This month marks Sourdough September, an annual event created by the Real Bread Campaign.
Sourdough baking relies on just a few natural ingredients: flour, water, salt, water and yeast. At its heart is the sourdough starter, comprising naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria. It’s easy to make your own starter, just follow my method here.
Your sourdough starter can survive with only periodic (in my case once a week) attention, and if you get into the swing of baking sourdough bread regularly your starter could last many years. My current starter dates back to February and is still going strong (we have not purchased a single loaf of bread since before the UK’s coronavirus lockdown in March).
Sourdough takes longer to ferment and prove, and this gives the bread a much better, more complex structure than most bread that is commercially available. This longer fermentation period is claimed to have a number of health benefits for the final loaf, including higher levels of B vitamins such as thiamine, riboflavin and pyridoxine. A reputable professional sourdough baker once told me that he had known people with mild gluten intolerance not experiencing any adverse effects from eating his sourdough bread.
Unfortunately, some breads which are marketed as “sourdough” are in fact not genuine sourdough loaves, as they include extraneous ingredients like baker’s yeast and up to 22 other additives, so it is worth checking how the loaf was made before you buy.
The more you bake with sourdough, the better you will become and the more you will find your instincts kicking in when it comes to deciding when the loaf is ready to be shaped or to go in the oven.
I like to vary my sourdough baking output, but this particular recipe is for a slow-fermented multiseed sourdough loaf that has become a firm favourite in my household.
sourdough multiseed loaf
250 g organic plain white flour
250 g organic malted wheat or multigrain flour
250 g sourdough starter
75 g mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and linseed)
15 g sea salt
275 ml fresh lukewarm water
1. The night before making your bread, take your sourdough starter from the fridge and feed it with equal amounts of water and flour. Mix well, cover and leave at room temperature for 12 hours. By the morning it should have an active, bubbly appearance. Take 250 g for your bread. Of the rest, some needs to go back in the fridge to be used as your sourdough starter for next time. Rather than be discarded, any remaining starter can be used to make pancakes, muffins, crumpets, pizza bases etc.
2. Place this 250g of starter in a bowl with the plain and malted grain flours, the mixed seeds, sea salt and the tepid water. Bring this mixture together and then knead it, either in a food processor, using a dough hook, or by hand. Avoid adding additional flour during the kneading process as this can make your bread heavy and affect the way it rises in the oven.
3. As it is kneaded, the gluten in the flour adds structure and bounce to the dough. When it is ready, your dough will feel like a slightly deflated ball beneath your palm. If you think your dough is at this stage, try the “windowpane test“: using both hands hold one edge of the dough uand stretch it out a little way. If patches of the dough near where you are holding it become translucent without the dough breaking, then it’s ready. If the dough tears, it requires more kneading.
4. Bring your kneaded dough into a ball, place it in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave to prove for 3 or until roughly double in size. When the dough has risen sufficiently, tip it out onto a lightly floured surface. Use the tips of your fingers to push down and shape it into a rough square, pushing out any larger air pockets as you do. Take one corner of the dough square and stretch it a little way outwards, then fold that corner back into the middle. Now take a piece of dough next to this and do the same thing, stretching and folding back into the centre. Continue doing this, working your way several times around the dough, until you have a tight ball with a lovely strong elasticity.
5. Place the dough ball, smooth side down, into a well-floured proving basket or bowl. Dust the top well with flour. Cover the proving basket or bowl as before and leave for a further 1-2 hours or so until the dough has just risen over the edges of the container.
6. Preheat your oven to 230°C (450°F, gas mark 8). Place a baking stone or flat metal tray in the oven. This will be very hot by the time the bread goes onto it, encouraging it to rise well in the initial stage of baking. Place an empty deep roasting dish in the bottom of your oven. When the oven has reached the desired temperature, pour a litre of water into the roasting tray at the bottom of the oven. This will create steam, which also helps the bread to rise and form a good crust.
7. Using a flat tray or a baking paddle, place a square of baking parchment onto the paddle or tray, then tip your proving basket upside down onto the parchment and gently ease the bread out. Cut lines into the top of bread, using a lame or very sharp knife. This will create deliberate “weak spots” in the bread, so that it will not crack randomly in the oven. Slide the bread, still on the parchment, into the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the bread is beautifully brown and crusty on top, and sounds hollow when tapped. Carefully turn the loaf upside down for the last few minutes of baking, to ensure a crusty base Cool on a wire rack.
Tags: food additives