The lockdown has caused a few issues in making sourdough bread, due to a shortage of bagged flour. My family has to do without a weekly loaf a couple of times. Courtesy of a local farm store, we now have white flour. Finally, normal service may resume. Time to bake!
Note: all of the photos on this page are from this bake.
Keep Sourdough Bread Simple
After a few online discussions, and some frustration at the difficulty some newbie bakers are experiencing, I decided to document the process I use.
Making bread is simple. There are some complex methods and doughs, but those do take a bit of practice and experience. I do delve into them occasionally, but I want to have sourdough EVERY day. I have deliberately looked for simple, easy ways to bake it. That way I can bake around the other activities in my busy life.
Here I am producing 4 loaves of roughly 840g each. Planning for an overnight ferment I am using 200g of starter – in this case, 10% (roughly) of flour weight.
I think the starter is alive!
Using Jack’s “Scrapings Method” I fed the starter in the morning with 200g of feed. In this instance, 50g plain white and 50g rye flour, with 100g water.
The picture shows what I found in the evening. The elastic band shows the level in the jar when I fed it. I think this starter wants to bake!
Sourdough Bread – Methods
Following on from my previous post and recipe, this recipe delivers 4 loaves of sourdough bread. The basic recipe requires a few tweaks to turn it into an overnight bulk ferment. Bake this recipe twice a week and you will have sufficient bread for a fresh loaf daily.
Most weeks I bake with a 24 hour ferment, which brings out a soft and buttery sourdough flavour. Perhaps more importantly, it allows me to fit bread making around my workday.
Getting the Starter Balance Right
In this case I wanted an overnight bulk ferment, to bake in the morning.
Shortening the ferment requires more attention to the amount of starter compared to flour. Normally the recipe looks like this:
- 2kg flour
- 1200 g water, adding up to 60g depending on the flour used
- 30g salt
- 60g starter in summer, up to 100g in winter (temperature does affect the rise time)
Once you start increasing the starter quantity you do need to think about the overall balance. My starter is 50/50 flour and water, so I need to reduce the basic flour and water by 100g each if I add 200g starter. Technically, you should always do that, but it’s not as important with smaller quantities of starter relative to flour.
To Knead, or Not?
This recipe works well as a no-knead recipe, i.e. mix the dough, cover it up and let it rise until it doubles. Doing it that way does make the final shaping a bit trickier.
Starting more recently I tend to mix the dough, and then work around the bowl stretching the dough and folding it into the middle (stretch and fold) until I feel some strength coming into it. This build the gluten structure and makes it easier to shape later on. It also only adds a few minutes to making the dough.
Of late, when I have time, I let the dough sit for an hour, and then repeat the stretch and fold, going around the bowl four times.
Sharing and Shaping
Different bakers have different methods. One way or another, you have over 3kg of dough to work with. I find the following to be the most effective:
- Using a dough scraper and your hands, carefully remove the risen dough on to a lightly oiled or floured working surface.
- Using your scales, or whatever method you prefer, separate the dough into approximately equal pieces. I divide this recipe into four, but it works just as well if you make 8 or 6 even loaves. I have once divided up the dough to end up with a large loaf, a small loaf and bread rolls. Be warned, though, that mix can be tricky to bake!
- Flatten each piece of dough, stretching it out, and then fold it over itself from each side.
- Push the dough flat and work around it folding from the outside to the middle until it tightens up – normally three times around the shape. This comes from Jack’s shaping method.
- Then turn the ball of dough over and form a nice ball between your hands.
- Let the dough rest for 10 minutes while you prepare your bannetons (see below).
- Shape the dough for the bannetons or pans, or whatever you use. For round bannetons or a simple boule simply repeat steps 4 and 5. For a batard or pan bake repeat step 4, then roll the dough to fit the pan or banneton.
- Then leave it to rise for 45 to 60 minutes. For a simple boule, I reduce this to 30 minutes.
A Banneton, A Pan, Or?
More often than not I use bannetons, but sometimes, like my bank holiday bake, I will simply put the shaped balls of dough on a piece of parchment and bake them like that.
