My daily bread...fragrant tastes of the yeast and the grain, crisp crackiling crust. This seems straightforward, but contains the results of years of experimentation and optimisation.
Sourdough starters can be bought from many places on the web, or beg some from a local bakery, or make your own by leaving out a mix of flour and water until it goes bubbly, and then follow the refreshing process described four or five times.
To refresh the starter
- 1 c sourdough starter, out of the fridge from last time, or from a friendly source
- 1 c flour
- 1 c water
- 1 c refreshed sourdough starter
- 2-1/2 c flour
- 1-1/2 c water
- 2 tsp salt
Refresh the Starter
Mix together starter, flour, and water.
It should be the consistency of very thick cream
Allow to stand in a warm (85F) place for 4 hours. Should be bubbly. Temperature is fairly critical, as it affects the ratio of yeast to lactobacillus, and hence the sourness of the bread. Any hotter and you start to kill the yeast; colder and it is not as sour and takes longer to rise.
Put half the starter back in the pot in the fridge for next time.
Ideally should be refreshed (this process) once a week or so, but will keep more or less indefinitely in a closed container in the fridge. May separate into two layers, but just stir them together. If you haven’t used it for a long time refresh it as above a couple of times first to restore the vigour.
Doesn’t freeze well, but can be dried for a reserve supply.
If you need to ship it, make some into a lasagne sheet,
For best results always use the same flour, so the bugs can get used to it. Need not be fancy. Some people keep separate starters for white and for wholemeal. I use a white unbleached flour, which has added Vitamic C as an improver, otherwise you can add 1/2tsp Vitamic C (Ascorbic acid) but it is not critical.
Make the Dough
Whizz together refreshed starter, flour and water in a food processor for 20 sec. You can knead by hand (10 minutes by the clock), but a food processor is much easier. Should make a softish dough. The wetter the dough the bigger the holes in the final bread. Different flours need different amounts of water – add more water or flour to get the right consistency.
Leave for 30 mins. Add the salt and whiz for another 20 sec, or knead for another 10 mins. You add the salt after an initial fermentation period as salt jams the amylisation of starch to sugars to feed the yeast.
Leave for 2 hours or so in a warm (85F) place.
Turn out onto a floured board. Handle gently - don't knok all the air out. Shape and put upside down into a cloth lined basket (called a banneton). Put into the fridge, covered with a cloth, overnight.
The dough is soft, so needs the support of the basket. You could cook it after letting it rise for a hour or so, but its easier to handle, less critical in timing and gives a better crust if you keep it in the fridge (retardation) for between 8 and 24 hours.
When you are ready to bake the dough heat the oven as hot as it will go. If you have one, put a pizza stone or a layer of quarry tiles on the shelf to provide bottom heat. Heat the oven at least an hour before you want to bake to allow time to stabilise. Best if you take the dough out of the fridge an hour before you cook it.
When ready to cook turn the dough out onto a baking sheet and remove the cloth. Slash the top firmly with a very sharp knife. Professional bakers use a razor blade on a stick.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a good colour. You might need to turn it after 30 mins. Let the bread cool to warm before you slice it. (hard to do).
For a better crust, put an empty pan in the bottom of the oven and pour a cup of boiling water into it after you have put the bread in the oven. (care: hot steam), and shut the door quickly. The idea is to provide a burst of steam, which gelatinises the outside of the dough. Professional ovens have steam injection for this purpose. Alternatively (but not as good) you can paint the bread with water before it goes in the oven, or use a garden sprayer.
I’d advise practicing plain white bread before trying variations. When you get that right you can get fancier:
Flavours and additions: Add with the salt, but you might want to hand-knead them in – the food processor chops them a bit fine.
Onions (soften in butter first),
Smarties or M&Ms
Seeds: Pumpkin, sunflower, sesame
Dust the cloth lining with flour before putting in the bread
Brush with milk or cream
Brush with egg glaze (egg yolk+milk)
Flour variants: I’d recommend only using 1/3rd-1/2 with plain strong white flour
Wholemeal (will not rise as much)
Granary (has added malt)
Rye flour (makes a sticky dough)
For dark rye add 1 Tbs black treacle (molasses). Some like caraway seeds
Spelt (ancient wheat) Poilane is reputed to use 1/5th Spelt.
“Mighty White” (steamed, corned grains)
Sweet bread: add sugar and butter with the fruit. Saffron for Easter.
( RG263 )