Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Sourdough Bread

21 years ago, my OH and I first discovered sourdough, on a trip to California. Since then I have looked at recipes for sourdough and have previously been put off by the "effort" involved in making a starter. Earlier this year, I watched Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage programme, on which they made sourdough and I realised that it wasn't that difficult to make. I use the River Cottage recipe, but have tweaked it a little to suit myself and have added information that I have found useful. Although the process is lengthy, it takes up very little of my time to actually make the starter/dough as most of the time involved is leaving the starter/dough to it's own devises. This is the way that I make sourdough:-

The Starter

500g strong wholemeal flour

500g of strong white flour

I mix the two flours together in a storage jar for ease.

1. In a large bowl mix 100g of flour with enough warm water to make a thick batter. Beat well, then cover with cling-film and leave in a warm place until fermentation has begun. Bubbles will appear on the surface when ready. Mine took a few hours, but it can take a few days.

2. Once fermentation has begun, add 100g of flour and enough cool water to retain the same consistency. Keep at room temperature.

3. The starter now needs to be fed each day. Scoop out half of the starter and discard. Add 100g of flour and some more water. I made this easy for myself by measuring 100g of flour in a cup and then using the cup from then on rather than the scales. I used the same amount of water as I did flour.

4. Maintain this feed/discard routine each day and after 7-10 days it should smell yeasty rather than acrid. Mine smelt very acetone the first time I made a loaf and the bread turned out with a strong, but pleasant, taste. The smell/taste mellowed with the next loaf. I have read that some people use the discarded starter to make pancakes, but I read this after I had discarded mine!

Looking after the Starter

The starter is now ready to be used, but here is some more information on the storage and maintenance of the starter.

The starter is now kept in the fridge, in a glass screw-top jar. Punch 3 holes in the lid to allow the starter to breathe.

Feed weekly with the usual amounts of flour and water.

I take my starter out of the fridge several hours before I plan to use it and feed with a cup of flour and a cup of water.

Whilst making the sourdough loaf, put the remainder of starter in a bowl and wash out the jar. I sterilize the jar with boiling water to make sure that nothing else grows in there! Return to jar and feed before replacing in the fridge.

Hooch - a dark liquid that forms on top of the starter. I stir this back into the starter to maintain the desired consistency.

If going away on holiday, for more than a week, the starter can be frozen. Defrost 2 days before use and refresh as usual. As we went on holiday for 1 week just after making the first loaf, I bulked up the starter and froze half of it as a precaution. My starter survived in the fridge and I have left the frozen half in the freezer as a back-up.

Making the Loaf

The Sponge

100g active starter

250g mixed wholemeal/white strong flour

300ml warm water

1. The night before you want to make the loaf, make the sponge by mixing together the above ingredients in a bowl.

2. Cover with clingfilm and leave overnight.

3. In the morning your sponge should have bubbles on the surface.

The Dough

300g strong flour (wholemeal, white or a mixture. I use more white than wholemeal for a lighter loaf.)

1 tbsp olive oil

10g salt

1. Add the ingredients to the sponge and mix to a slightly sticky dough.

2. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, until smooth and silky.

3. Oil a bowl and place dough into it and cover with clingfilm. Leave at room temperature to rise. It rises slower than a normal yeast dough and should be ready when you use your finger to poke a hole that doesn't heal into it. Mine tends to take all morning.

4. Turn out onto a floured surface and knock back. Knead for another 10 minutes.

5. Line a mixing bowl with a clean tea towel and dust liberally with flour. Place dough in bowl and cover with oiled clingfilm and leave to prove, this time in a warm place. Someone in this household is usually on the internet so I place my bowl on top of the router to take advantage of the heat it produces! I leave mine all afternoon to rise.

6. Preheat oven to 190'C fan. Heat up a baking tray.
7. Remove tray from oven and dust with flour. Carefully tip dough onto tray and slash top with a sharp, serrated knife. Spray with water to form a crust. River Cottage suggests spraying oven and later respraying the loaf, but I found this made the loaf too crusty, especially since my son has a brace and has to take care! I use a small toilettry spray bottle that I bought from a chemist for this purpose.

8. Bake for approximately 35 minutes, until well-browned and sounds hollow when you tap the base. Leave to cool on a rack. It cuts better when completely cold, but we are usually eager to eat it warm!

Once you have your starter the weekly bread making routine doesn't take up much time, you just have to plan ahead and be organised. Over the summer I have made a weekly loaf to have with our BBQs and during the winter it will be made to eat with homemade vegetable and lentil soup. Any slices left over from the BBQs have been delicious toasted or made into cheese sandwiches.

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