Today I am sharing my adventures with sourdough bread with you. Now, please don't take this as any kind of recipe, or me as any kind of authority. I've made it twice but am still confused by the scary jargon and various stages and rising times. Sourdough is a faff to make as you have to plan it a long time in advance. You can't just knock up a loaf of sourdough. Once you accept that, it is no more work than any other bread, you just have to plan it into your day (she says through gritted teeth).
My friend Dean is a passionate and very skilled bread baker. There is nothing about bread he does not know and we are all waiting for him to turn this hobby into a bakery. A couple of weeks ago he gave me some of his "starter mixture" for sourdough bread. You can make your own starter (it takes a week or so) but I haven't tried that yet.
The day before you want to bake your bread, add flour and warm water to some of your starter, stir, and leave it to ferment overnight. This part of the process is sometimes known as "making the sponge" or "preparing the production sourdough" depending on who you talk to (told you the jargon is scary). In the morning it looks like grey bubbling soup.
Then you make the starter dough. Add more flour, salt and oil and knead for ten minutes. It is an incredibly wet dough to knead with and sticks to your hands like glue. Pray that no-one knocks on the front door while you are doing this task
When kneaded, put in a clean, oiled bowl and leave to rise for three or four hours. Knock it back, then put into a largeish shallow bowl (I used a pasta bowl) lined with a clean, floured tea towel and leave to prove for four to five hours. Yes, and coordinate all that around naps, school drop off and pick up, meal times, appointments, tantrums. Hmm, I see now why bread baking is often a male past time...
When the time is up, or it has doubled in size, tip it onto a floured baking tray, slash cuts into the top with a sharp knife, and bake. I baked mine for fifteen minutes at the hottest temperature my oven would go to (about 230 degrees C) then turned it down and baked for a further thirty minutes at 200 degrees C.
Also, I put a roasting tin of boiling water under the bread while it baked. Apparently steam helps develop a better crust. But, as Dean told me, don't put ice cubes into a baking tray (as I've seen done on cookery programmes on TV) as this cools the oven temperature down too much.
It is ridiculously good and worth every second of inconvenience. The flavour and chewiness are equally wonderful as sandwiches or toast. Actually, it makes amazing toast. The best thing is that it doesn't go stale quickly and is just as good three or four days after baking as it is when first made.
So, the main things I learnt are...
- Planning - decide when you want to eat it and work backwards.
- Slow is good. The longer and slower the rise, the better the flavour.
- Wet dough - as wet as you dare - makes for a better loaf.
- You need a steamy oven for a good crust.
If you are inclined to have a go, I used this recipe on the River Cottage website and found it very good (if a little long winded) and clear.
The loaf in these pictures was done with strong white bread flour. I made a rye version this week for my friend Debora, who adores rye bread. It didn't rise as much and I am praying that it was not too heavy. I used all rye and I think half rye half strong white bread flour may be the way to go. Next time...
Now I am off to wrap presents and plan baking for a little man's third birthday on Saturday, something that makes me happier than I can possibly say.