About four weeks ago I made my first sourdough bread and I haven’t bought bread from a shop since. I now have a regular routine of baking at the weekend and I’m loving the whole experience. There’s something really comforting about the simple rhythm of baking my own bread, taking my time and drawing mental, emotional as well as physical sustenance from the activity. It seems a world away from the chaos, confusion and uncertainty of the outside world (and the endless pain of Brexit).
Sourdough bread baking seems to have really taken off and not just among hipster, artisan bakers – everyone seems to be doing it. There are probably as many recipes and ways to bake sourdough as there are bakers. Different flours, starters, methods, fillings and patterns. Even the seasons/weather can make a difference. But at a basic level it’s actually a very easy process.
There are a however few key principles to follow. First you must look after your sourdough starter. Show your starter enough love and respect and it will last your whole lifetime. Reading about sourdough on Instagram recently I found that some people have starters which have been kept in their family for years – in one case 150 years.
One of the most fulfilling parts of the process for me is the pattern scoring just before the bake. I’m still experimenting with this (I’ll always be experimenting) – this is the fun part.
Another very important principle is investing enough time for the dough preparation. You can’t rush a good sourdough loaf, it needs lots of time to rest and prove. The good news though is that there is very little actual effort involved, not even very much kneading – it’s more about a gentle stretch and fold.
I invested around £14 in a pack of equipment – a banneton for the final proving (a cane basket which helps draw out the moisture to give good crust), a dough scraper and a lame (razor blade in a holder, for easy scoring). I have been baking my bread in a Le Creuset which gives great results, as people recommend using a Dutch oven. You will also need a container, like a Kilner jar, for the starter.
The first thing you need to do is make your starter and then wait about five days before you can make your first loaf. After that you can keep your starter in the fridge, taking it out and feeding it before you use it. I keep my starter in the fridge all week, bringing it out on Thursday, feeding it with flour and tepid water before making the dough on Friday. I let it prove in the banneton in the fridge overnight and on Saturday morning let it come to room temperature while the oven heats up (and I go back to bed with a cup of tea).
I love the whole idea of slow food. I also love the taste and sheer character of home made sourdough bread and the fact that all it contains is wild yeast, flour and water. It is supposed to be much healthier than other bread because the wild yeast is better for the gut – but I’m only just learning about the science of sourdough.
- Clean a Kilner jar. Weigh 75g organic wholemeal, dark rye or wholemeal spelt flour (or a combination) into the jar. Add 75g warm water and stir well.
- Leave your jar in a prominent and warm place in your kitchen, with the lid sealed.
- Each day for a week, repeat the feeding process (75g flour and 75g water, as before) stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon handle. If (like mine) you find the starter overflowing at any point, discard some mixture before adding fresh flour and water).
- After about 5 days you’ll notice bubbles in the dough and it’s now ready to be used.
- 100g sourdough starter
- 450g strong white bread flour
- 310g room temperature water
- 8g salt
- Put the starter, water, flour and salt in a large bowl and mix into a dough. Leave to rest for 30 minutes.
- Spray or dab the work surface with water and the top of your dough. Turn the dough out and work around pinching a piece with finger and thumb to stretch and fold back over itself, about 6-7 folds. Roll the dough over with the smooth side on top. Return to the bowl to rest for two hours.
- Repeat as above.
- After the dough has rested for the second time there should be clear signs of the dough rising. Stretch and fold the dough once more exactly like before and return to the bowl to rest for one hour.
- This time after resting it’s time to pre-shape the dough. Dust your surface with flour, turn out your dough and shape the ball quite tight without tearing it. Rest for one hour.
- In the final shaping the aim is to create a tight structure without degassing the dough too much. So be delicate with the folds but still creating tension. Dust your work surface with a little flour, turn the dough upside down and let it relax into a circle.
- Dust a banneton basket with flour and place the dough in the basket upside down and let it rest with a cloth on top. If you don’t have a basket, line a colander or bowl with a cloth and dust it well. At this stage rest your dough in the fridge to prove up nice and slowly overnight.
- When you are ready to bake, remove your loaf from the fridge and let it rest on the kitchen side while the oven preheats. It should show clear signs of inflation but if it is still not much different in size you can leave it to rise some more for an hour or so. Preheat the oven to 230°C fan/gas mark 9 with a baking stone (or I used a an ordinary baking tray) on the middle shelf and a deep tray on the bottom filled with boiling water.
- Turn out the loaf out and cut the top with a sharp knife or lame (and this is where you can get creative scoring a pattern). Bake on the stone (or I used a lightly oiled Le Creuset pot). Bake for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 180°C fan/gas mark and bake for a further 30 minutes.
- Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.
Do you have a cheap, fresh and easy recipe I can try? Let me know and I’ll feature it on the site and link back to you.
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