Sourdough. Not as difficult to do as you’d think, you just need a bit of time and patience. Other than that, you’re in for one scrumptious loaf of bread.
The first civilisation known to have used sourdough was the Egyptians in around 1500 BC (yes, over 3500 years ago!) We can’t be sure how the Egyptians first discovered sourdough but it’s possible that naturally occurring wild yeast spores were inadvertently mixed into the bread dough. Although they didn’t know why, the Egyptians may have noticed how light the bread was in comparison to their flatbreads and set out to find the cause. Another possibility is that, as brewers and bakers often worked in the same place, it’s not too much of a stretch to think that brewers yeast or even the beer itself got mixed into the bread dough for flavour with the unexpected side-effect of creating a lighter, risen loaf.
It’s safe to say, though, that trial and error resulted in the creation of what we now know as a sourdough culture. Something which could be replicated, and nurtured for future use as well. Sourdough cultures became so integral to day-to-day living that they became closely guarded possessions.
Before you start, you’ll need to check out my instructions for creating a sourdough starter. It takes about a week to make a strong, dependable starter so think ahead. Once you’ve got your starter, head on below to start creating amazing bread.
You can skip this part if you wish, opting to use 100g of your neat/mature starter instead. Levain, in French, refers to the starter itself and, crudely translated into English, is your leaven.
In a small bowl or jar, mix together 20g sourdough starter, 40g water, and 40g strong white flour. Stir thoroughly and leave for several hours. Once the leaven is nice and bubbly, it’s time to use.
Making a leaven this was will help create a stable, dependable rise and will ensure plenty of wild yeast makes it into the final loaf.
- 300g water
- 100g sourdough levain
- 500g strong white flour
- 10g salt
- Extra flour for dusting
- In a large bowl, mix your water and sourdough leaven until fully combined.
- Next add all the flour and mix until a dough ball is formed.
- Cover with a damp cloth (or, as I’ve said before, a plastic shower cap) and let the dough rest on the side in the kitchen for 1-2 hours. If you read my white loaf recipe, you’ll know this is what we bakers call the ‘autolyse’ stage.
- After you’ve autolysed, dissolve your salt into 2-3 tbsp of luke-warm water (just enough water to allow the salt to fully dissolve). Fold the salt water into your dough until it’s fully absorbed. Don’t worry, it will absorb… Just keep going!
- Now it’s time to ‘knead’ your dough. You won’t actually do much kneading for this recipe but start by lifting and folding the dough over on top of itself. Repeat twice more then turn your bowl a quarter turn. Lift and fold a further three times and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
- Repeat the ‘lift and fold’ stage three more times, waiting 30 minutes between each repetition. On the final repetition, I like to give the dough a couple of ‘traditional kneads’. Once kneaded, leave the dough to rest for a further 15 minutes before moving on.
- Shape the dough into a smooth ball (being careful not to knock too much air out) then place into a banneton dusted with flour. If you don’t have a banneton, you can use a bowl or colander lined with a floured tea towel). Dust the top with more flour, and cover with your damp cloth or shower cap.
- Place your dough in the fridge overnight to prove. Proving in the fridge ensures a slow prove/rise which will seriously improve your sourdough flavour. The longer the prove, the more prevalent the flavour!
Time to bake!
- Good morning! Time to pre-heat your oven to 220°c (200°c fan).
- Once the oven is nice and toasty, turn the loaf out onto a floured baking sheet/stone, slash the top with a lathe or sharp knife, and bake for about an hour.
- Again, as I mentioned in my white loaf recipe, I like to throw a couple of ice cubes in the oven when I put the loaf in. It’s all about the steam!
- Leave to cool, preferably overnight (if you can resist for that long!)
- Store your loaf in a tea towel or a fabric tote bag to keep it fresh.
And it’s as simple as that! I know it takes some time to do but it’s totally worth it. It’s time to fall in love, and become totally obsessed!