3 months ago I wrote about attending a supper club, and how at the end of the night I came away with a sourdough starter. Since then I’ve been making my own bread every week. This Saturday I attended another supper club. As usual the food was fantastic and the company was a nice mix of people. I was sat opposite the garden blogger Arabella Sock, who I already knew through my wife. Her husband (TheBedsock) and her are big foodies; he even makes his own tofu. I did bread-making course years ago, so I thought it would be nice to write about making a sourdough loaf.
Predictably enough it starts with a “starter”.
The sourdough starter
This is a liquid mixture of flour, water and natural yeast. I was given my starter by a baker, and if you can get hold of one this way jump at the chance, if not you can start your own off, but be aware it takes about a week to get a healthy one going. I tried a few years ago but the results were not good as I didn’t really know what I was looking for. so got the consistency all wrong, therefore it was way too sour and not properly balanced. A good starter is a lot runnier than you might expect, I’ve read it likened to the consistency of paint. To keep it from not going too sour you are advised that you need to ‘refresh’ it frequently. You do this by pouring out half of it and topping it back up with strong white flour and water. If I’m baking frequently I leave the starter out in the kitchen and it gets refreshed every night as I’m baking. If I know I won’t be baking for a while I put the starter in the fridge, this means that I don’t need to refresh frequently. I used to throw some of the starter away down the sink to make space for new flour and water to keep it refreshed, But after reading Andrew Whitley’s ‘Do Sourdough’ I don’t bother throwing it away and have happily left it for 3 weeks in the fridge between uses without any problems. I also used to get it out of the fridge for a while before I was going to use it, but I don’t even bother with that now. It comes straight out of the fridge and is put straight into the bowl to make the overnight sponge, described below.
So to get started with a loaf:
The night before you plan on baking pour 100ml of the starter into a bowl. Add 250g of strong white bread flour and 290ml of water. Weight out these measurements with a set of electric kitchen scales. These are accurate to the gram and you need accuracy if you want consistent results (note 280ml of water weighs 280grams). Recipe books either say ‘warm’ or ‘tepid’ water, what this actually means is that the water should be body temperature so it should feel neither cold nor warm if you put your hand in it. Give this a mix and cover the bowl with Clingfilm. This is called a ‘sponge’.
The sponge ready to be left overnight
Don’t forget to re-add some flour and water to your starter to get it back to its original consistency.
The next morning your sponge should be nice and bubbly.
Add 300g of your flour of choice. I am currently making different loaves; one of the favourites is a 150g/150g mix of strong wholemeal and spelt flour. But 300g of strong malted blend flour mix also goes down well in the Pianolearner household. As I write this there is actually a malted blend loaf in the oven. As well as the 300g of flour you need to add 10grams of salt and a tablespoon of olive oil. Mix all this together in the bowl to make a sticky mess.
Mixing the dough
Turn this out onto the work surface (I use a slab of marble) and start kneading. At first it will be a bit messy and sticky, but as you go on it will make a more cohesive dough.
The dough after 1 minute of kneading
If ‘knead’ is too vague, here is my technique. I push the palm of my right hand onto the dough pressing down with the fleshy bit of the palm near wrist. Applying pressure I roll it forwards and backwards two or three times. This makes the dough into a bit of a fat sausage shape. I then turn this sausage shape 90 degrees so that it is facing away from me, I grab the bit the furthest away from me with my left hand, pull it away from me as far as I can to stretch it out bit not so far that it breaks off. I then fold this bit back towards me on top of the remainder and then start again with the palm of the hand on the dough. As you go on it will become stretcher and stretcher and the distance you can pull it will increase. You need to knead for 10 minutes (a proper timed 10 minutes, not “well it feels like 10 minutes, but is actually only 5 minutes”).
After 10 minutes of kneading the dough is very stretchy
Rub a little oil in the bowl to stop the dough from sticking, roll the dough int a ball and return it to bowl, again covering with the Clingfilm.
Ready for its first prove
You then need to leave it to have its first prove which is until it has doubled in size (I just leave my bowl in the kitchen). I normally go to work at this point. The time taken for this first prove depends on hot warm it is where you leave it. When I was making bread in the spring it would have doubled in size by the time I got home at 17:30. At the moment in the summer it is finishing its first prove at about 15:00.
Doubled in size after the first prove
Once you are happy that it has doubled in size you need to ‘knock it back’, which effectively means punching it in the middle.
Knocking back the first prove
Remove it from the bowl and give a 30 second knead and shape it into a ball. As I’m shaping it, I grab all the messy bits together to get a nice smooth ball on top. Then put this ball of dough smooth edge down into a 1kg proving basket, with the messy bits facing upwards towards you.
Into the proving basket for its final prove
A quick note on proving baskets. They are also called bannetons. When I started off I didn’t have one I just used to use a smaller plastic mixing bowl that had been oiled and floured. But if you can afford one, they are a lot less messing about and give a much better look to the loaf. Mine is made of a sort of pulped up paper, but they also come in bamboo. To look after your basket you simply spread a thin layer of flour in it, and every so few bakes top this flour up (no need to wash it).
The prepped proving basket
Your bread will take 1.5 to 3 hours for its second prove and will spread out to fill the basket. I cover my basket with an upside down dinner plate during this phase.
At the end of the prove put the oven onto 240°C and put in a flat baking tray to warm up. If you like a crusty loaf (i don’t particularly) you can put in a bowl of water into the bottom of the oven with the bread to create some steam. When the oven is up to temperature turn your bread out onto the baking tray and give it 2 slashes with a very sharp knife (if it isn’t sharp) it will drag across the dough creating jagged edges.
Bread turned out
The slashes in the loaf
Then put it into the oven with the timer on 15 minutes. After these 15 mins turn it down to 200°C and reset the timer to 27minutes. After this time pull it out of the oven and pop it onto a cooling rack.
The finished loaf
Don’t be tempted to cut straight into it. You need to leave it at least 25 minutes to cool. It will still be warm for that melted butter fresh bread experience. Enjoy!