Sourdough is all about time. As time has passed since my last post about sourdough, I’ve patiently and diligently continued on my quest to make fantastic sourdough. I’ll reiterate that regular practice, keen observation and confident intuition are what truly makes great bread.
Däve is all grown up, well, fourteen months old at the time of writing, and I’m feeling far more proficient in my yeast husbandry. Interestingly, this craft feels quite like parenting in the sense of becoming more and more unconsciously competent as time goes by; I’ve almost stopped thinking about the details and just get on with it.
Lots of great questions have been coming my way recently so I think it’s the perfect time to take stock and get my latest methodology down for posterity.
For my best sourdough loaf, I currently do the following (based on my equipment and environment):
- Make sure the starter is on top form and recently fed and watered – if it’s been chilling out in the fridge to slow down the fermentation process then give it a 50/50 organic flour and water feeding to double its volume, a good mix to aerate it, and at least a day at room temperature. TOP TIP: You’ll know that it’s good to go if a spoonful of the starter floats in water.
- Before going to bed, mix 80g of the starter with 80g of organic white bread flour and 80g water. This is your sponge. Cover it with a cloth or a shower cap (it’s your yeast-farming duty to liberate them from hotel rooms at every opportunity).
- The following morning, start the autolyse process by mixing 50g organic white rye flour, 10g diastatic malt and 440g organic white bread flour into your sponge with 300g tepid water. Leave it (covered with a shower cap) for an hour or so. This will allow the flour to fully absorb the water, start the fermentation process, and ultimately make it much easier to knead.
- Add 15g salt dissolved in a splash of water (about 10g) and knead your dough for 10 minutes until it’s beautifully smooth and elastic. There’s some real technique to be developed in kneading and shaping your dough, especially when it’s wet, but it isn’t hard to get the hang of it and if you’re like me, you’ll eventually find it more therapeutic than stressful. If you use a stand mixer, it will take a little more than 10 minutes and will definitely benefit from a couple of minutes of hand stretching afterwards.
- We now venture into bulk fermentation. Leave your dough covered for an hour and then lovingly ‘stretch and fold’ with wet hands a few times to incorporate a touch more water and increase hydration à la ‘eau de bassinage’. This technique will help to develop the gluten further and improve the crumb. Repeat this each hour, and then after four hours, shape the dough. To help it keep its shape, you want to stretch the gluten to wrap around itself tightly. I do this by drawing the dough towards myself (Google/YouTube it).
- Pop your dough into a well dusted banneton (wicker bread proving basket). I use rice flour for this as it’s anhydrous and prevents the dough sticking. Sprinkle some semolina over the top (to prevent sticking) and cover it with your trusty shower cap.
- Put your dough to bed in the top of your fridge and leave it until the following morning. This is the retarded method – it will slow the fermentation down, leading to a more digestible loaf.
- Pop a large cast iron pot into your oven and turn it up as high as it will go – let’s say 250°C. After 20 minutes or so everything should be stinking hot.
- Take your dough from the fridge and carefully turn it out onto a piece of greaseproof paper.
- Score your dough with a lame or a razor blade in confident, even strokes. This will not only make your bread look good, but it will also help it expand evenly in the oven.
- Being both quick and unbelievably careful in the process, remove your cast iron pot from the oven and lower your dough into it, give it a spritz of water (to create steam and slow the formation of the crust), pop the lid back on and then slip it back into the oven.
- After 10 minutes, turn the temperature down to about 210°C and bake it for a further 50 minutes.
- Remove your bread and leave it to cool on a wire rack.
I’ve recently started doubling up on my ingredients to make two loaves at the same time – especially worthwhile given that sourdough bread keeps in perfect condition for such a long time.
Good luck, godspeed and look out for future updates on my preferred method here and on Instagram @foodfitforfelix