Bread making is addictive. We all start with a simple white loaf - just mix together water, flour and manufactured yeast. Then one day, suddenly someone goes on and on about sourdough baking and like all bread making addicts, I start to see a halo above every loaf of sourdough, and so the journey starts.
To be honest, I followed lots of recipes on the internet and even bought some glossy expensive hardcover sourdough baking books with beautiful images inside and a time sheet. None turned out properly! My husband joked about me being the director of a movie called "Invasion of the Alien Blobs". Then, 2 years ago, tired of my own failure I joined a one-day course offered by "Bread Ahead" in London www.breadahead.com. Alas!! We humans have been baking bread for hundreds if not thousands of years, it can't be anything more complicated then learning how to use a Bloomberg Terminal, right? Indeed it is very simple, but there are a few tricks that you must follow if you want to have a nice looking sourdough to put on Instagram later. And also be patient, don't rush the process.
So if you are ready to take on sourdough baking, here you go:
Sourdough Starter -
This is used to cultivate wild yeast in a form that we can use for baking wide range of bread - sourdough, baguette even pizza dough. And wild yeast exists in all flour. So a simple mixture of water and flour and air will allow you to grow your own starter in a few days. If you see anyone add other paraphernalia like fruit or sugar or alcohol to encourage the process, don't ever follow it. Remember to think like you are baking in the 16th century. Any extra stuff will probably end up in disaster as it will spoil the starter over a long period of time.
To make your own starter:
50g wholegrain rye flour (or any bread flour)
50g cold water
Mix the flour and water together in a jar or container, loosely cover and leave at room temperature for 24 hours
50g wholegrain rye flour
50g cold water
Each day, add 50g of flour and 50g cold water to your starter and mix. Cover them loosely and by day 6 it should be nice and lively with some bubbling and slightly alcoholic aroma. If you are not using it right a way, you can store your starter in the fridge in an airtight container and use it/ refresh it at least once every 2 weeks.
Once your starter is ready, you are ready to bake. Every time before you bake, you should feed your starter with equal amounts of flour and water and leave it at room temperature for 8 hours, loosely covered. The quantity of flour and water depends on what your recipe suggests. E.g if your recipe ask for 150g starter, then you add 75g of flour and 75g of water into your original starter.
The whole idea of no-knead sourdough is instead of accelerating the proofing process by actively working the dough and developing the gluten, a no-knead sourdough takes away the hard work, and instead gives your dough the maximum amount of time to work the texture and flavor by itself. Win-win isn't it?
Day 1 - Getting the Dough Ready
Give your starter a good feed 8 hours before making your dough. This recipe asks for 150g starter, so add 75g flour and 75g water to the original.
500g Strong white bread flour
310-350g cold water
- Start with 310g water and mix with starter.
- Add the water and starter mixture to 500g flour and mix together. If your dough is dry, gradually add more water. The dough tends to be slightly wetter than your normal bread dough. Cover and leave it at room temperature for 1 hour. At this stage, we just want the flour to fully absorb the water and soften the gluten.
- After an hour, add the salt on top of the dough, sprinkle a little water and start gently mixing the salt and the dough together. In less than a minute, you should feel the dough start to tighten up slightly.
- Cover your dough and place into the fridge for 12-24 hours (Longer tends to be better).
Day 2 - Shaping
- Take your dough from the fridge and it should be firmer and look like a fully mixed dough. Now shape and fold your dough.
This is one of the best videos I have seen about the how and why of shaping your dough:
- Shaping and folding is important as it helps to develop gluten, activate the yeast and put air pockets into the dough and most importantly build the structure so your dough will not collapse in baking. Also it is important to put your shaped dough in a bread basket to proof. I tried without the basket and the shape ended up flat like a stingray. So get a proper bread proving basket (I ordered mine on Amazon.com) and shape it well.
- Another tip is instead of dusting your table top and bread basket with regular flour, I found rice flour is a better alternative to keep this very hydrated dough from sticking to the surface.
- Heavily dust your bread proving basket with rice flour or regular flour and place your shaped dough into it with the bottom of the dough facing up. Cover and place in the fridge for 8-12 hours.
Day 3 - Baking
- 3 hours before you bake your dough, leave it at room temperature to rise for about 3 hours.
- Place your baking tray or baking stone into the oven and preheat it to 250C.
- Once the oven is hot enough, take the hot tray out and line with baking paper. Your tray is very HOT so be CAREFUL when you turn your dough out of the proving basket.
- Score the top of your dough with a sharp knife.
- If your oven has a tray at the bottom, pour in a glass of water to create steam in your oven; if not spritz all around the oven chamber with a water spray. Then place your loaf inside and bake for 30mins.
- When it's ready, your bread should have a nice golden crust and a hollow sound when you tap the bottom.
Don't get intimidated by the time, this method is not only fool-proof, but you will have the best flavored bread ever!