|My first successful sourdough loaf|
I have made bread for 15 years for my family, in a bread machine. I throw in the ingredients as I go to bed and awake to a beautiful fresh and preservative/additive free loaf. It is quite challenging to make all the lunchbox sandwiches not as doorsteps, as the bread is hard to slice when warm. It's quicker and cheaper than shop bought too, as we don't have a large freezer. I could sit and eat my half white half wholemeal bread all day. However, as the baking resurgence gathers pace, I have had an increasing need to investigate all this sourdough bakery, or bread made with no added yeast. Sourdough is made from leaven, a flour and water batter that cultivates the natural yeasts in the air. Allegedly every culture aquires a different "taste" from it's surroundings. I have had the odd slice of sourdough in a restaurant but I have never bought a loaf, the time invested in a loaf has to be paid for and my home made bread in the machine is just fine. Well that was my excuse.
But the challenge niggled away, as not much defeats me baking wise. Sure macarons were a heck of a challenge but I can make a passable batch now. A couple of years ago I made a sourdough starter, dividing and feeding it but now I know I was not precise enough, and it obviously went off, or I used too much expired ferment and the taste of the loaf was just revolting, I also didn't feed it enough flour. If that's what home made sourdough tastes like I was not interested. Skip two years and I happen to see Vanessa Kimbell, the sourdough queen, was offering 10 prizes of her sourdough starter culture on twitter, she uses a starter that is over 100 years old and originated from the South of France. How romantic! I retweeted, commented on her blog and thought of it no more until she emailed me the next day that I was a lucky winner. You would think I had won the lottery. It really made my day.
I set to researching online, every recipe and video seemed to demonstrate a totally different method, many totally contradicting each other. For some the sourdough starter needs to be refreshed and used 8-12 hours later when most active, and others say at least 24 hours after being refreshed. I had a week to prepare myself, so I bought a round banneton proving basket from the Kitchen shop in Clifton, Bristol, they are also available at Bakery Bits. I also bought a Mason Cash baking stone and set too seasoning it. Last Saturday this lovely package arrived, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string with a very helpful instruction sheet from Vanessa on how to keep and nurture my starter.
I made a 1:1 starter by refreshing the sample. Mix 200g organic flour with 200g (or 200ml) water, preferably filtered, boiled and cooled or stood for a day and add 2 tablespoons of the culture and stir. I keep mine in a kilner jar or Vanessa recommends a stoneware jar. I put the rest of the culture, labelled, in the freezer just in case. It's best to use rye flour for every other refresh. I put the starter in the fridge after a day, as I wasn't baking until today (Friday). Yesterday morning (Thursday) I refreshed the starter and left to stand for 8-12 hours, ie until after work. I used this Hobbs House You Tube as the basic recipe, adding on and adapting bits I had read from River Cottage Bread book, and Carl Legge has helped me a lot with detailed tips and tricks and patient advice on twitter. Carl is the author of the Permaculture Kitchen.
460g Strong White Bread flour
300g soughdough starter
230ml warm water
I measured the water and weighed it in the jug and then added the correct weight of starter, which floats when it is active. The rest of the starter went back in the fridge for next time.
I then added the water/sourdough leaven to the flour and salt in a large bowl and worked it together, I didn't have the specialist bread scraper so I used a wooden spoon and then I oiled my hands and delved in. I turned out onto a lightly oiled work surface, you don't want to be adding extra flour. It is sticky, but you just knead as well as you can for 10-15 minutes until the dough is much easier to handle.
Form into a ball and plop into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Place in airing cupboard or warm place for an hour. Remove.
Stretch the dough out and fold into thirds, pinching the edges closed to trap air, form into tight ball and back in the airing cupboard covered again for another hour. Repeat 1-2 times more and the last time I placed the tightly worked ball of dough (after sprinkling with rye flour) into a very well floured (rye flour again) banneton basket, placed in a plastic bag and left in the fridge overnight for 12 hours until doubled in size, it doesn't matter a bit less or more time. In the morning it looked like this:
grignette. Don't they look gruesome?! Slashing the dough is important so the steam can escape and the sourdough puff up without restriction. Get the stone (using oven gloves!) back into the oven quickly and bake for 30-40 minutes, some say spray the oven with water but I flicked in some water. Some cover with a large preheated oven proof pan or iron casserole, or a special (expensive) Dutch oven, a baking stone with terracotta dome lid. The ultimate dream is a bread oven.
I slathered a slice in butter and devoured. It was amazing, a crisp and crunchy crust, tasty and very slightly chewy on the inside, none of the harsh bitter taste of my initial attempts two years ago. The faintest slight tang. Two more slices followed. sourdough is supposed to keep for up to a week, my bread machine bread is best eaten the same day so I will report back, if any of it is left!
How fabulous is social media? My sourdough has been inspired by the help, generosity and kindness of artisan bakers like Carl Legge, Vanessa Kimbell, River Cottage and the Fabulous Baker Boys amongst others. Thank you all.