White sourdough loaf

White sourdough loaf

By
From
The Art Of The Larder
Makes
800 g loaf
Photographer
Mike Lusmore

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
500g strong white bread flour
320g warm water
190g sourdough starter, well fed and lively to bake with
12g salt
coarse flour, semolina, rice flour or fine polenta, to bake the loaf

Method

  1. On the corkboard in my kitchen is a scrap of paper no bigger than half a postcard in size, and on it are 4 measurements, the words ‘wet hands’ and 2 timings. Wild yeasts (the sourdough culture), flour, water and salt; making bread with a sourdough starter is baking at its most rewarding and is certainly the most inexpensive way to get your hands on a loaf of sourdough.
  2. The dough will be very wet, but use wet hands and, with a bit of practice, you’ll soon get the hang of it. The dough first takes shape by vigorous mixing and, over time, as the dough knits together (autolyzes), form is given to the loaf by both the action of gently folding the dough in on itself to create a smooth surface tension and the leavening of the dough as it proves.
  3. Sourdough: first prove

    Use digital kitchen scales to weigh everything, including liquid. Put all the ingredients except the salt and the coarse flour for baking into a large mixing bowl and mix together with a large metal spoon. Make sure all the flour is mixed into the liquid. The dough will look rough and not be smooth at all, but it should be cohesive.
  4. Cover and let the dough rest for about 30 minutes to autolyze. The dough will not yet have begun to prove, but this process is crucial for the flour to hydrate completely and for the gluten to start to strengthen. Adding the salt before this step is complete will inhibit the desired gluten development.
  5. After this time, add the salt to the dough and, using wet hands, lift and fold the dough, mixing the salt through.
  6. Cover the bowl with clingfilm or (top tip here) a clear, elasticated shower cap. Leave it somewhere warmish to rise. This first rise is sometimes called the ‘bulk fermentation’ and can take anywhere between 3 and 12 hours, depending on the ambient temperature and the strength of the starter. The dough needs to expand to about 1½ times its original size. During this period, using wet hands, you can occasionally tuck the sides under the round of dough again, folding it round on itself. This isn’t vital, but helps the dough keep its shape after the fermentation process.
  7. Sourdough: 2nd prove and shaping

    Lightly flour a work surface. The dough will be less wet and easier to work with from now on. Remove it from the bowl, and scrape it on to the floured surface. Gather the round of dough and fold it approximately 4 times in on itself, retaining the round shape. Turn the dough over and place it seam side down. Using your hands, gently cup the sides of the dough and rotate until you have a nice round, tight loaf shape.
  8. Lay a clean cotton or linen tea towel (not a fluffy one) on the table and generously dust with semolina, fine polenta or rice flour to stop the dough sticking. Place the shaped dough on it, this time seam side up. Fold up the corners, place in a bowl or colander to hold the shape and cover with clingfilm or a shower cap. I use a colander with a handle to make it easier to flip the loaf out and over when ready to bake, but you could use a proving basket if you have one. Leave for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size, before baking.
  9. Baking the sourdough

    I use the Dutch oven method to bake my sourdough at home. Housed in the hot pot, the loaf has nowhere else to go but up and the finished loaf will have a good uniform shape with an incredible crust. Using this method, I find, can ape professionally baked sourdough loaves baked on the stone in fearsomely hot bread ovens. You will need either a plain cast-iron 3-litre casserole pot with a cast-iron lid, or a traditional and similar-sized Dutch oven pan. Anything but 100% cast-iron risks cracking with heat shock.
  10. Preheat your oven to 230°C, or as hot as possible.
  11. Place your pot in the very hot oven for 5 minutes to heat through.
  12. Remove the hot pot from the oven and quickly and carefully turn the bread out into the pot. It should come away from the tea towel; if not, give it a gentle prod.
  13. With the dough in the pot and before the lid is put on and the pot is returned to the oven, use a serrated knife, very sharp knife or even a pair of scissors to slash the loaf. Three horizontal stripes or an approximate square are both good, with each incision 3cm or so long and 1cm deep. The slash allows the steam to escape and the dough to expand.
  14. Put the lid on and place the pot in the hot oven, reducing the temperature to 200°C. Bake for 25 minutes with the lid on.
  15. After this time, remove the lid from the pot and bake uncovered for an additional 12–15 minutes, or until the loaf is a deep, golden brown with a firm crust.
  16. If you have one, you can use a temperature probe to measure the internal temperature of the loaf. It is ready if the thermometer reads 95°C. Alternatively, remove the loaf from the pot and give it a good tap on the bottom. It will sound hollow if it’s ready.
  17. Cool on a wire rack for at least 45 minutes before cutting.
  18. Sourdough baking process in 24 hours

    Night before: remove the starter from the fridge, pour off any clear or grey liquid collected on the top, remove all but a few tablespoons of the starter to make room to feed the sourdough, and use enough new flour and warm water to feed the mix in order to have the required portion to bake with. Mix well – you want it quite thick. Leave out overnight.
  19. Morning: to check the starter is ready, drop a spoonful in a glass of water – it should float to the top. Make the dough and leave to bulk ferment, 1st prove.
  20. Afternoon or evening: shape the dough ready for the second rise.
  21. Bake.

Note on your starter

  • If your starter is kept at room temperature, feed it the day before you bake. If it’s refrigerated you might need to give it a morning and night feed the day before you want to bake with it. If your starter has formed a dark liquid on the top, pour this off. This liquid shows the starter is exhausted (literally, so hungry it has begun to eat itself) and needs to be fed back to fighting form. If you are baking daily and your starter is at full tilt, use the portion you remove to bake with and replace what you take with new flour and water. If your starter needs feeding to bake with in the first place, discard all but a few tablespoons of the starter, feeding only what remains in the jar. To do this, replace what you have discarded with an equal measure of new flour and warm water – you need to add enough in order to have the required portion to bake with, i.e. 190g as per this recipe. There is no need to weigh this, you can do it by eye, and you will soon get the hang of it. Stir vigorously.

Variation: muesli bread sourdough

  • This is really easy and makes a brilliant breakfast loaf.

    Just add about 75g of muesli to the sourdough dough during the first (bulk) fermentation.

Checklist

  • Feed the starter

    Check the starter is ready

    Mix dough/autolyze

    Add salt

    Bulk fermentation (first rise) (time to add additional flavours here) – a few folds during this stage are beneficial

    Shape loaf

    Second rise – in cloth in a basket, colander or baking receptacle

    Tip shaped loaf into hot pot

    Cut or slash

    Lid

    Bake

    Rest

Final final note

  • The more you use sourdough and get to grips with it in baking, the more confident you will become with it as a process. Soon enough you will get to know the qualities (personality!) of your starter and understand better its productivity on, say, a hot day or if you have used it in an overnight prove in the cool of a winter’s kitchen. Confidence is in the timing of the whole process; speeding up the rise with warmer water or slowing down the rise of a loaf in the fridge overnight while you sleep. It is not a recipe but an understanding. Good luck and all power to your sourdough.
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