To celebrate Real Bread Week we’re bringing you our tried and tested sourdough bread recipe. Nothing fancy, just flour, water, and live cultures.
It’s been almost a year since we were told that we’d be going into a national lockdown. For many of you, the sourdough starter experiment will be a distant memory, of which the only remnants left is that jar of odd looking not-quite-liquid not-quite-solid substance in the back of your fridge. Well if you persevered then good on you. And if you didn’t, I suggest you pick it back up again because there is no better feeling than waking up to the aroma of freshly baked bread in the morning*
*You will need to get up in the morning and bake the bread first.
My approach to sourdough has been thorough and analytical. Spreadsheets filled with different recipes from around the web, notes on failed experiments and countless sleepless nights. It has all led me to this, my very best sourdough bread recipe.
A couple of thoughts on how to maximise your efforts to render the best results:
- Make sure your starter is nice and active, you definitely want to leave it out for a couple of hours beforehand.
- A deep cast-iron pan will give you the most bakery-like results, you will need a lid too as the beginning stage of the bake utilises steam to cook the dough.
- If you don’t have proving baskets, a colander or sieve lined with a clean tea towel will do the trick.
- Overnight proof is the way to go.
- Trust your instincts. Dough is tricky because so much of it depends on your surroundings, the warmth and humidity are huge factors in how the dough reacts, so you want to be able to trust that you can make adjustments accordingly.
- 400g strong bread flour
- 200g sourdough starter
- 350ml warm water
- 50g wholemeal bread flour
- 10g sea salt
- Glug of olive oil
- In a bowl combine your flours, the starter, a glug of olive oil and the water. You want the water to be warm at this point and it speeds up the reaction with the sourdough starter. Give it a good mix with your hands, ensuring that all the flour has been combined with the water.The dough should be a shaggy consistency. Cover with a towel and leave to rest anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour. This first step is known as autolyse, which is the combining of flour and dough, followed by a brief rest period. We leave out the salt for the autolyse because it can slow down the gluten development.
- Next you want to add in your salt. If you’re using fine sea salt you can just throw it on in there, however if you’re using flakes I suggest you mix with equal amounts of water as this helps it combine with the dough more easily. Using your hands, squish the salt into the dough until you can no longer feel any crystals. Cover with the towel and leave to rest for half an hour.
- There are two ways you can let the dough rise, both of them are fairly hands-off compared to yeasted dough which requires a load of kneading. You can bulk rise, which means leaving the dough covered at room temperature for anywhere between 4-12 hours (depending on the temperature of the room). The method I go for though is the stretch and fold method. It’s a bit more hands on but the dough gets there quicker. After you’ve let the it rest you’re going to lift the top of the dough up to stretch, and then fold back into itself. Then you want to turn your bowl 90 degrees and repeat, stretching and folding 4 times in total. Then you want to flip the dough over. Once it’s stretched, folded and flipped you’re going to once again cover with a towel and leave to rest for half an hour. Repeat the stretch and fold process two more times, covering for half an hour in between each time.
- It’s now time to shape. Empty the dough onto a lightly floured surface and give another light dusting over the dough. Using a bench scraper or your hands, start to push the sides of the dough underneath itself, whilst simultaneously rotating it. This bit is tricky so go slow. You’re aiming for a ball shape with a nice smooth texture. Once the dough is shaped, leave it to rest for 15 minutes or so.
- The final step is to fold the dough one last time. To do this, flip your ball of dough over and start to stretch out the dough from either side before folding into the middle and pinching it down. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and fold again. Place the dough into a light floured proving basket or colander lined with a clean tea towel and leave for one final proof, about 1 hour. Leave overnight in the fridge or bake straight away.
- To bake, preheat your oven at its highest temperature. Place your cast iron dish with the lid on in the oven and set a timer for about an hour. If you’ve had your dough in the fridge overnight, you want to have it coming up to room temperature for about two hours beforehand. When your hour timer goes off, lightly dust a sheet of parchment paper and flip your dough out onto it. Lower the dough into the oven dish, score with a sharp knife or razor, pop the lid on and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, take the lid off and bake for another 12. At this point you want to use your eyes to judge whether your loaf is done or not, as all ovens will be different. If you think it needs longer, leave it in and keep an eye on it.
- Once it’s done, take it out of the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.