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Amateur Bakers Rise to the Sourdough September Challenge

While the Great British Bake Off has the nation's amateur bakers glued to their TV screens Shrewsbury has experienced a bit of its own baking mania. Artisan bakery Bread and Loaf issued a challenge to home bakers to have a go at making bread using the oldest and most difficult method, as part of the nationwide 'Sourdough September' campaign - and it has been inundated.

More than 160 people have called into the micro bakery, in Castle Gates, during September to pick up sourdough bread starter kits, consisting of a portion of the bakery's own sourdough culture and a recipe.

Sourdough bread is notoriously difficult to make. It is different from yeasted breads because it doesn't use added yeast to speed up the process of raising the dough. Instead it relies on natural yeasts and bacteria in the flour that are activated by a fermentation process. It is this culture that gives sourdough its distinctive taste and texture.

Sourdough breads are made by adding flour and water to a small portion of mature sourdough culture and allowing the dough to naturally rise over a period of around 18 hours.

At the end of September, 13 of the most successful amateur sourdough bakers returned to the bakery with their own loaves for a taste-off. Among them was 15-year-old budding baker Gregory Walton, a pupil at Meole Brace School.

"I make my sandwiches every day for school and I thought it would be so much better if I could make my own bread. I under-estimated how hard it would be," he said.

He was up against home bakers who had been baking conventional bread for years, including Kathy Herbert, of Sutton Road, Irvine Peacock, of Penngrove, and Sarah Hooper who runs Ferndell B&B, in Underdale Road.

The winning loaf was submitted by Alison Jones, from Copthorne, a housing support officer with South Shropshire Housing. She has won 13 free artisan loaves from the bakery - one every Saturday in the run up to Christmas - and the opportunity to develop a special Christmas recipe with Bread and Loaf bakers Kate Warwick and Martin Priddy.

"I bake my own bread but I'd never got into the sourdough. It seemed a bit scary and keeping a culture alive in the fridge seemed a bit daunting. But it was made easier because the bakery gave us their lovely starter which is six years old and has an amazing flavour," she said.

"Getting a crust and keeping a crust, and not getting huge big gaps between the crust and the crumb, is very difficult. I have learned so much and am delighted to win. It was a complete surprise!"

"Alison's loaf won on all-round texture, taste and appearance, but we were impressed by all the entries. It was great to see the quality of what people had produced. The majority had never made sourdough before," said Martin.

"We've been staggered by the response. We thought we were doing well when we'd given away 30 pots of starter. We never thought we'd give away over 160. We kept having to go out to buy more containers!"

"But it's been brilliant! People have been emailing us with questions as they've been baking, and it was great to see people, who'd not been able to make a successful sourdough, come back for the judging and ask questions. A lot of people would like to make a sourdough, but don't realise just how complicated it is," added Kate.

Sourdough September is a month-long national awareness drive by the Real Bread Campaign to educate people about the health benefits of sourdough and to unlock the secrets of how to make the traditional bread.