Easy Sourdough

My friends have been asking me for my method of making sourdough bread, so I decided to put it here on my website. I have taken the best advice from a range of websites and books, and tested and adapted different methods to find one that works consistently for me, without any complicated equipment or jargon. So here it is:

First, you need to Make your sourdough starter:  I followed the instructions here: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/may/10/hugh-fearnley-whittingstall-recipes-sourdough

Afternoon: Feed your starter

I store my starter in the fridge. It can be left quite happily for up to 2 weeks between feeds. If you leave it longer than 2 weeks, I suggest giving it an extra feed the day before you start the process, just to make sure it’s active.

Feed the starter: take 55g Sourdough starter add 55g warm water + 55g strong white flour, leave in a warm place for 3- 6 hours or till doubled in size and nice and bubbly.

Always prove in a warm place e.g. hot press. If you want to delay any stage put dough somewhere cooler (e.g. overnight in fridge).

Evening: Make your loaf

Dough ingredients

400 grams strong white flour
50 grams whole wheat flour (strong flour if possible)
310 grams warm water
80 grams active sourdough starter
1 generous tsp salt

Step 1: mix the dough

Take 80g of starter (put the remainder in the fridge for next time). Add 310g of warm (not hot) water and mix. Add the flour. Mix well and leave in a warm place for an hour. The dough will look a bit dry and “raggy”, but it will get nice and stretchy after resting.

Step 2: Add salt

Add a large teaspoon of salt and mix in well. Prove for 45 mins, or longer if the temperature is cooler.

Step 3: First stretch and fold

The secret to getting sourdough bread to rise is in developing the gluten in the wheat flour. I do this by stretching and folding the dough. To avoid sticking, it helps to dip your hand and spatula in water. Lift one side of the dough, stretch it upwards, then fold it in half. Turn the bowl 1/4 turn and repeat 3 more times. Watch the video to see how I do this in the bowl. After stretching and folding, prove for 45 minutes in a warm place.

Step 4: Second stretch and fold

Stretch and fold the dough again. It should be more elastic, and have more volume than the last time. Prove again for 45 minutes in a warm place.

Step 5: Third stretch and fold

You will now stretch and fold the dough again. At this stage the dough should have roughly doubled in volume, and it should be nice and soft and “billowy”. Handle it gently to avoid knocking out any air. Cover the bowl and leave it to prove in a warm place for an hour and a half, or you can leave it overnight at room temperature.

Step 6: Pre-shape your loaf.

At this stage your dough should have risen almost to the top of the bowl. The purpose of this step is to stretch the outside layer of the dough so that it forms a taut “skin” that helps the dough keep its shape. (Imagine a balloon filled with water.) Dust your work surface with flour. Use a wet spatula to gently scrape the dough onto the work surface. Stretch the edges of the dough into the centre as if making a bundle (a dough scraper makes this easier). Flip the dough over with the scraper. Pull the dough towards you with floured hands, or push it with the scraper. The dough should adhere slightly to the worktop, so that the surface skin gets tighter. If any large bubbles appear, just pinch them to release the air. This process is much easier to learn if you watch the video. Dust the loaf with flour and cover with the bowl. Let the loaf rest for 30 minutes.

A dough scraper is very useful for shaping and cutting sourdough. As there are no cook shops near where I live, I bought mine online from amazon.

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Step 7: Prepare your proving basket

While your loaf is resting, you can prepare a proving basket. A proper banneton is useful but not essential (you can buy one from Amazon via the link above). If you don’t have a banneton, you can line a basket, bowl or colander with a clean tea towel, preferably made of linen or cotton. Dust your proving basket generously with a 50:50 mix of plain flour and rice flour. If you don’t have rice flour, rye is less sticky than wheat flour.

Step 8: Final shaping of loaf

The dough should have been resting for 30 minutes under a bowl. Dust the top of the loaf with flour. Flip the loaf over with the dough scraper. Stretch the four corners to make a rough rectangle. Fold in the opposite sides so that the second fold overlaps the first. Roll it up gently, so as not to press out any air. Pinch the ends together. Dust the smooth edge with flour. Stretch it gently in your hands into the shape of your proving basket (or bowl lined with a tea towel). Place it seam-side up in the basket or bowl. Pinch off any seams and dust with flour. Put inside a plastic bag, and leave overnight in the fridge. (Or you can prove it at room temperature for 2-3 hours)

Step 9: Score your loaf

If you have a casserole with a lid, put it into your oven and preheat to 250 degrees Centigrade. (if you don’t have a suitable casserole, see alternative method below)

Check if your dough has proved enough for baking, if not, leave it a bit longer. You can check by poking it gently with your finger. If the indentation rises back straight away, it needs more proofing. If the indentation rises back slowly, leaving a slight indentation, it is ready, as in this video.

You need to “score”, or cut the surface of your loaf to allow it to rise in the oven. I find it easier to flip the loaf out of the banneton onto some baking parchment. I use a razor blade to score my bread. A kitchen knife will tend to drag through the dough. Use swift, confident strokes. I do a main stroke about 1cm deep down the length of the loaf. I like to add a few shallow decorative strokes at the side. The loaf will split open slightly to reveal a lovely bubbly interior. If it collapses, the loaf is probably over-proofed, but bake it anyway, it will still be delicious.

Step 10: Bake your loaf

Now it’s time to bake the bread at last! Carefully take the hot casserole from the oven and take the lid off. Use the baking parchment to lift your loaf and drop it into the casserole. replace the lid and put it back into the oven.

Set a timer for 25 minutes.

After 25 minutes, remove the casserole lid and turn the oven down to 225 degrees C. Set a timer for 25 minutes.

After 25 minutes, a delicious smell will be wafting through your kitchen. Take the bread out of the oven and let it cool on a wire rack. It will make a crackling sound as the crust cools down.

Step 11: Enjoy

It’s better to wait for the loaf to cool before cutting it, if you can resist the temptation. If you cut it when it is too hot, steam and moisture will escape, and the texture won’t be as good.

Alternative baking Method

If you don’t have a suitable casserole with a lid, you will need to create steam in the oven to allow the bread to rise and create a good crust.

Put an empty roasting tray in the bottom of the oven, and preheat the oven to 225 degrees C. Boil some water in a kettle. After scoring the bread, put it on a baking tray. Put the baking tray in the hot oven and pour some boiling water into the pre-heated roasting tray, to create a burst of steam, and quickly close the oven. Bake for 50 minutes.