Tasty bread made the slow way.
There is a vast array of recipes and methods out there to enable and assist you to make the ‘perfect sourdough’. Do they all work as expected? Do they all taste amazing? Does the dough handle for you as it does for the experienced baker, or in the hands of the professional? In some cases, then the answer is a resounding YES!, but on the other hand, we feel underwhelmed when our answer is a definite and disappointing NO! When that happens, it doesn’t mean that you can’t bake sourdough, it means that you didn’t bake your perfect sourdough at that time. It’s not time to give up trying. You need to dust your hands off, grab a clean pinny and let’s start again; together we can create amazing looking and tasting sourdough bread.
As a home baker for far too many years than I’d really like to reveal, I was lucky enough to be gifted with a five day bread making course with Richard Bertinet at his bakery school in Bath for my 50th birthday. These five days have enabled me to learn an incredible new method of ‘working’ the dough, as opposed to kneading it. It’s taught me to trust the dough and my instincts to step away from the vast amounts of snow-storm effect flurries of flour that you see added to the bench by some bakers (the quantity of which is never actually included in their original recipe) no matter how much more you think it needs. How much is a light dusting of flour on your bench; 10 / 20 / 50 / 100g? Who knows! We all perceive things in different ways, and it’s far too easy to add too much flour which’ll tighten up your loaf and make for a far less than ideal crumb result, which, if the worst comes to the worst, puts you off baking and achieving such incredible results that only 3 basic ingredients can help you achieve; flour, water and salt. I suppose for sourdough, you could easily add 2 more ingredients to that list – time and love as both are a valuable part of your sourdough bread making journey.
The key to making your own sourdough is in the starter. I was recently gifted some San Fransicso starter from the lovely Chef, Nick Martin. I’ve basically followed the recipe that he also sent down to me, but have twisted and adapted it to make it easier for the novice, or for someone with slightly less time on their hands (or even for the lazy baker like me) to follow. The ‘secret’ to this dough is in the lower hydration (amount of water to weight of flour), which makes this a much easier dough to handle and to master the art of.
During the whole Coronavirus lockdown period, where I’ve was working from home for 8 weeks, I’ve primarily kept to my weekly sourdough bread making schedule of mixing the dough on Thursday night, shaping it on Friday night and baking it on a Saturday morning. Occasionally I’ve taken the luxe of making a second batch of bread, purely by mixing and shaping on a different night earlier in the week, to bake the following morning:- *Oven on to preheat as soon as I get up. *Loaf in before breakfast. *Bake finished as I’m ready for my next cup of tea.
For each loaf that I’ve made for us, I’ve gifted another two to friends and family. This has been due to the generosity of Shipton Mill who inadvertently duplicated my 32kg bread flour order and I received 64kg instead, but kindly allowed me to keep the flour to help my local community. For that kindness, I (and the bread recipients) are eternally grateful, so thank you Shipton Mill.
I’m currently waiting for my re-scheduled date (due to Coronavirus) to commence my training to become a voluntary Community First Responder with my local ambulance service, and have accepted donations for any flour or bread orders that I’ve gifted to go towards the fundraising efforts of my local group. It takes approx. £1,300 to kit out a Responder with a defibrillator, monitoring equipment and uniform, and to that end I’d love to be able to raise enough funds to cover at least the cost of the kit that I’ll be issued with. With additional pledges that I’ve been promised, and with the support from my local farm shop, the Dovecote Buttery, I’m now at approx. £900 towards my target.
I’ve been asked so many times to share the recipe that I’m using and to help others to create their own sourdough starter, that I’ll address in another post, but for now, please find below the recipe that I’m using with incredible results:
You can use this recipe and then add the flavours as you wish.
- 85g sourdough starter
- 375ml warm water (body temperature)
- 675g white bread flour
- 15g sea salt flakes
- Whisk the starter into the water.
- In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt.
- Add the water and starter liquid to the flour and salt mix and work together with your hands until you have fully incorporate all of the liquid. The dough may still be a little ‘rough’ at this stage, but don’t worry, you haven’t failed to make a sourdough, there are still many steps to be followed.
- Rub your hands together above the bowl to get all the dough off.
- Tightly cover the bowl with cling film to seal it and set your dough aside to rest for about 30 minutes (setting the timer is not required – 25 minutes / 45 minutes / an hour resting won’t hurt or ruin it – do not be a slave to your dough – if you’re relaxed, it’ll be relaxed too).
