I love bread. It’s one of my favourite foods. Plenty of other people have written about bread, so I’m not bothering with an essay on the subject of bread here.
Because I love to eat it, I have to make it, which I have been doing for a long time. Simple white loaves, multi grain bread, rolls, focaccia, and of late, a lot of pizzas.
I have always wanted to master sourdough, that amazing bread that comes from flour and water, where you create your very own yeast. Getting a sourdough starter going is one thing, getting the starter to rise decent bread is another. Up until now, I’ve had some really disappointing loaves.
But then I found my new baking hero James Morton. James was a finalist in the Great British Bakeoff 2012 series. A Scotsman with a taste for fair isle vests, he impressed me with his traditional recipes and no-nonsense approach to baking.
So – I bought James’ first book Brilliant Bread and I have not looked back. A great, all round common sense book on bread making, and the source of the illusive recipes for a successful sourdough starter and sourdough loaf made with the starter.
Getting a sourdough starter going. This is a real labour of love. You have to be dedicated, patient, observant and accurate. A starter needs constant care and vigilance. It needs to be fed regularly, and, unless you hibernate your starter in the fridge, you have to look after it for ever!!! Or be prepared for the news of its demise.
Your sourdough starter needs more care than a pet….
If I go away for the weekend, my cat minder comes daily to feed Possum my beautiful cat. But I need to come back early to feed my starter because I don’t trust anyone else to do it… it’s a big responsibility if you want beautiful bread!
Here is an abbreviated recipe from James’ book. Buy the book to get the full, incredibly helpful story.
1. Take 100g strong flour and 100g tepid water and measure into a glass jar (see through is best so you can see what’s going on).
2. Add your starter aid to kick start the the starter. James recommends raisins – that’s what I used.
3. Cover your jar and leave for 24 hours at room temperature.
4. Whether the starter is bubbling or not, add another 100g flour and 100g water and stir vigorously to combine.
5. Leave for 24-72 hours, or until you notice plenty of bubbles forming through the mixture and that it has definitely increased in volume. Then pour away at least 3/4 of your starter.
6. Give what’s left a good feed of flour and water – make it up to at least the size it was before you poured it away. James recommends not bothering with weighing feeds from now on – always feed your starter using more flour than you think is already in the jar. James doesn’t mention how much water to add – having added the flour, I carefully add enough water so that the mixture looks roughly the same as it was before you threw stuff away.
7. Feed your starter every day and keep it at room temperature. You can put your starter in the fridge to hibernate if you’re going away or if you’re not baking. You will still need to feed it every week or so. If you want to use it, take it out of the fridge, let it warm up and give it a big feed.
Some basic points:
Once you are onto the feeding stage, use cheap white flour, as you will be using a lot of it.
Remember, you need to discard at least 3/4 of your starter before you feed it. Of course, if you are using your starter for making bread, you have already taken away some starter so you can feed it at that point.
Your can use your starter when it is full of bubbles and has grown in size in the jar. (It does get noticeably bigger, but I don’t think there is a level of “bigness” that is required).
At this stage the yeasts in your starter are used to being fed – they are said to be in a “fed state”. This normally 12- 24 hours after a feed and if the starter is fed regularly.
This is basically James’ recipe. But as with the starter, the book is really helpful for more details.
400g Strong White Flour
200g White Sourdough Starter
275g Cold Water
In a large bowl, weigh the flour and then rub in the salt until combined. Add the starter and water and mix until it has come together into a very wet dough. Cover and autolyse for 30 minutes. (This is resting of the dough, letting the yeast get a lot of the work done for you, so that when you knead, your dough will come together more easily).
Knead the dough for 10 minutes.
Cover and rest the dough for approximately 4-6 hours at room temperature, or, alternatively, after a couple of hours, put it in the fridge overnight or during the day. This is an important stage, so the dough should be noticeably risen, if not quite doubled in size.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface *and carefully transfer to a proving basket or a floured tea towel inside a bowl (this what I use, although I think I will invest in a proving basket). Leave to prove for 3-4 hours at room temperature until springy and noticeably larger again. Or you can put your dough in the fridge to prove after an hour or two overnight or during the day. I left my dough to prove overnight.
Preheat the oven to 240 degrees C at least 30 minutes before you intend to bake, and heat your baking surface (the thing you place your dough on or in). I used a loaf tin on a baking tray.
Turn out your proved dough onto a board lined with flour or semolina. Turn down the oven to 210 degrees C, slide the dough onto or into the baking surface and score your loaf as desired. (I roughly shaped my loaf at this point and gently lowered it into the tin, then scored the top). Bake for 40-50 minutes, adding a tray of water to the bottom of the oven to create steam.
Remove from the oven, and let rest for 1/2 hour, or so they say… I can’t resist cutting and eating hot bread straight out of the oven, but apparently that’s wrong!
I served my sourdough with my home-made Strawberry Jam and Rozelle Sunrise Ruby Grapefruit and Tangelo Marmalade. Yum!
* At this point James says to shape your loaf, but I think it’s easier to prove first and then gently shape or place in a tin when it’s time to go into the oven.