Cost: 36p per 1kg loaf
In some ways, I find that the most satisfying things to make in the Low-Ceilinged Kitchen are those premium items that are cheap to make, but expensive to buy. Sourdough bread is the perfect example – in theory, it should be cheaper than scientifically enhanced plastic wrapped bread product, but in practice, a loaf of Poilane is about 8x the cost of a basic range white sliced.
I’ve tried sourdough before, but I find the feed-and-discard process of establishing the starter a psychological as well as a technical challenge – firstly, because I can’t bear to throw things away (even, as it turns out, semi-fermented flour and tap water) and secondly, because even keeping a basic organism like yeast alive turns out to be too much of a commitment. Many instructions mention that the starter needs consistent care, like a pet. Personally I have never really seen the point in pets, given that there’s no payoff – they are never going to learn to talk, or take care of me in my old age, or even produce an unbelievably economical loaf of homemade sourdough bread.
Anyway. This time, I followed the excellent instructions for a rye/whole wheat starter from a family friend’s blog – and a week later, a jar of gently bubbling, yeasty jar of starter had taken up residence on the kitchen counter. Now what?
I won’t traumatise you with pictures of all the breads and recipes that followed; the sad flat loaf like a redundant January frisbee, the loaf so dense that I worried it would collapse in on itself and create a black hole that would consume our entire house, the lofty loaf that turned out, on slicing, to be 50% interior air…because at last, after much iteration (i.e. gradually reinstating all the corners I had tried to cut) the results with this method have been consistent…both in overall loaf success and in interior texture.
from an Australian site, sourdoughbaker.au
I like this recipe because the quantities seem to be in intuitive proportions – I make half what they suggest and it lasts us about a week. It does take a while, but I find that making it during a day when I’m mostly at home, or overnight, works well.
Makes 1kg loaf
600g strong white flour (I’ve found no difference between supermarket own brand and the fancier specialist brands)
300g (or 300ml, helpfully!) hand-hot water (about one third boiling from kettle and two thirds cold from tap)
150g sourdough starter (mine is whole wheat, but white would also work)
10g salt flakes
I’ve put my example timings for when I’m beginning the process during the day, to be baked in the evening ready for tomorrow’s breakfast, or beginning on a Friday night after work to be baked on the Saturday morning.
1. Combine (Daytime – if at home during the day: 9am, Overnight – if working or out during the day: 8pm)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, weigh in the flour and make the deepest well you can in the centre. Pour in the warm water and then weigh in the starter. Using the dough hook, mix at the slowest speed until the flour is just mixed in, cover with cling film and leave for about an hour. (This is also possible without a stand mixer but takes some muscle, in a large bowl and using one hand [to keep the other hand clean], break up the starter into the water and slowly incorporate the flour from the sides of the well)
2. Knead (10am or 9pm)
Sprinkle the salt over and knead dough until stretchy and coming together, away from the sides of the bowl.
3. Prove (10am-4pm or overnight)
Re-cover with cling film and leave in a warm place, like near to the fire or on a radiator cover – it should be very soft, and when you poke it, the dimple should fill back in by half. The volume should increase by 50-100%. If you’re around during the day, every few hours it can help the distribution of air holes to give it a book fold (working on a clean, floured surface, stretch the dough into a rectangle and fold the short sides into the centre, and then in half down the middle where the sides meet, like a book).
4. Shape (4pm or 9am the next morning)
Shape the loaf – stretch into a rectangular shape, without pressing out the air, and then roll lengthways. Place on a piece of baking paper, seam downwards, and tuck the ends in. Leave covered (e.g. in a large tupperware that you might use to store the finished loaf) in a warm place, and depending on how long your oven takes to warm up, preheat to 200C (non fan) with a baking sheet inside.
5. Bake (5pm or 10am)
Wet a sharp knife and slash the loaf with diagonal cuts about 1 inch deep. Take the hot baking tray out of the oven and place the baking paper and loaf on it. Turn the temperature down to 180C when the loaf goes in and bake for about 1 hour – the underside of the loaf should sound hollow when tapped.
Lovely sourdough…we tried it baked at 200C, which gave larger holes and a chewier texture which basically needed toasting, but found that this temperature and time gave a more baguette-like loaf with a crackly golden crust and soft, chewy interior that was good either fresh or toasted.