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.
Dave 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, a good mix to aerate it and at least a day at room temperature. 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 and 450g organic white bread flour into your sponge with 300ml 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 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.
- 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 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. After 30 minutes 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 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 tiny spritz of water, pop the lid back on and then slip it back into the oven.
- After 10 minutes, turn the temperature down to about 210° 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
As promised, here’s the recipe I’m generally following to make sourdough loaves. It assumes that you have a dutch oven, but if you don’t, you can use a large cast iron cooking pot with a tight fitting lid.
The story begins with a sourdough starter. If you don’t already have your own, you can find my recipe here.
- 80g sourdough starter
- 580g strong white organic flour, plus extra for dusting
- 380g water
- 15g salt
- Rice flour for dusting
- Semolina for dusting
Equipment that will help:
- Digital scales
- Measuring jug
- Dough scraper – good for shaping and moving your dough
- Large bowl
- Shower cap/cling film/cloth
- Banneton – wicker basket for proving
- Greaseproof paper
- Lame, razor blade or bread knife
- Water mister/sprayer
- Dutch oven or cast iron pot
- Cooling rack
Sourdough is all about time. You can’t rush flavour.
- The night before you want to bake, combine 80g of your sourdough starter, 80g strong organic white flour and 80g water in a bowl or tupperware container, mix thoroughly, cover and leave at room temperature. This will be your sponge.
- The following morning, add 300g water to your sponge and very roughly mix in 500g strong organic white flour. Cover with a shower cap and leave for an hour to allow the flour to absorb the water. This stage is called the autolyse.
- Mix in 15g salt and knead the dough on a clean surface for about 10 minutes. It will hold its shape and become less sticky as the gluten develops.
- Shape your dough into a ball, lightly dust with flour, and place it in a bowl. Cover and leave it to rest for 1 hour.
- Remove the dough from the bowl, knock it back and reshape it into a ball by working the outer edges into the centre. Cover and leave it to rest at room temperature for a further hour.
- Knock the dough back and reshape a further two times, until it has spent a total of 4 hours fermenting.
- Dust your banneton or bowl liberally with rice flour, shape your dough for the last time, place it inside and cover with a shower cap or cloth. Leave your dough to prove for 4 hours.
- Preheat your oven to full temperature with your dutch oven or cast iron pot inside. I wait around 30 minutes for everything to heat up sufficiently.
- Carefully turn your dough out onto a piece of greaseproof paper dusted with semolina.
- Slash the top of your dough with a lame, razor blade or sharp bread knife.
- Very carefully place your dough inside your dutch oven and spritz with water.
- Bake for 10 minutes before turning the temperature down to 230 degrees centigrade and baking for a further 40 minutes.
- Carefully remove your bread and leave it to rest on a cooling rack.
- Admire and devour.
I find that a dutch oven creates a great environment for the bread to bake in the absence of a professional oven. The reality is that there are many, many variables in play when it comes to baking bread. Literally everything makes a difference, from the water, air and flour temperatures, to brand of flour and type of oven. For this reason, regular practice, keen observation and confident intuition are what truly makes great bread. The more you bake, the more you’ll learn and develop that all important feel for what’s going on with your dough.
This is by far my favourite Kimchi recipe to date. I say to date, as I have no intention of getting off the experimentation bus, and neither should you.
Kimchi is the national dish of Korea and consists of vegetables which are salted and fermented with garlic, ginger and chilli etc. It’s eaten as a side dish or used as a condiment. I can’t get enough of its umami goodness, smug in the knowledge that every bite is ridiculously good for me has a significant effect on gut health.
- 2 chinese leaf cabbages
- 4 tbsp salt
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled & sliced
- 5 cm fresh ginger, peeled & sliced
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp chilli powder (mild to medium heat)
- 10 spring onions, finely sliced
I use a large kilner jar with a water trap that prevents pressure building up during the lacto-fermentation process. If you don’t have one yourself, you may want to pop open the lid on your jar every now and again until it’s ready to go in the fridge.
- Chop your cabbages into 5cm chunks and discard the tough core. Place in a large bowl with the salt and give it all a good scrunch up.
- Pour in enough cold water to cover the cabbage and leave to stand for 2 hours with a plate over the top to keep it all submerged in the brine.
- Rinse the salt from the cabbage in a colander. Leave it to stand for half an hour to drain thoroughly.
- In a mortar and pestle (or small food processor), mash the ginger, garlic, chilli and sugar together into a paste.
- Squeeze any excess water from the cabbage and then thoroughly mix all of the ingredients together.
- Pack the mixture into your glass jar, pushing it all down until the juices rise up. You need to make sure that you leave a reasonable air gap at the top.
- Seal your jar and leave to ferment for 3 to 5 days before transferring to the fridge, where it will last for up to three months.
Quite a few people have been asking me about Dave recently. This household pet that brings so much joy to my life isn’t a cat or a dog, it’s actually a natural yeast culture, cultivated right here in the Cotswolds. I made him by exposing an organic flour and water mix to the elements to collect the wild yeast spores that blow around on the wind. It really is as simple as that. The crossing of fingers helps a little too, but these dormant spores are even present in the flour itself.
Starters or leavens like this are beautiful things, as they’re unique to their surroundings in terms of their taste and behaviour. They’re also alive, and as such require a degree of husbandry. My sourdough bread is merely a combination of Dave, flour, salt and water. The most vital ingredient in good bread is without doubt, time. All bread used to be made with wild yeast, but mass produced commercial yeast is faster and much easier to store and control.
Now, I skip over the fact that our starter is called ‘Dave’, as I’m quite used to it now, but I must stress that it wasn’t my choice of name. Much akin to Boaty McBoatface and Brexit, be careful when asking children to make important decisions.
Fancy making your own starter? Just follow these basic instructions.
- organic flour of your choice (spelt, white, wholemeal, rye)
- Thoroughly mix together 50g of flour with 50ml of water in a bowl and cover it with a cloth or a shower cap. Leave it at room temperature for about 24 hours. (covering it will prevent a dry crust forming).
- Feed your starter with another 50g of flour and 50ml water, whisk thoroughly to incorporate plenty of air, cover and leave for another 24 hours.
- By this point you should see small air bubbles forming and notice an odour developing. Don’t be alarmed by what it smells like – it will change dramatically as your starter culture matures.
- Tip half of your starter away and feed it with another 50g flour and 50ml water, mixing well. Cover and leave for another 24 hours.
- Transfer your starter to a large glass jar or Tupperware pot. As your starter becomes more active it will froth up and expand, so make sure your receptacle isn’t too small… otherwise you may find yourself in this position:
- Feed your starter each day for a week, discarding half before whisking in another 50g flour and 50ml water.
- At this point you’re good to go.
- If you’re baking frequently, you’ll want to keep up this daily routine of tipping half away (or using it to make bread, pancakes, whatever) and then feeding your pet with a 50g/50ml flour and water mix, however you might want to pop it in the fridge (with the lid tightly secured) as this will slow the fermentation process down so that you only have to feed it once every week or so. You’ll save plenty of flour this way, but you’ll need a couple of days of feeding at room temperature to get it back up to speed. This is all about yeast farming, and to make really good bread you’ll want your culture to be really active and lively.
Remember that keeping your starter small (in volume) means that it’ll be easy to manage; the bigger the volume, the more flour it will need at feeding time.
I’ll write a further post covering my favourite bread recipe (at the moment), but please do make good use of your sourdough starter instead of dried yeast in whatever bready adventures you embark on.
Check out: https://foodfitforfelix.com/2018/12/18/sourdough-2-0