Yes, I know. I’m a cliche. But frankly, if you can’t learn to make bread, and sourdough at that, during a lockdown when can you? I’ve long wanted to learn how to master this most elusive of baking arts and I have tried before in the past and failed. My starter turned pink and smelled vile. I never tried again. This time however it’s a different story. A very lovely friend made me a starter a couple of weeks ago and I haven’t looked back. I used to buy 2-3 loaves of artisan bread a week in the days when I could visit a farmers market. Our local veg shop (Nelson’s) started stocking it a few months ago too so I’d add a loaf to my fruit and veg basket. But then you-know-what happened and we all had to stay home, forever. So I started baking and boy am I glad I did! This recipe is a combination of things I’ve been trying over the last few weeks resulting in my best loaf to date tonight. Have fun baking and experimenting.
This is taken from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet. I’ve tweaked the method but the quantities are his.
For 1 loaf you will need:
- 325g strong flour (white is my preference but wholemeal works just as well)
- 1 tsp fine salt
- 150g starter – replenish with 75g each of plain flour and water mixed to a paste
- 225ml or thereabouts of water.
I’ve tried this as a quick rise (well as quick as sourdough can be) and also an overnight rise in the fridge. I prefer the quick method but as and when we can go back to work away from home I can see the overnight rise being deployed so I can bake around commuting.
- Place the flour and salt in a bowl and mix.
- Heat the water for 30 secs on high to get it to the right temperature.
- Add the starter to the bowl and 2/3 of the water. Mix. Add as much water as you need to bring it together into a shaggy, sticky ball.
- Leave on the side for 15-30 mins to rest.
- Turn out onto an oiled counter and knead for 5-10 mins. It will be VERY sticky and I recommend a dough scraper to help with this stage. I can’t knead the dough per se, but tend to let it stick to my hands and push it about on the worktop until it changes texture. It’s very therapeutic kneading by hand and I like to see how it feels when it’s ready as the consistency changes and you know you’ve worked it enough.
- Scrape the dough from your hands, wash out and oil the bowl then place the dough into the oiled bowl. I find it useful to bring the dough in onto itself at this stage to form a nice shape, just keep pinching the sides and bringing into the middle of the ball of dough until you are happy with it.
- Cover with clingfilm and leave to rise either on the side (about 2 hours depending on the warmth of the room) or for up to 24 hours in the fridge. Dan says it should double in size so I use that as my guide. When it’s risen enough you can gently poke the surface of the dough and your finger hole will disappear as the dough springs back. If an indentation stays it’s not quite ready and needs a bit longer. You cannot rush this stage.
- Once it has finished the first rise, in the bowl punch the dough out and then I use the fold into the centre of the dough technique again to shape my dough ready for the second rise.
- Flour a banneton (if you have one) very generously with flour. Flour the top of the dough as well to help it remove easily before baking. Cover and leave to rise, about 2 hours or so again but it depends on the temperature of the room. It needs to rise by half again according to Dan.
- 30 mins before it’s ready to bake, pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees and heat the dutch oven if you’re going to use one.
- Sprinkle the top of the dough with a little semolina or polenta, and sprinkle some more on a circle of baking paper. This tastes nice and gives a nice texture. The paper helps to transfer the loaf from the counter to the dutch oven and out again once it’s finished cooking.
- Tip the dough onto the circle of paper and then make slashes into the top. Place in the hot dutch oven and cover. Cook for 20 mins covered. After 20 mins remove the lid and cook for a further 10-20 mins until the loaf is golden, crispy and cooked through.
- Leave to cool and then wonder at the marvel of fresh bread created by your own fair hands. Repeat!