The journey to baking sourdough bread is part science, mostly passion, some random luck and obsession. Here is the steps to using that precious starter that it took so long to create.
1 large mixing bowl.
1 medium bowl covered with a clean tea towel.
A razor blade lame or scalpel (or a small sharp knife if you dont have one)
A cast iron dutch oven (optional)
A shallow oven proof dish
500g bread flour (or you can mix 400g bread flour 100g rye / wholemeal flour).
400g room temperature water (80% of the flour weight)
10g salt (2% of the flour weight)
Optional (you can add 30g of chopped walnuts / sultanas or seeds like linseed / sunflower seeds or poppyseeds)
1/2 cup extra flour for dusting bread / surfaces
Step I Begin the morning before you want to bake. Waking up your sourdough starter
Yes – begin 24 hours before you want to bake. I know most of you would be tempted to run away from a 1 day plus recipe but please stay on – it will be worth it.
If you have kept your sourdough starter jar in the fridge – take it out and let it come to room temperature. Early in the morning I give the starter a feed (50g plain or rye flour, 50g room temperature water) and stir it in. Placing a rubber band around the jar to mark its current level.
At this stage you can go to step 2.
6 hours later (or more depending on how cold it is) the starter will have risen to at least double its height. This is a sign its ready to be used.
Step 2 Autolyse = fancy term for mix your bread flour and water together in a bowl.
In a large bowl, mix 500g bread flour, 400g room temperature water. Incorporate the dough and water well mixing with your hands until it becomes a single shaggy like dough. Usually about 5 minutes of mixing by hand should be enough. Cover and let it rest for an hour. The autolyse period enables the flour and water to really hydrated and acquainted well.
After an hour the dough will become much smoother and hydrated and if you pull it – its much stretchier and wont break apart easily. It means that the gluten is developing allowing a much more elastic stretchable bread.
Step 3 Mix starter, salt and dough together.
When your starter is now double its volume, mix in 100g of starter in with your dough plus salt. I usually pour the starter in the centre of the dough ball and pull the edges of the dough in over to the centre on all sides until the starter is fully incorporated. This may take around 5 minutes of stretching over the dough over the starter. I wet my hands to prevent it from sticking to me and mix by hand until it is well incorporated,. Lets let the dough rest for an hour.
Step 4 Build up dough strength: Stretch and fold
Now is the time to build up the gluten in your dough. Wet your hands under a tap (avoids the dough sticking)
Using your hands in the bowl. Pull one corner edge of the dough in and over towards the centre, turning your bowl a quarter anti-clockwise each time. This will enable you to stretch and build dough strength. Do this until all corners of the dough have been folded into the centre. Repeat every 30 minutes for 2 hours in total.
Step 5 Pre-shape
Wet your kitchen surface. Turn the dough out onto the kitchen surface. Wet your hands and shape the dough into a ball using a circular motion. Use the stickiness of surface of the bench to help you round the edges.
Place the round ball into a shallow oven proof tray for an hour to rest.
Step 6: Build dough strength again. Coil fold / lamination
The coil fold helps the gluten build further strength. Wetting your hands come under the dough from both sides at the centre and pull up until it folds over on itself. Rotate the tray 180 degrees and do the same to the other side. Rotate the bowl to clockwise 90 degrees. Rest for 30 minutes.
Repeat the above 3 x more.
Step 7: Final Shape and cold prove
Place a small amount of flour onto your kitchen benchtop. Turn the dough onto the bench. Stretch the dough out from the bottom and fold over. The right and fold over. The left and fold over and the top and roll over into a coil and shape into a round ball.
Ready a medium mixing bowl covered with a tea towel (use a banneton if you’re really fancy). Dust your tea towel liberally with flour to prevent the dough from sticking.
Dust and the top of your dough ball. Turn the ball upside down into the tea towel lined bowl and place in the refrigerator overnight to prove (6-12 hours)
Step 8: The next day – Preheat oven and score
The next day preheat your oven (with the covered dutch oven in there) on fan forced to 230 degrees celcius for at least 90 minutes.
Take the dough bowl from the fridge. Place a sheet of baking paper down on your kitchen surface and turn the bowl upside down on to the baking paper to release the dough. It should now be a nice dome shape. Remove the tea towel.
Using a razorblade lame (or a very sharp small knife) score the bread to allow the dough to expand when baking. In future posts I will share some sourdough scoring patterns that are truly artistic and fun. For now just do one straight line 1cm line down slightly right of centre on the bread.
Caution – very very hot
With oven mitts carefully remove the scorching hot dutch oven from the oven and place on the a heat mat. Using your mitts, open the lid carefully and place on a heat mat. . Pour in 1/2 a cup of tap water in the oven (it will create a steam environment). Place the parchment paper and dough in the hot dutch oven and cover with the lid (did I mention its hot?? use oven mitts all the way please!)
Return the dutch oven to the oven and bake for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes use mitts to remove the lid and bake uncovered for another 20 minutes to brown the outside crust.
Step 9: Cool the bread down
When the bread is done take it out of the oven and place it out on to a wire rack or cutting board and let it rest to fully cool down (I know its tempting to bite in but the bread will still develop flavours). Once fully cool – slice in and enjoy! It should be crusty with a great chew on the inside crumb. The crumb should have developed some nice bubbles of air and will have a slight sourdough taste.
So begins your sourdough baking journey – It seems a lot of time to do the baking but the end results are really worth it and it will take a lifetime of tweaking each step above to reach the elusive idea of perfect bread. At the very least you will gain a new appreciation for the love and art that goes into making bread by your local baker.
Please share any photos and stories with me of the bread you have made. It will make my day!