I have dabbled with bread in the past with limited success. Last year during my brewing phase and after much reading I decided I was going to attempt to use some of the left over yeast from an elderflower culture to make bread. Taking inspiration from what I had read about sourdough I transferred some yeast from the bottom of a brew into some flour and water at roughly equal quantities and grew up the culture at first on the windowsill and then further in the fridge - feeding it every few days. Using a rudimentary protocol I had devised I made my first bread for many a year. The bread tasted great but nothing in comparison to what was to follow. ...
29th May 2012
Previous loaves had been, although a step up from the run of the mill supermarket pap, less than artisan… be this the method, the flour, the home-grown starter or our bargain basement oven I'm not sure but the time had come to knead again.
My approach was to be scientific… and I decided that if I were to track down the errors of my ways I would need to limit the variables. I would attempt to start with a tried and tested starter (a culture of yeast, flour and water the likes of which have, in the correct hands, lasted for decades). The obvious choice to me was to approach a man who is becoming something of a legend in the Birmingham food scene - the aptly named Tom Baker of Loaf online. We had tried his bread on a number of occasions and it is truly sublime so I fired off an e-mail hardly expecting a reply. Incredibly Tom got back to me that very same day to say that I was more than welcome to drop by Loaf HQ and pick up a dollop or two of culture... excitedly I took him up on his offer and rewarded his generosity with a couple of my favourite ales (a Taddy Porter and I think a Purity UBU) from Stirchly Wines (a must visit if you like your real beer as I do – the selection is mindboggling).
Armed with my new starter, advice from Tom and information I have scoured from the internet I had set about making a classic sourdough loaf. There are a few things which are fundamental to tasty bread … the most important of which is time (...why supermarket bread is shit).
The first thing I had to learn to do was to look after my starter. The starter is a flour and water mix on which a live yeast and bacterial culture feeds. My starter is kept at 125% hydration meaning that when it is fed I add 125g of water for every 100g of flour. The starter is kept routinely in the fridge but must be taken out at least once a week for a refresh whether baking with it or not. A refresh consists of a feed of about 100% weight (you can throw some starter away if you are getting too much) and an overnight (0-12hr ish) stint at room temperature. This will activate the yeast and keep the little ones going. This can either go back into the fridge or be fed again ready for baking...
After its first 12hr feed (above) split the starter and put some back in the fridge to maintain your starter stock
feed it again in the same way and wait a further 12hrs before making your dough. This will get the yeast really raring to go and ready to make you some super sourdough.
For one loaf combine and mix to form a thin liquid (this will help distribute the yeast) 140g starter and 252-260g water (the amount of water depends on what your flour can handle – if unsure hold back and add some more when kneading – remember that wetter is better… to a point :D).
To this add 420g of flour and 10g salt …. optional (upto 15g of olive oil will make for a softer loaf).
Mix this and leave it for 30mins or so to autolyse.
Knead the dough for about 10mins – it may be a bit sticky but try not to add any flour. When kneaded--eded you should be able to pull it out into a thin almost transparent window (See picture).
Oil the bowl and replace the dough.
Leave at room temperature for 4-6 hours performing a letter fold after 2 hours (stretch and fold into 3 like you were folding a letter to go in an envelope).
Remove Dough from bowl and place on a lightly floured surface.
Shaping depends on the type of bread you are making. If making a round loaf:
Grab the edge of the dough and fold it into the middle. Repeat this moving around the edge of the dough to form a ball (go around a couple of times)– the idea is to tension the skin of the dough. Turn the ball so that the “seam” (the middle bit you were pushing the dough edges into) faces down. Slide your hands under the edges of the dough while turning the dough on the spot – this should have the effect of adding extra tension to the surface of the dough and making it more spherical (it helps if the middle of the dough sticks to the surface a little bit so do it on a less well floured area of the work surface).
Place in a well floured/semolina(ed) baneton top down – a baneton is a very useful bit of kit (Shipton Mill sell them for £12). They allow the surface of the bread to breathe and thus help develop a crust – they are also good at not sticking to a highly hydrated dough.
Place in fridge for between 12 and 24 hours.
Pre-heat the oven to its maximum temperature (ours is 300C) with an oven stone on the middle shelf. Place an empty baking tray on the bottom shelf.
Throw a cup of water into the baking tray to make steam (when i say throw i mean be careful - the steam will shoot out and try to get you ... you have been warned).
Remove your dough from the fridge and upturn onto a semolinaed board.
Slash the top of your loaf about 5mm deep and quickly slide your loaf onto the baking stone.
After 4mins turn the temperature down to 220 and bake until done .. about 30-35mins (it should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom).
Take your loaf out and place on a rack to cool.
If you want the loaf to keep don’t cut it until completely cool – I personally love warm bread so I almost never do this completely!
More pictures of steps to follow!!