Lockdown Sourdough

This post has kindly been compiled for the blog by dad and competent baker Martyn Jobber. I’ve been following his baking escapades on Facebook and asked for some tips, and possibly a few pics. What’s he’s created below could be considered an art form and is indeed a very thorough and inspiring guide to Sourdough baking… Thank you, and enjoy!

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Lockdown Sourdough, by Martyn Jobber.

In the course of human history, never have so many photos of bread been posted on Social Media, so frequently. In fact, #Sourdoughdads is actually a “thing” on Instagram. 

It appears many of us have bought flour. Flour mills are reporting a 90% surge in sales of their dusty produce. Demand is so strong that even after the rest of the supermarket shelves have replenished, the home baking aisles remains an empty void apart from a cloud of fine white powder.

Across the country ovens are fired up, and eyes are transfixed on the doughy product, begging for signs of a rise. Taste buds watering from bread’y smells emanating around the kitchen.

Anyone can bake, if they put some passion into it. But there are some certain aspects that need to be understood first. To begin with,

We need to talk about Yeast

So there are two types of yeast. The little packets we buy in store are a commercialised yeast, designed to make baking as simplistic and low faff factor as possible. Mix with flour, salt and water, the rise is almost guaranteed. But as with all things commercialised, simplicity is not always best.

Sourdough is special…

It relies upon the yeasts that surround us in our home. Every Sourdough starter that is created will have its own unique nuance of taste, driven by the naturally occurring yeasts that are feeding it from the air in which it lives.

So buy that “40 year old San Francisco Starter” (pictured above) and with some love and care, it becomes a new starter, but, of its own creation.  Sourdough is as individual to you, as the colour and furnishings of the walls of your home.

Health giving properties

Sourdough also has some unique health benefits over mass produced bread. The natural nature of the yeasts means that it is easier to digest. The fermentation process, which we will delve into later, gives the bread anti-fungal properties. It also reduces the gluten content and enhances the absorb-ability of vitamins and minerals in the flour.

Research has shown that sourdough bread releases more fibre, which can in turn improve digestive health by encouraging the growth of good bacteria. 

Let’s begin

Sourdough Starter is actually very simple to create. It requires….

1 x bowl, 1 x tea towel, 300 g bread flour and 300 ml tepid water.

Unsurprisingly you put the flour and water in bowl, mix and place the tea towel on top.

Leave in nice warm corner of the kitchen.

Now the magic of natural yeast starts to happen as they infiltrate your mix. After a few days, up-to a week, you’ll start to see bubbles appear on the surface, get your nose in there and it should have a slightly sour smell.  Your Sourdough journey has begun.

(Tip: If you find the water and flour start to separate give them a bit of a stir to recombine).

FEED ME!

Starter is a bit like having a pet, it needs to be looked after. Once you have your bubbles, pour half the mixture away, you are going to want to feed the starter with an additional 100 g of flour and 100 ml of water. Stir in, put the tea towel back on, watch it grow.

At this point the mixture will bubble up and grow further. Transfer to a Kilner jar, about half fill, feed again. You’ll want to feed the starter every day in this way, remove excess, feed flour and water, for about a week. At this point the starter will be a living creature that you can back off on the attention a little, pop it in the fridge and only feed it once a week. Allow it to grow before returning the to the fridge. The smell will be more intense now, as the yeast will have multiplied. Tip: you want to aim for a texture akin to toothpaste, it’s very sticky.

Now the crucial bit: give it a name.

I have two… Bert and Ernie. Bert is Rye flour based and Ernie is white flour based.

Riders ready, Pedals ready… BAKE!

Strictly speaking we are still 24 hours out from baking but we’re getting close. Remember, this is a labour of love, and hey, we’ve got time right now so be patient.

The following is simple Sourdough recipe. As you do more loaves you are going to want to play around with measurements. In some respects this is where it gets a bit technical.

Hydration

The volume of flour to moisture will determine the crumb of the bread you end up with. More moisture (water), bigger bubbles, but a wetter, less easy to manage dough. Less moisture, tighter crumb, with smaller bubbles, easier to handle. Types of flour influence moisture as well. If you use a strong white bread flour, the moisture needs to be a bit lower. If you use a wholemeal, or rye type flour, it absorbs more water so will need a tad more moisture to get the bubbly goodness.

Personally I am all about the big bubbles, but play around with it and see what suits you best.

Basic Recipe:

  • 1 x Tea towel
  • 1 x Bowl
  • 100 g of Sourdough Starter
  • 450 g of Strong bread flour
  • 310 ml of Tepid Water
  • 8 g of Salt

(TIP: I go as high as 340 ml of water for wholemeal flour, but this is where you can experiment)

Step 1:

Place starter in bowl, add flour, salt, water. Wet your hand, we’re about to get messy. Wet hand in, combine the ingredients, doesn’t have to perfect, just combined. At this point if you read my comment about wetting your hand, you will be glad you did, if you didn’t, I apologise for the unholy hell that you have created in trying to release the mix from your fingers. We’ve all been there.