As a simple guide, think about the dough when you shape it. Your preferences do count:
- If it holds its shape in a nice ball, just put the ball of dough on parchment and bake it as a boule;
- If it is a bit softer, or you simply want it that way, use banneton;
- If it is sticky and does not want to hold its shape, bake it in a pan.
Again, different bakers, different ideas.
If my dough is very soft, I preheat the oven to 230C. 30 minutes after putting the dough in I reduce the temperature to 200C and leave it in for 15 minutes. It is ready when the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
Otherwise I normally put the dough into a cold oven, turning it to 230C for 45 minutes, then 10 minutes at 200. If it does not sound hollow, leave it in, checking every 5 minutes.
Here’s the Recipe
This is the recipe I used to bake the bread shown in the pictures.
4 Loaf Sourdough Bread Recipe
A recipe for 4 loaves of tasty sourdough bread.
- 200 g Active Sourdough Starter (This quantity is set for an overnight bulk ferment.Reduce to 80g, and add 30 g each flour and water for a 24 hour ferment.)
- 1160 g Water (Preferably filtered or spring water. Ordinary tap water is OK.)
- 100 g Olive Oil (Optional. It can help to create a softer crumb.)
- 600 g Plain White Flour
- 900 g White Bread Flour
- 200 g Wholewheat Flour
- 200 g Wholemeal Rye Flour
- 30 g Salt
In the Morning
- Feed the starter in the morning.
In the Evening, or When the Starter is Ready
- Mix the starter, water and olive oil in a bowl with a capacity of at least 5 litres
- Add the flour, and salt
- Mix it well using the sppon, a Danish whisk, or just your hands. I generally use a Danish whisk and finish it with my hands.
- Working your way around the bowl, stretch the dough from the outside to the centre of the bowl until you have been around the bowl three times. You will feelthe dough start to strngthen. .
- Optional. Leave the dough to rest and repeat the stretch and fold step.
- Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave it overnight to bulk ferment.
The Following morning
- With the help of a dough scraper, carefully move the dough to a lightly oiled or floured surface.
- Separate the dough into four pieces, using the scales, or by whatever means you choose.
- Shape the dough, using whatever method you normally use. I recommend the shaping method demonstrated by Jack in “Bake with Jack”.
- Allow the dough to rise. In a banneton, I normally leave it for an hour.
Baking The Bread
- Carefully turn the loaves out on to a baking tray, slash them and place in a cold oven.
- Spritz the inside of the oven with a spray of water. Alternatively, or in addition, place a pan of boiling water at the bottom of the oven.
- Turn on the oven to 230C and bake for 45 minutes, then turn down to 200C and bake for a further 10 minutes.
- Test that the bread is baked by tapping on the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow it is baked. If necessary continue baking the bread, checking every 5 minutes, until it is fully baked.
- Take the bread out of the oven and leave to coll fully before cutting.
- Eat and enjoy. Do try not to eat it all at once!
This is a very “safe” loaf with low hydration, and a minimal effort to bake. Your shaping technique will have some effect on oven spring and density. It can be quite dense but is very tasty as bread or toast. Experiment for yourself by tweaking the hydration and flour mix. I have been doing this bake, with a few experimental tweaks for about a year now for my family and they love it.
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Sourdough Bread Equipment List
Here’s a list of some of the gear I have referred to here, directly or in passing. I have to say I try to keep to the minimum and buy only when I think it will be well used. These are tools I use, mainly purchased from Amazon. Click the link to see and buy.
- My scales are the most important piece of equipment. Everything is weighed, though extreme accuracy is not necessary. I use inexpensive Salter scales.
- I keep my starters in the fridge in one litre Kilner jars, but there is a special plastic jar for the purpose.
- Dough scrapers are essential.
- A large bowl, 5 litres or bigger. It gives space for the dough to rise. Many do not recommend a stainless steel one for sourdough, but I use it with no issues. A Plastic or traditional stoneware one will work.
- A Danish whisk – useful!
- Bannetons – round or oval.
- Baker’s lame for slashing the dough. I tried a few options but that sharp razor blade is invaluable.
- A spray bottle to spritz the oven.
- Britta Filter jug – I prefer filtered water for bread and drinking.