- Uncover the dough and continue to work the dough in the bowl until there are no lumps left. This can be done easily by grabbing some of the dough from the outside of the bowl, lifting and stretching it upwards before folding it over and pressing it in to the centre of the dough. Continue around the bowl however many times you need to until there are no lumps of flour that you can feel. Alternatively, if you prefer, you can tip your dough out on to a UNFLOURED work surface and work it to get the same end result.
- Your dough will now both look and feel very different. It’ll be formed in to quite a tight ball and won’t be touching the sides of the bowl, This is the point at which we start to let it relax, sleep and rest.
- Cover the bowl again with cling film, and allow to rest at room temperature for about an hour, then put the bowl into the fridge to rest for 24 hours (this is known as retarding the dough).
- If you want to have more of a sour tang to your dough, you can leave the dough at this stage for up to 4 days in the fridge, without worrying about it being spoiled or ruined.
- When you’re ready to shape your dough, the following day (or later), remove the bowl from the fridge and allow it to come up to room temperature for an hour or two, still in the bowl and still covered with cling film. I generally remove the bowl from the fridge as soon as I get in from work / before I start preparing dinner, ready to start to work it a couple of hours later.
- Line a banneton, an oven-proof (Pyrex) casserole dish, or a metal colander with a very clean tea towel or muslin that you’ve dusted very well with flour.
- LIGHTLY flour your work surface and tip out the dough on to it, then gently prod it out with your fingertips to a thick flattened circle (you’re not looking to knead the bread here, or to knock the living daylights out of it, as I see some bakers doing). Going round the edges, lift up the dough, grab a section of the dough and stretch it out gently away from you before folding it up and over and into the centre of the dough 3 or 4 times, until you’ve formed a rough round ball shape.
- Turn the dough over so that the seam that you’ve just made is face down on your work surface. This will become the bottom of your loaf when it’s baked.
- Cupping both of your hands on side of your dough, furthest from your body, gentle press your hands down towards the board, tucking your little fingers underneath the edge of the dough as you pull the dough slowly towards you. Allow the friction of the dough on the surface of the board to create tension to the top of the dough as you pull it towards you (this is what’ll keep the shape as it bakes).
- Repeat this process, turning the dough a little bit each time, as you lift the dough ball and put it towards the back of your board, ready to pull it towards you again.
- Don’t be too rough doing this so that you split the surface of the dough; that’s not what you’re looking for. The objective is to make the top nice and taught but not to tear it.
- When you’ve got the dough into a lovely ball, then dust the top liberally with flour, lift it up (a plastic dough scraper works wonders here to help you), then place it floured side (top) down into your banneton, casserole dish or colander that you’ve already prepared.
- Lightly dust the surface of the dough to stop the muslin sticking (this is the bottom of your dough).
- Fold the tea towel or muslin very loosely over the bread and place the dough back in to the fridge overnight or for 24 hours. (If you want to, you can cover it in plastic / cling film, but it’ll sweat, and it’ll be harder to tip out to bake).
- When you’re ready to bake your sourdough loaf, pre-heat the oven to 240˚C, gas 9.
- Remove the dough from the fridge, uncover it and dust the top lightly with flour. If you’ve covered it with muslin or a tea bowl, you should find that the top is not wet at all and you shouldn’t stick to the surface of it if you touch it.
- Tear off a piece of silicon paper or baking parchment (don’t use greaseproof paper – the surface of it seems to melt and stick to the dough when you bake with it – I’ve learned that one from experience!)
- Cover the banneton and dough with the piece of parchment and quickly flip the whole lot upside down so that the parchment is now on your board and your banneton (or proving container) is on top, then lift this off. You should find that the dough simply falls out when you invert it.
- Lightly dust the top of the loaf with flour and slash your desired pattern into the surface with a razor blade or a VERY sharp knife.
- Lift the parchment with the dough and place in to a COLD casserole / roasting / large Pyrex dish. If you don’t have any of these, but you do have a metal tray and a large ovenproof bowl, then tip the dough onto the tray and use the bowl to cover it. This will help keep the steam in and create that rise that we all hope we can achieve.
- Immediately place the casserole dish / baking tray and bowl containing your sourdough in to the oven to bake.
- Turn the oven down to 200˚C, gas 6, and bake for 1 hour. DO NOT REMOVE THE LID DURING THIS TIME.
- Remove the lid from the dough (beware of any steam that will be released).
- Remove the sourdough, still on the parchment paper, and place it directly on to the oven shelf.
- Bake for approx 10 minutes, until your loaf is your own shade of beautiful brown and the base sounds hollow when you tap it.
- Remove the loaf from the oven and turn out onto a cooling rack.
- Leave to sit for at least 1 hour, before slicing, buttering generously and eating the whole lot before starting again!