Leave for 30 mins covered.

Step 2:

It’s time for a fold. Now I got this technique from Bake with Jack, and here is the link so you can see him do it. In fact, frankly you can stop reading this if you want to, as all I will do now is describe what he shows with some nuances I picked up baking multiple dough’s into Sourdough loave creations.

Still here? Cool!

Wet a surface, wet your hand (you have been warned), pour out the dough onto the wet surface. The process of folding requires you to pull from the side of the dough and fold the dough back on itself, do this 12 times creating a ball of dough. Return to the bowl, cover, leave for 2 hours. Go and do some Zoom calls, those personal finances you have been thinking about or even the DIY you have promised you would do for months and have been delaying indefinitely.

Step 3:

Same as before, but with six folds. Leave for two hours. If you feel your dough is too wet (you’ll know as it will ooze out with no structure on wet surface), consider switching to folding the dough on flour rather than water to bring the moisture content back to a manageable level.

Step 4:

Same as before, six folds, leave for two hours. You’ll notice at this point you are starting to see bubbles forming as the dough rises. So start to treat the dough gently and make sure not to tear it.

Step 5:

Unsurprisingly, same as before, six folds, leave two hours. We are now 6.5 hours into this, and that may seem mad, but there is good reason. Natural yeasts rise more slowly than commercial yeasts, so time is your friend. All the time, the dough is fermenting bringing out those amazing Sourdough flavours.

Step 6:

Time to start to form a loaf shape, remove from bowl on to a floured surface. It’s important it must be floured at this point as we want to start creating a skin on the dough so it will hold its form.

Gently stretch out the dough a bit, fold two sides over to middle, stretch a bit at top and bottom, and fold top over to centre, and bottom over on top of that. As these bits are still wet, they should stick, then dust with a bit of flour again, and roll the loaf shape in the flour. Leave on work surface covered for one hour. This will help to create tension in the loaf skin, so that it will hold its shape.

Step 7:

Now this is the part where a little bit of kitchen equipment is helpful. A proofing basket is a useful addition. This allows air to get to the skin of the dough whilst we leave it proof one final time, if you haven’t got one, line a colander with a muslin or linen towel. Dust inside of this with wholemeal flour. I recommended wholemeal as it seems to help stop the dough from sticking to the towel.

Repeat Step 6, VERY GENTLY, and place in proofing basket.

Pop in the fridge uncovered overnight, this slows down the fermentation process and allows the rich Sourdough taste to be created.

Tip: dough will be good for up to 24 hours.

Step 8:

Go to sleep.

No really, we are actually baking now

Morning! Go on admit it, you are fascinated to see what has happened and you rush downstairs in a dough induced delirium.

Well, sadly, there’s not much to see. It will have risen a bit but not much, which is exactly what you want. Pop it out of the fridge on the side, and whack the oven up to 230 C, pop in a deep side tray full of water. The water will allow a great rise and create that amazing crunchy crust.

I use an old granite cutting board as a baking stone, but you can just use a baking tray if you want. Turn out the dough, it will sag a little, if it sags a lot, you’ve got too much water in it, it will rise but good luck wrestling that bad boy into a hot oven.

Use a sharp blade and in a single action cut across the top, not too deep, enough to break the skin, this will allow the bread to rise evenly and create that characteristic Sourdough look you’ve been craving.

Pop into hot oven, and stare transfixed as you try to watch it rise in real time. (The staring is optional, it’s something I do) 15 mins into the bake, turn down oven to 190 C and continue to bake for a further 20-25 mins, you want a deep brown crust, not burnt.

Remove from oven, as you tap it, listen – it should have an almost hollow sound.

Leave to cool, DO NOT cut it until cool, this will mess up the moisture of the crumb. Just let it be.

Congratulate yourself!

Once cooled slice through, rejoice in your own magnificence, and bask in the glory as your household all demand slices and the inevitable “to Marmite or not to Marmite” debate begins.

Optional Extras

Try mixing different flours, Rye will make it denser, so use a half and half mix with strong bread flour. I particularly like a seeded malt flour mixed in.

Add flavours

Adding some herbs at Step 1 can yield a lovely flavour, but remember you will need to use more than you think as the fermentation of the Sourdough can over power the herbs. I sometimes don’t do the overnight proof to allow the Herbs to shine.

Add extras; slow roast tomatoes, olives, feta, go nuts, get creative, fold them in at step 2.

So there you go, you’ve just made Sourdough, take photos, post on the facebook page. Indulge in the glory of Sourdough.

Published by carolinementzer

Caroline Mentzer is a Nutritional Therapist, Herbalist and Writer from Oxford, UK. Married to and Infectious Disease doctor, her blog discusses the benefits of combining holistic and conventional approaches to find unique solutions to many health and parenting challenges.

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