Sourdough Bread

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Once you have a starter that is active and dependable, making sourdough is simple. The only hitch is a day-long process that involves a few stages. You will need an oven, flour, water, salt, patience and commitment. To avoid getting up too early, you would look to start mixing the dough in the afternoon and retarding through the night. In theory, you could then roll out of bed and place the loaf in a warm humid place for 1–4 hours and still bake it in time to have fresh bread for lunch. Which is perfect really. Fresh bread should be mandatory for lunch and dinner. For breakfast you are only going to toast it, and this sourdough keeps well for days and is great for toasting.

Once you have mixed the sourdough dough you can use a portion of it to make any of the various derivative doughs.

Ingredients

  • 405 g (14¼ oz) white starter
  • 765 g (1 lb 11 oz) organic plain flour
  • 400 ml (14 fl oz) water
  • 20 g (¾ oz/2 tablespoons) sea salt

Method

To mix the dough by hand, put the starter in a large bowl with the flour and water. Mix together with a large spoon until it comes together to form a dough. Turn out onto a clean work surface and knead into a ball with your hands, for about 10 minutes — the dough does not need to be smooth at this point. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rest for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the salt over the dough and knead it for a further 20 minutes or until smooth and elastic.

If you are using an electric mixer, put the starter in the bowl of the mixer with a dough hook attachment. Add the flour and water. Mix on slow speed for 4 minutes, then increase the speed to medium-fast for 3 minutes, or until a rough dough is formed. Cover the bowl and set aside to rest for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the salt over the dough and mix on slow speed for 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium-fast for 6 minutes, or until a smooth elastic dough has formed.

To check the dough has the required structure, roll up a little piece of dough and stretch it out to create a ‘window’. If the dough tears at the slightest touch, it is under-mixed and you need to mix it more — what you want is to be able to stretch out the dough to transparency. At this stage the temperature of the dough should be 25°C–27°C (77°F–81°F). If it is below this temperature, leave it to bulk prove in a slightly warmer area. Lightly grease a container with oil spray and sit the dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside at ambient room temperature (approximately 20°C/68°F) for 1 hour to bulk prove.

To knock back the dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and press out into a rectangle, about 2.5 cm (1 inch) thick. Use your hands to fold one-third back onto itself, then repeat with the remaining third. Turn the dough 90 degrees and fold it over again into thirds. Place the dough back into the oiled container and continue to bulk prove for a further 1 hour.

Use a blunt knife or divider to divide the dough into three even-sized portions, weighing 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) each. Working with one portion of dough at a time, continue to shape the loaves following the instructions for shaping a batard loaf.

Line three small baskets with a tea towel (dish towel) in each, lightly dust each with flour and place a loaf inside, seam side up. If you are using a cane basket, you don’t need the tea towel and can simply dust the basket with flour. Alternatively, you can place the loaves on a baking tray lined with baking paper, seam side down. Place in the refrigerator loosely covered with a plastic bag for 8–12 hours.

Preheat the oven to its highest temperature. Remove the loaves from the refrigerator and let them rest in a warm place (about 25°C/77°F and 80% humidity) for anywhere between 1 and 4 hours depending on the climate. The prove is complete when the loaves have grown in size by two-thirds. If they deflate at the slightest touch they are over-proved and you need to bake them as soon as possible without scoring. If they hold the indent of your finger, they are under-proved and will need more time. If the loaves spring back steadily and quickly when you push lightly into them with a finger then they are ready to bake. Score the loaves and place them in the oven.

Spray the oven with water. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the loaves or trays around, and bake for a further 10 minutes. Check the base of each loaf with a tap of your finger — if it sounds hollow, it is ready. The bread should take no longer than 40 minutes in total to bake.

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