There’s bread…and there’s bread…and then…there’s sourdough. You’ll have to forgive me for feeling more than a little chuffed with myself today, because my second attempt at making sourdough has left me feeling giddy with self-satisfaction
Sourdough, for those sad lost souls who aren’t converts yet, is a bread that has been around for thousands of years…well before commercial yeast was developed and bread became a mass produced product. Sourdough’s rising agent is a natural yeast called a starter. You make this wild yeast simply by combining water and flour…well, in all honestly it’s a little more complex than that. You have to feed and nurture your starter over the course of a week before it’s ready to bake with but once your starter is active it’s ready to bake with. Then you keep a little aside to keep feeding so that you’re set for the next baking session.
Meet Ewan Mcgregor mark II…he’s my much loved starter. Ewan Mcgregor mark I died an ugly grissly death…Yes they die if they aren’t looked after.
There are lots of recipe versions of starter. Mine is made from unbleached organic flour, water and malt. I found the recipe/feeding schedule online from a bakery but for the life of me I can’t find it again on their website. I used a search engine to see if I had found it elsewhere and I came up with nothing. Since I’m not entirely sure where I got it and can’t properly give credit, if you recognise this recipe & feeding schedule let me know so I can give credit where it’s due. I have made some slight modifications to the recipe that I copied down and they are as follows:
100g unbleached organic flour
130-140 ml spring water – I used tap water
Mix the ingredients together in a bowl and cover with plastic (I use 2L yoghurt buckets for my starter). Store in a warm draft-free area for 24-36 hours. After this period of time your starter should show faint signs of activity like aeration on the surface. When you’ve got signs of activity, even before the end of the 36 hours, it’s time for the first feed.
Mix the same ingredients as above and add to your starter. Leave it covered in a bowl/bucket in a warn draft-free place for 8-12 hours. During this period you need to observe your starter. You’ll be looking for definite signs of activity that your starter is alive. After 12 hours your starter should be fermenting with visual signs of bubbles rising to the surface…not unlike the picture of Ewan Mcgregor Mark II above. Remove/discard half of the starter to get it ready for it’s second feeding. I pour half into a clean bucket and throw the rest away so that each day my starter is in a clean container everyday. This time you will be using a new recipe and feeding schedule:
200g unbleached organic flour
260-280 ml water 20-22 degrees C
8g malt (i used organic)
Split this refreshment in two and add half to your starter. Keep the remaining half in another jar/bowl/bucket and cover to use for the third feed in about 4-6 hours. Disgard half of the starter and add the third feed (that you’ve put aside). Let the starter develop covered with plastic for 8-12 hours.
By day three your starter should be looking healthy. You will need to feed it 3 more times before you can use it to make bread. Don’t forget to discard half of your starter before adding the refreshment.
Preparing your active starter for baking
In a bowl place 190g of your active starter and keep the remainder starter…this remaining portion is your ‘mother’. You will continue to feed it so you can make more bread at a later date. Feed the 190g of the starter with the refreshment recipe above and leave it to develop for 8-12 hours. You can now use this 190g starter and the refreshment mixture to make your sourdough bread.
Your ‘Mother’ starter
Continue to feed your ‘mother’ starter and make sure to keep some left over each time you are ready to make the final large starter and refreshment mix to bake with…then start feeding up the leftover ‘mother’. You can put it in the fridge if you know you are not going to bake again for a while. When you’re ready to use it again, take it out of the fridge and begin to refreshment feed it a few times in preparation for making the baking mix starter.
Again, I got this recipe online and I can’t find the recipe at the website where I thought I got it from. Hence, I can’t give credit to the original recipe developers even though I’ve modified the recipe some.
385-400ml spring water ~ I keep the hydration closer to the lower measurement.
780g unbleached organic bakers flour
17g sea salt
8g malt ~ I use organic malt
If using an electric mixer, add all of the ingredients in the mixer bowl on slow speed for two minutes using the dough hook. Then turn the mixer up to a medium speed for 6-8 minutes. Remove the mixing bowl from the stand mixer, cover with plastic and leave for 1 hour. Take the dough out of the bowl and on a well floured surface, stretch it out to a large rectangle. Fold the dough like you would a letter that you are putting in an envelope… that is fold section three over so it sits directly on top of section 2. Then fold section one over so it sits directly on top of both sections two and three.
Turn your dough ninety degrees to the right and repeat the folding. After knocking back the dough, put it back in the bowl, cover and leave it to rest for another hour. The dough probably won’t double in size but it should show signs of development. Divide your dough into the number of loaves you want. I like two larger loaves rather than three smaller ones. Cover and rest for 30 minutes.
Next you shape the pieces of dough into your desired shapes. I usually do a battard (pictured below) and a boule (pictured above).
There’s a fabulous shaping video on Youtube from NorthWestSourdough that you can see here
When the dough has doubled in size it’s ready to bake. Preheat the oven at full blast for at least 30 minutes and put an empty baking dish at the bottom of your oven. I bake my loaves on a pizza stone. Slash the dough, turn out onto a well floured peel and quickly slide onto the pizza stone. Turn the oven down to 210 degrees C, immediately. Thirty seconds later, pour a cup of water into the empty baking tray and close the door. 30 seconds later spray the sides of the oven with water and close the door. Repeat this twice more 30 seconds apart. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the bread 180 degrees so that it bakes evenly. Bake for a further 20 minutes or until the base sounds hollow when tapped.
Make sure that you let your bread cool down before slicing and eating…I know, I know it’s hard to resist hot freshly baked bread…But I assure you that it’s better to do this because the flavours are still developing during the cooling period.
Another cooking method is to put your oven on the highest temp and put in an empty dutch oven. Pre-heat the oven and the dutch oven for 30 minutes. After slashing, use a well -floured flexible peel to slide the dough into the dutch oven. For ease, I take my dutch oven out of the oven to slide the dough in and then put it back in the oven. Make sure to close the oven door if you do it that way so that there is a minimum of heat loss. Put the lid back on, reduce the oven temp to 210 C and cook for 30 minutes. Then take the lid off the dutch oven and cook for a further 20-30 minutes…until the top is golden brown and the base sounds hollow when tapped. Since trying the dutch oven method, I prefer it over cooking directly on the stone. The crust is much more moist but still crusty.
Feel free to experiment with the addition of seeds and ‘other stuff’. You won’t be disappointed.
I promise you, once you’ve tasted your own sourdough, you’ll never go back to store bought bread.
So dear readers, is this post enough to seduce you to the other side? 😛