It’s amazing that something containing as few ingredients as bread – just flour, water and salt – can generate about two pages of instructions…
It’s taken some time but I’ve pretty much sorted my sourdough so I’m happy with it and it’s reproducible. I am busy, inefficient and quite lazy so I need to have a method that takes as little time as possible. I am also very messy so I need to not add to this with my bread making. I find that using my bread machine to mix contains the mess and means that I’m more likely to bake. I get a similar rise to when I stretch and fold, and although the texture is a little closer when I’ve used the machine I don’t mind as I find bread is more useful without enormous holes. Even though enormous holes look very glamorous!
Using kefir whey makes bread delicious and I might be imagining it, but it keeps for slightly longer and has a softer texture than bread made with water. But if you haven’t any whey, water kefir or plain old water will do!
Sourdough starter: To make a starter from scratch, mix 1 tablespoon of organic flour and 1 tablespoon of water in a jar ( with capacity at least 300ml). Some flours absorb more water than others – you are looking for a consistency like a milkshake, so adjust if necessary. Cover with a cloth or a piece of kitchen paper with a band around it and leave overnight on the work surface. The next day add another tablespoon of each, leave to ferment, and repeat this process daily for at 5 days. By about day 3 you should be starting to see some signs of fermentation. Hopefully by day 5, you will have a frothy happy looking starter before you.
What flour to use? The best results I have had starting from scratch have been with organic whole grain flour or rye flour. The grains seems to harbour lots of bacteria and yeasts so it gets going quickly. Once up and running, you can feed your starter with white flour if you prefer, and if you want to make white bread without granary bits in it!
When you are not using your starter, feed it then put it in the fridge, somewhere obvious. Don’t ignore it for more than a week – stir and feed, and discard some if the jar is getting too full ( or use it to make sourdough crackers). On the day I want to make my bread, I take my starter out of the fridge about and feed it with a tablespoon of flour ( and water if necessary) about 6 hours before I’m going to make my levain. That gives it time to wake up – it’s ready to use when it’s frothy and has increased in volume, rising up the jar a couple of inches.
Sourdough Bread Recipe
Timing this depends on when you want the bread. If you want it to be ready in the evening, start late the night before. If you want it to be ready in the morning, start in the mid afternoon. This works in our house like so: If my sourdough has been in the fridge, I take it out at about 4 pm and feed it. At about 11 pm I make my sponge or levain; the next morning I add the salt and remaining flour, mix and refrigerate for the day, cooking the loaf in the evening.
You will need:
- 500g flour ( I use 400g strong white and 100g whole grain or granary)
- 300 ml kefir whey ( from strained kefir) or water
- 12g maldon sea salt
- 60g starter culture.
Stage 1 : LEVAIN Make a “sponge”or levain. Into your bread maker bowl place 200g White flour, 100g Granary flour, 60g starter culture, 300ml whey or water. Mix briefly ( I use pizza dough setting for a couple of minutes). Turn off the bread machine and leave the mixture in its bowl overnight.
Stage 2: – To the mixture in the bread machine bowl, add the remaining 200g white flour, and the salt. Knead on the shortest setting, which in my panasonic is the pizza dough setting, and that lasts 45 minutes. After that, take the bread out, lightly oil your hands and fold neatly into a ball, or oval depending on the shape you want. Place in a bowl or basket lined with baking paper that you can reach the ends of, cover either with lightly oiled clingfilm or a floured cloth and put it in the fridge for about 8 hours, so it can rise very slowly and develop a good structure and flavour.
Stage 3: – After about 8 or 9 hours in the fridge, the bread will be ready to bake. Take it out to warm up a little while you put your oven on to 240 C (fan) and put your cast iron pot and lid in to warm up.
When the oven is hot, take the bread out of its basket or bowl using the greaseproof paper and place on the work surface. Score completely from end to end, right up and over, with a very sharp knife or scalpel blade.
Using the greaseproof paper, transfer the bread carefully to the pot and put the lid on. Cook for 25 mins with the lid on, don’t lift it off, don’t check it just leave it be.
After that time, lower the temp to 200 ( 180 fan), and take off the lid to hopefully reveal a beautiful loaf that can now cook for a bit longer and brown nicely. Cook at the lower temperature for about another 15 mins. I check the internal temperature – you are aiming for 99-100 C in the middle of the loaf.
When done leave on a wire rack to cool.
As soon as it can be cut, remove the end and taste it. Then cut another slice and try it with butter on. Then cut another slice and try with butter and marmite. OR lemon curd. Then cut another slice and toast it just to check that it’s edible you understand. Then work out how you are going to explain that there is just half a loaf of bread left for everyone else!