Yes, my sourdough starter is now up and running and ready to make bread with. Apologies for the length of this post, it’s hard to explain what I did in just a few words, so if you’re not interested in the process, have a look at the photos and come back again soon for some quicker recipes – you’re always welcome here!
First up I tried a recipe from the very good River Cottage Bread handbook, but it involved proving the bread 4 times (yes, 4 times!) which felt rather too much like a chore to me. The gas oven did not behave well and the recipe also involved trays of water and spraying the bread.
I did get a lovely tasting loaf, but the process was amazingly labour intensive. A recipe from the lovely Moro Cookbook involved very little work but my brain told me as I did it that it wasn’t going to work for me. And it didn’t. Flat as a very thick pancake bread.
I also struggled with proving and baking trays and came across a few folk who had used oven dishes with lids (or casserole dishes or Dutch ovens). Some dusted them with oatmeal to stop the bread from sticking and one person used greaseproof paper. I wish I could track her recipe down to acknowledge properly, but I can’t find it again…..apologies to the person who had this great idea.
So, with no further ado, I used a recipe from the River Cottage website, with a few tweaks of my own and the oven dish/greaseproof paper method of baking. Result? A beautiful looking and tasting loaf of sourdough bread. Now, if someone can advise me on how to make the bread denser and more sour tasting I’ll be a very happy bread baker!
For the sponge
•About 100ml active starter
•250g strong bread flour (white, wholemeal or a mixture)
•300ml warm water
For each loaf
•300g strong bread flour (white, wholemeal or a mixture)
•1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil (optional)
The night before you want to bake your loaf, create the sponge: take about 100ml of your active starter, and combine it with 250g fresh flour and 300ml warm water in a large bowl. Mix well with your hands, or very thoroughly with the handle of a wooden spoon, then cover with clingfilm and leave overnight. In the morning, it should be clearly fermenting – thick, sticky and bubbly.
Now make your loaf: add a fresh 300g flour to the sponge, along with 1 tbsp oil, if you like (it will make the bread a touch softer and more silky, but is not essential), and 10g salt (which is essential). Squidge it all together with your hands. You should have a fairly sticky dough. If it seems tight and firm, add a dash more warm water. If it’s unmanageably loose, add more flour (but do leave it as wet as you dare – you’ll get better bread that way). I did this and the next stage in my mixer with the dough hook.
Turn out the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and silky. This takes in the region of 10 minutes, but it can vary depending on your own style and level of confidence. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn it so it gets a light coating of oil. Cover with lightly oiled clingfilm, or put the bowl inside a plastic bag, and leave to rise. Don’t expect it to whoosh up to twice its original size in an hour, as a conventional loaf does. Sourdough rises slowly and sedately. The best thing is to knead it in the morning then simply leave it all day (or knead in the evening and leave overnight) in a fairly cool, but draught-free, place, until it is more or less doubled in size and feels springy when you push your finger gently into it. Knock it back (deflate it) on a lightly floured surface.
You now need to prove the dough (i.e. give it a second rising). You are also going to be forming it into the shape it will be for baking. If you have a proper baker’s proving basket, use this, first dusting it generously with flour. I lined a bowl (which was roughly the same size as my oven dish) with greaseproof paper and sprinkled it with a little flour). When the dough had doubled in size (it only took a couple of hours as it was a warm day) I lifted the bread out with the paper and placed both the paper and bread into the oven dish (which I had heated for about 20 minutes) slashed the bread with a sharp knife, sprinkled it with a little flour and put the lid on the pot.
I cooked it on the high temperature the entire time for about an hour and removed the lid for the last 20 minutes of cooking. Leave to cool completely (it’s hard to resist, but your bread really will have a better texture if you allow it to cool), enjoy!