Sourdough

It is time to talk sourdough. Almost 200 loaves into my bread baking experience, I now make sourdough once weekly, using commercial yeast for only my speedy after work bread. A loaf of sourdough is more than a little bit more magical, and scrumptious. Once you have a starter which is going strong, the only hitch is the time spent making it. Fortunately, there are only a few stages, and the waiting time does not require supervision.

 
 
Serves: Makes one loaf
Cooking Time: For breakfast bread, start the process around lunch the day before. For dinner bread, start at breakfast time. See the summary in bold below.

Ingredients

For the sponge:
+ 300 g wholemeal or rye bread flour
+ 25-30 g starter

+ 380 ml water

To finish the loaf:
+ 300 g strong white bread flour
+ 10 g fine salt dissolved in 20 ml water
+ Plus a little sunflower oil for your resting bowl

Method

SUMMARY: Remove starter from fridge and feed it 4+hours before making sponge / Make sponge and wait 4-5 hours / Add rest of flour to make dough and complete initial knead / Wait 20 minutes / Add salt, complete second knead / Bulk prove round for 1 hour / Knock back / Bulk prove round 2 for another hour / Shape your dough / Rest for 3-4 hours on bench top or 8-12 hours in fridge / Allow 1-4 hours to return to room temperature (if you put it in the fridge) / Bake for approximately 30 minutes.

Remove starter from fridge and feed (using our 1:2:1 ratio). Leave on the kitchen bench for at least 4 hours before use. For more about how to look after your starter see this post.

To make the sponge, place the wholemeal or rye flour in a large bowl. Add your room temperature sourdough starter and water. Mix together with a large wooden spoon until it comes together to form a thick batter. Leave on bench, covered with a tea towel for approximately 4-5 hours. By this stage, your sponge should be bubbling vigorously. Feed your starter and return to the fridge until next time.

Add the remaining flour to the sponge before turning out onto a clean floured work surface. Knead your dough for approximately 5 minutes, or until the dough is holding together. Return to a bowl and cover with a tea towel.  NOTE: the dough does not need to be smooth at this point.

Re-flour your bench, before turning your dough out onto the bench again. Sprinkle the salty water all over. Knead for a further 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic.Form into a ball.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl (we use sunflower oil), cover with tea towel and set aside to bulk prove for 1 hour (or around that). Dough should have a risen slightly – do not be concerned if it has not risen spectacularly, the natural yeasts take longer to get going.

Knock back the dough, by turning it out onto a lightly floured surface and lightly pressing into a rectangle about 2.5 cm high. Fold back one-third into itself, and repeat with the remaining third. Turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat. Reform your dough into a ball. Place dough back into oiled container, and continue to bulk prove for a further hour (or around that).

We try to repeat this process 2-3 times, and when you get to the final knock back it’s time to shape the loaf. If making a circular loaf, turn the dough into itself to make a tight smooth ball. To make a batard loaf, fold the dough in at the furthest end from the edge of the bench to create a nose cone, as you would when making a paper plane. Fold the nose cone towards you, pressing down to close the seam. Continue to roll the loaf until you have reached the end. For a batard loaf, you should end up with a straight seam down the middle.

Line your banneton with flour, and place the loaf inside, seam side up. Cover the banneton with a loose plastic bag, and either place on your counter top for 3-4 hours or place in the fridge for 8-12. For more on bannetons, and the timing of sourdough making see the Tips and Tricks section below.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to its highest temperature (ours is 250°C), with your baking tray inside. Be sure to allow your dough to return to room temperature prior to this if you have placed it in the fridge. To test if your dough has proved enough and is ready to cook, gently prod your loaf. If it deflates at the slightest touch it is over-proved and you need to bake it as soon as possible. If it holds the indent of your finger, it is under-proved and requires more time. If your loaf has grown considerably, has a pleasant springiness and the indent of your finger quickly disappears, it’s ready to bake.

Transfer trays from the oven and sprinkle with a touch of flour. Gently turn your loaf out onto the preheated baking tray. With a serrated knife cut a series of shallow lines in the top. If you have a spare tray underneath the loaves, place half a dozen ice cubes in as well. The steam will help to create a nice crust. Upon placing bread in oven, reduce temperature to 200°C and bake for approximately 30-40 minutes. To check if your bread is ready, tap the bottom, if the loaf sounds hollow it is ready. If not ready, bake for a further 10 until sounding hollow. When your loaf is ready, remove from oven and allow to cool on a rack.

An alternative method of cooking it to use a Dutch oven. For this method, preheat the oven to 200°C. Heat a large Dutch oven in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and gently place the dough in, and cutting the top. Sprinkle the top of your loaf with a touch of water. Cover with a tight fitting lid and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for a further 20 minutes. The bread is done when the base sounds hollow when tapped.

Our bread lasts around a week, just wrapped in newspaper and in a bread bin. This allows it to breathe, whilst keeping it fresh. If you do not own a bread bin, just in the newspaper and in the pantry is more than fine. Just do not place your bread in the fridge – this is a fast track to stale bread. If you wish to freeze it, wrap tight in plastic to keep the moisture out.

OTHER TIPS AND TRICKS:

  • A banneton, or bread basket, is rather important for a sourdough loaf. This allows the dough to be supported as it slowly rises. If you do not have a banneton, line an appropriately sized cake tin with a clean tea towel which has been lightly dusted with flour. Use the towel to fold back on the bread instead of a plastic bag.
  • If you are confident with a plain white loaf try experimenting with other flours – such as wholemeal and rye. However, with rye flour it is best not to try a 100% rye loaf, unless you have a rye starter.
  • As with normal bread, you can use a wide variety of seeds, including: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and pepitas. We also have a jar of mixed wholemeal grains we bought from our local markets. These can be added to the dough in the first step, and with a touch of water used to put on the crust once you have formed the dough into its final shape.
  • To ensure you get a crispy exterior to your loaf, you can use the ice cube method as explained in the above instructions. You can also lightly mist the bread with water from a spray bottle. Yet another alternative is to place boiling water from your kettle into a preheated dish below the bread when you put it in.
  • How to get breakfast bread? The mathematically conscious may have noticed there’s a timing issue when using this method. Fresh bread for dinner is usually not a problem, as long as you start the process first thing in the morning (if necessary you can speed things up by finding the warmest place in your house to prove the bread, or even putting the bowl with the dough on it on top of a hot water bottle wrapped in a tea towel). Fresh bread for lunch might involve making the sponge the night before, then starting the rest of the process when you wake up. Those who want fresh bread for breakfast, though, run into a problem since if you shape the loaf before you go to bed the night before it will definitely be over-proved by the next morning. To avoid this you can let the shaped loaf prove in the fridge overnight; the cold environment will slow down the proving process. The issue here is that the loaf will take a couple of hours to return to room temperature before you can bake it, which means it might be closer to lunch before you get to eat. The fix we’ve discovered is to put the shaped loaf in the fridge just before you go to bed, then set a sneaky baker’s alarm for three hours before you normally get up, whip the bread out of the fridge and stumble back to bed again. When you get up three hours later the bread will be ready to bake. We’ve weighed the cost and decided that fresh, crusty warm bread for breakfast is worth it; your conclusions may vary.

Original recipe sourced from our Family Archives.

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