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White Sourdough Bread Recipe
(Makes one loaf – nominally 600g)
Stage1 – make a Rye Starter (most people will already have this or an equivalent)
Day 1. Put 50g Rye flour in a suitable lidded container, add 50g cold water, stir thoroughly, cover loosely (e.g. lid half open), set aside at room temperature.
Day 2. Add another 50g Rye flour and another 50g water. Mix and store as before.
Days 3, 4, 5, 6. Repeat procedure described above. By Day 6 the starter should be bubbly and should smell pleasantly beery. If so, it’s ready to use. If not, repeat the procedure as required.
Stage 2 – make a Stiff Starter or a Poolish.
[A Poolish is basically a sloppy version of the Stiff Starter, and uses a higher proportion of water.]
|My Poolish is in the square plastic container in the foreground.|
Begin with a lively Rye Starter. If your starter is not lively, refresh it at least 8 hours (or up to 24) in advance, by discarding about a third of what you have and replacing it with new Rye flour and water in equal proportions.
To make a Stiff Starter, in a suitable lidded container thoroughly combine 90g Strong (or Extra Strong) White Bread Flour with 45g Rye Starter and 45g cold water. It should produce a stiff paste.
To make a Poolish (I use this method), thoroughly combine 60g Strong White Bread Flour, 60g Rye starter and 60g water. It should produce a fairly loose paste. You can make it sloppier if you like, by adding more water, but just remember to add less water when you come to make the dough.
Set your Stiff Starter or Poolish aside for 12 – 24 hours, until it becomes nice and bubbly. If it becomes TOO bubbly, you can slow it down by putting it in the fridge for a few hours, until you are ready to use it.
Stage 3 – Make your dough.
Put 490g Strong or Extra Strong White Bread Flour in a large bowl.
Add 10g salt.
Add your Poolish or Stiff Starter. (Although you will have started with 180g of ingredients, it is likely that despite your best efforts you will leave some behind in its container, so let’s say you have 175g or thereabouts!)
Add 320g cold water
Mix thoroughly, using your hands, until there is no dry flour left in the bowl. Add more water in SMALL quantities as required, but don’t use more than 350g in total or your dough will be too sloppy.
When the dough begins to come together, tip it out of the bowl onto your worksurface. Most authorities say “a lightly-floured worksurface”, but I knead my dough on the kitchen worktop without using flour because the worktop seems to have very good non-stick properties!
Knead the dough vigorously for 10 minutes, using the “stretch and tear” method it you can. This involves pushing the dough away from you very firmly with the ball of your hand and then when it begins to tear, bringing it back towards you in a sort of folding action. The result is to stretch the glutens in the flour, giving the dough strength and structure. After 10 minutes of this you will be tired but you should have a nice smooth, elastic dough.
Form the dough into a rough ball and put it into a clean bowl. Cover it tightly with a plastic showercap or similar. [Warning: if you use a fabric cover, make sure it is wetted and remains moist. Otherwise your dough may form a hard crust, which is undesirable at this stage.)
Place the bowl in the fridge for 12 – 24 hours. This will be the “First Proving”.
Stage 4 – refresh and shape the dough.
Remove the dough from the fridge and leave it for half an hour to warm up.
Tip / scrape the dough out onto your worksurface (see above concerning flouring).
Flatten the dough roughly and then do a “Stretch and Fold”. This means pulling the dough out from the centre and then folding it back in. After each such action, turn the dough through 90 degrees and repeat (4 such actions equate to one Stretch and Fold). This gives the dough extra strength – it’s a bit like building up muscles through exercising!
Shape the dough into a rough ball and either return it to the bowl and cover it as before, OR leave the dough on the worksurface but cover it with the inverted bowl.
Leave it for half an hour and then do another Stretch and Fold. Form it into a rough ball.
Cover the dough as before, and leave it for 10 – 15 minutes.
Generously dust your Banneton (or proving-basket) with flour. I use a mixture of Extra Strong White Bread flour and Rice Flour. The different (rather grainy) texture of the Rice Flour helps to prevent the dough sticking to the Banneton.
Uncover the dough and shape it. A good technique here involves using your hand with palms uppermost and sliding them almost underneath the ball of dough, whilst constantly rotating the dough until you are happy with the shape. The upper surface of the dough should be smooth and any irregularities will have been pushed underneath.
Gently move your dough into the Banneton and cover as before, preferably with a plastic shower-cap or equivalent.
Place the dough in the fridge for 8 – 12 hours. This is the “Second Proving”.
Note, if the dough is not rising very much, it may be a good idea to give it a few hours at room temperature. However, I recommend that it should always spend its last 1 – 2 hours in the fridge, which will help it to firm-up, which in turn will make it easier to tip out of the Banneton.
Stage 5 – Final shaping and baking.
Pre-heat the oven to 240C – which is about the maximum to which a normal domestic fan-oven will go.
Some people would at this stage put in the oven a pizza-stone or an upturned baking-tray. I use a purpose-made baking “cloche”, which is like a pottery pizza-stone but with a domed cover. It keeps in the steam and helps the dough to rise whilst assisting the formation of a nice crispy crust. The same effect can be achieved by using a cast-iron Dutch Oven. If using any of these items, put them in the oven as soon as you switch it on.
Coat a baker’s Peel with about 20g coarse polenta. The polenta acts like tiny marbles and will help the dough to slip off the peel at the desired moment. If you don’t have a Peel, use an upturned flat baking-tray.
|The Peel, coated with polenta|
Take your dough out of the fridge “at the last minute” so that it is still as firm as possible.
Upturn the Banneton over the Peel and tap sharply. The dough should drop out.
Using a VERY sharp knife or preferably a dedicated “Lame” (basically an old-fashioned razor-blade fixed in a handle for safety), slash the top of your dough at least once, very deeply. This will allow steam to escape during baking, thus avoiding uneven and unsightly cracking of the crust. If you want, you can spend some time making additional fancy slash-patterns, but this is for purely aesthetic purposes!
|Dough after tipping-out from the Banneton, showing long deep slash in the top surface|
Using the palms-uppermost technique described above, give your dough a final shaping.
If you are not using a cloche, open the oven and give it a few squirts of water from a spray bottle. This will create steam which will help with the texture of the bread’s crust. If using a cloche or Dutch Oven, omit this stage, just remove its lid.
As quickly as possible, slide the dough off the Peel onto the base of your cloche, Dutch Oven, or pizza-stone, replace the cloche / Dutch Oven lid if relevant and close the oven door.
Bake at 240C for 35 minutes.
Remove the lid of the cloche / Dutch Oven and turn the oven temperature down to 200C (180C fan).
Bake for a further 15 – 20 minutes. During this time the crust will colour-up. If it is going too brown for your liking, turn the oven temperature down a little or cover the loaf with a piece of foil.
Test to see if the loaf is fully baked by lifting it in an oven-glove or tea-towel and tapping it sharply on the underside. If it is cooked you will hear a hollow sound. If not, it will make a dull thud!
When fully baked, remove the loaf from the oven and allow it to cool on a wire cooling-rack.
|The finished loaf. Despite the deep slash, the crust of this one still cracked!|
In my opinion, the bread is best eaten when just ever so slightly warm, served with lashings of salted butter!
|This texture is ideal for me - lots of air-bubbles but not huge ones!|
This sort of bread keeps best if wrapped in a cloth or clean tea-towel.