Thursday, 9 January 2014

The Definitive Sourdough Recipe

You would not believe how many attempts it took
me to finally get to this (or maybe you would).

I persevered mainly, because I kept telling myself that if ancient Egyptians could do it with limited technology or knowledge about what was actually going on - I could.

I have also mastered the art of it taking a limited amount of my time. You do need to plan ahead though. It basically takes two days to get a loaf but about twenty minutes of your time in total.

You need to start with a starter. This may sound a bit obvious, but a good starter takes a bit of work. Once your starter is nice and active, it basically does all the work.

This is how to make your starter here. A French baker gave me a recipe which used peaches. I would imagine any fruit, even apples from an orchard would work.

To test your starter pour 150g of it into a bowl and add 100g flour (a half and half rye and wheat flour mix works best). Use organic if possible. Add 150ml water and stir. Leave in a warm place for a few hours (in summer 2-3 but in winter 4-6, unless your kitchen is very warm). You could also leave it overnight. It should start to have bubbles in it and become "holey" in appearance. This is often called the sponge.

Every time you use your starter, you need to replace what you have used or feed it. I add about 50g of flour and 100g of water to it. Store it in the fridge. You need to feed it weekly, ideally, whether you use it or not. Although I have forgotten mine for weeks without any adverse effect. 

I do this in the morning and leave it for most of the day. Then later in the evening I begin the next stage and leave it overnight.

Just starting to bubble
Next step is to pour this sponge into a mixing bowl. Add 350g strong white bread flour (or another 300g white flour and 50g rye). Add 10g salt.  Put 300ml of water in a jug.

Start your mixer on a low setting using the dough hook. Gradually add the water. Do not add it all at once. All flours absorb different amounts of liquid.  Mix at a low speed for ten minutes.

You need to get the hang of testing firstly if the dough is wet enough. It is preferable to be over-hydrated rather than under as if under, it will give a tough and a dense textured loaf.  If the dough ball has cleaned the sides of the bowl and is just sticking to the base as it mixes you are on the right track. If you pull some of the dough with your fingers and it is quite silky, it is about right.

dough feels stretchy and light
Turn the mixer to a high speed and mix for a few minutes. Alternate high and low speed until dough is kneaded.

How you test it is kneaded enough - is it slapping against the bowl on a high speed? Secondly, when you pull a piece of the dough out could you blow a bubble as in bubble gum without it tearing? If it tears immediately it's not kneaded properly. If it is good and stretchy and doesn't tear it is.

Transfer the dough to a well-floured bowl. Rub some vegetable oil over the surface. This is to stop it forming a crust. Cover with cling film and leave it overnight.

Oiled and covered for night
 Next morning turn it out onto a floured surface.

Gather it together gently, turn it over and gradually but gently form it into a round ball. Gently press any big air bubbles out. Place it upside down on a baking tin lined with baking paper.

This is what it looks like underneath.If you invert it as in picture above you get the nice breaks in the crust as in the picture below. Place it on a lined tray and gently with your fore finger rub some water all over it. This stops a crust forming which will prevent it rising. You can sprinkle poppy seeds over it if you like at this stage. Leave to prove for another two hours (3-4 in cold weather).

The dough can be shaped into a round as above or an oblong whichever. I usually cut the oblong shape just before it goes into the oven. See main picture.

To bake put oven at lowest setting with an empty tin on bottom shelf for a few minutes. Place bread on top shelf and pour water into the warmed empty tin. Leave at this temperature for 10-15 minutes.

Turn oven up to 210C fan and add more water to the tin. Bake at this temperature for about 25 minutes. Remove the water and turn your bread around. Bake it for a further 10 minutes at 200C directly on the shelf (remove tin).

Test if baked by tapping the base. If it sounds hollow it's baked. Cool on a wire rack.

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