steam in the oven when baking and you may find your loaves open up even more. Of all the bakes I have seen, this is the winner.’

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