This is such a big day for me. I’ve taken the first steps on the sourdough road and made my first loaf of sourdough bread. There’s no turning back now. It is a kind of commitment as the ‘starter’ needs feeding at least every other day. I’m following the technique in Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall’s River Cottage Everyday book and I began preparing the starter (Italians call it a biga) a couple of weeks ago. Starting with 100 grams of strong flour mixed with enough warm water to form a thick batter which is whisked to introduce air and therefore admit the wild natural yeasts present in the air which is the essence of sourdough baking.

The whole process is fairly effortless but does require a little patience. Every day you pour away half the mix, add another 100g of flour and enough water to maintain the sloppy batter consistency. You will see it begin to bubble in a  day or two but don’t be tempted to use it for at least a week. When the starter is ready to go and smelling very yummy you take 100ml of the mix and combine with 250g of strong flour (white, brown or a mix) and 275ml of warm water. Mix well, cover and leave for about 12 hours. This is your ‘sponge’.

To make the dough you add 300g flour and a couple of teaspoons of salt to the sponge and knead for 10 minutes (or use the dough hook on your mixer). This is really about as near as this comes to hard work. Leave it again to rise slowly, maybe another 8 hours or overnight as I do, in a fairly cool place. The slow rising adds so much taste to the bread.

Knock it back and then prove the dough in a warm place for another couple of hours until double in size. Then tip out onto a generously floured baking sheet, leave covered for half an hour or so then put it into the middle of a cold oven. Place a dish of boiling water on a low shelf and turn oven on to maximum, at least 230ºC, for about twenty minutes, then lower to around 200ºC for a further twenty-five minutes.

Remove the loaf and leave to cool on a wire rack for twenty minutes, then enjoy.

From now on you need to keep the starter ‘alive’ in a warmish place and continue feeding the beast every day or two as before. But with this little bit of effort you will always have the loveliest bread known to humanity. How bad’s that?

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Making bread

February 12, 2010

I love making bread, although I only got back to it relatively recently. I’ve tried in the past but always found that I’m turning out these very heavy bricks of inedible tooth breaking dough stuff. But this time I was just that bit more determined to get it right, so when my first loaf that I made a couple of months ago turned out a bit dense I decided to explore and experiment with the technique to find out what I was doing wrong.

I found two main things; I wasn’t letting the dough rise long enough in the final stage after it was shaped, and I was putting the bread into a preheated oven at 230º which had the effect of killing the yeast too soon.

So, now I make it like this and it really does work:

BILLY’S OWN BREAD RECIPE

This bread recipe is easy and is intended to start in the morning and be ready for lunch. Its light, its delicious and it works.

INGREDIENTS:

675g or 1 ½ lb strong bread flour

10ml or 2 tsp salt

15g fresh yeast or 1 level tablespoon dried yeast

430ml or 15 fl oz warm water

TECHNIQUE:

Mix the yeast in 150ml of warm water. Measure the flour into a large mixing bowl with the salt and make a well in the centre. When the yeast has fermented add the remaining water, pour into the flour and mix.

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead well for 10 minutes (or use the dough hook in a mixer for 6 minutes and finish by hand). Lightly oil the inside of the bowl and return the dough, covering the bowl with oiled cling film, to prove for two hours or until double in size.

Knock back the dough, turn out onto floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. You can use dough hook but I find hand kneading gets the air into the dough much better and also gives you a feel for the moistness. The dough must not be too sticky as this tends to make it rise outwards instead of upwards, so slowly add more flour if necessary.

Prepare a greased baking sheet. For a bloomer type loaf roll the dough into a rectangle, then roll back into a swiss roll shape. Place it seam side down onto the baking sheet, cut a few deep diagonal slashes in the top using a sharp knife (or bread knife).

Leave to prove for 30 – 40 minutes covered in the oiled cling film.

Boil some water, pour into a shallow dish and place on the lower shelf of the oven to create a steamy atmosphere, which gives a lovely crust.

Put the bread into the middle of the cold oven then turn oven on to 220º (200º if using fan oven) and bake for about 40 minutes (or until golden brown). Check by knocking the base to feel if it sounds hollow. If you want an extra crusty loaf spray with water immediately after removing from the oven.

Transfer to wire rack to cool.

This is today’s loaf (not bad, huh):

I’ve found that putting the dough into a cold oven helps the dough to fully rise as the oven slowly warms up, therefore making a very light and crusty loaf. The baking times will vary according to how fast the oven warms up.