Wow! The world of sourdough. It’s taken lockdown by storm and it’s all too easy to read ALL the information out there and get super, super confused with it all. My advice? STOP! Take one person, follow their exact recipe and stay with it, maybe even for months. Same loaf Every. Single. Time. This way you will get a feel for the dough, the technique and what it should look and smell like. Only then would I recommend playing around with different flours, hydrations, flavours and doughs. Another piece of advice that I would offer from personal experience is try and stick to the same Brand of flour. Different brands will be slightly different at absorbing liquid and even this will affect the nature of your dough.
Sourdough is phenomenal! Three ingredients: Flour, Water & Salt and you can create loaves worthy of the best bakery. The concept is that you harbour wild yeasts in the flour (and environment) and nurture them with food and water allowing them to grow alongside lactic acid producing bacteria. This produces what is termed the ‘Starter’. Your Starter is then used as a ‘Levan’ which is the raising agent required to create the carbon dioxide needed to stretch those gluten strands and create lovely air pockets. The lactic acid produces that wonderful tang we all know and love.
Getting Started: Your starter is literally fermented flour, that’s it! I prefer to make my starter out of Organic Rye Flour as it has a larger percentage of natural yeasts naturally present within it.
1. Mix equal parts water and flour. I recommend 100g water (25-28C approx.) with 100g flour. Leave this for 3 days covered with muslin.
2. Feed/refresh your starter: essentially the yeast will have ‘eaten & drunk’ all the food in the mix and will be hungry. So, you don’t exponentially increase your starter you will need to remove a portion and feed and water that.
3. So, take 30g of your original starter and add 100g flour & 100g water. Its easiest to dissolve your starter in the water before adding the flour. Cover as before and leave 24 hours.
4. Continue this for about 4 more days (so 7 days since you started). You will begin to see bubbles forming within the mix. This is great, it’s getting lively and active and ready to rise your bread!
5. You can test to see if it is active enough by filling a glass with water and adding a teaspoon of your starter. If it floats, you are good to go as it now contains enough carbon dioxide.
Bear in mind that these are only guidelines. Your starter is ready when its ready. It’s a wild organism and is affected by its environment. So, keep testing and only move on when you are sure that it is ready.
At this point you are ready to make a loaf. If, however, you don’t want to turn into a commercial bakery, you can rest your starter in the fridge where it will keep happily for about a week unfed. Then just feed it as before each week until you are ready to bake again. When you do want to bake with a refrigerated starter, you’ll need to bring it up to room temperature and feed it so it’s nice and active. I recommend doing this the day before you bake.
Right! Let’s bake bread! You are aware that bread requires gluten to be able to rise and expand. Gluten is essentially a mix of proteins which unravel and combine again with viscoelastic and adhesive qualities which can then trap the carbon dioxide created from the respiration of the yeast. This is what causes your loaf to rise. In order to allow this, you’llneed to start with a flour that has a protein content of between 11-13% which is generally termed ‘Strong Bread Flour’ there are ways to make bread using lower protein contents but we will not focus on that here.
I recommend starting with a white loaf as it is easier to work with.
1. To start, mix 100g of your starter with 350g lukewarm water. Make sure the starter is completely dissolved (you can squelch it in your hands).
2. Mix in 550g Strong White Bread Flour until all the flour is combined but the mix is rough and shaggy. Now LEAVE IT.
3. Cover the dough with a tea towel and leave for 30 minutes. This stage is termed the ‘Autolyse’ and allows for all the flour to become properly hydrated with the liquid. This kick starts the whole process of making your dough and will make life a lot easier later.
4. Mix 12g fine salt (without caking agent) in 25g water and pour over your dough. Incorporate this using your hands (the mix will be sticky) and transfer to an oiled bowl.
5. Again, cover and leave for 1 hour to rest.
6. Now to ‘Fold’ your bread. Essentially, folding is a way of kneading the dough, without all the effort. The action of folding will help the gluten form and the bonds will be strengthened by the lactic acid produced by the bacteria.
7. To fold the dough, I find it easiest to see it as a square. Take the flat side opposite you, pull it up and towardsyou to meet the opposite side. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat. Do this for all 4 sides of the dough, as if you are folding the sides of a square. It is easiest to do this with slightly wet/oiled hands.
8. Rest the dough, covered, for an hour.
9. Repeat these 5 more times so the dough has had a total of 6 folds, 1 per 30 mins.
10. After the final fold, leave your dough for another 30 mins.
Now it’s time to shape the dough. Turn the dough onto your surface and, using a scraper, or the side of your hand, you will need to ‘tension’ the dough. This will create a nice smooth ‘skin’ on your dough so it is not as sticky. This involves sweeping under and round the dough several times to pull it into a ball. Each time the surface will become tighter and less shaggy.
Once the ball is smooth, leave it, uncovered for 30 minutes.
To shape the dough, lightly flour your surface, flip the dough over and ‘knit your dough together’ I see this as starting at the ‘top’ of the ball and pinching sections over each other as if performing a braid. Once you reach the opposite side, turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat. Do this twice more. All this is doing is ensuring your dough is nice and tight and rises evenly in the oven.
Take a colander or Banneton and lay a clean tea towel inside. Liberally dust this with flour and lay your dough in it, seam side up. Leave uncovered for 1 hour to begin to rise, then cover and pop in the fridge for its ‘bulk fermentation’ ideally this should be 12-14 hours.
The next day YOU CAN BAKE!
1. Preheat your oven as hot as it can go for 30 minutes. If you have one, put a lidded cast iron casserole dish inside to become super-hot.
2. Once hot, carefully remove the casserole and the lid and sprinkle in some polenta/semolina/flour to stop your loaf from sticking.
3. Uncover your loaf and carefully invert it into the pot so the seam is underneath. You’ll need to be confident in this, one flip and its in.
4. With a razor, or super sharp knife, score the dough to allow it to expand evenly. A few slashes are fine. Turn the oven down to 230C.
5. Bake your loaf for 25 minutes, remove the lid and reduce the temperature to 220C. bake for 20-25 minutes or until a nice crust has formed.
6. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack.
7. Don’t be tempted to eat this while its hot! By cooling completely, you are allowing the moisture to distribute so you have a lighter loaf, cutting it too early will compact it and make it squishy. ITS WORTH WAITING FOR!
Now you are all the boss of fermentation! You can ensure you have great food and a happy tum at a fraction of the cost of store-bought products! YAY!