Sourdough – I think I finally have it…

We’re deep in the grip of the Coronavirus and people of the world are buckling down for the months of isolation ahead. We’re extremely lucky and grateful to be able to pretty much keep things going as normal at Pugpig, and I’m doubly lucky because for the first time ever I get to bake sourdough more than once a week. The problem, you see, is that while sourdough isn’t particularly labour intensive, it does need little doses of regular attention over the course of two days making it impossible to do unless you’re around the house for a suitably extended period. And right now I am, which means I’m finally getting to grips with the stuff. If you see any other bread posts on here (published prior to this one) please ignore them – I had no idea how to make bread until a few months ago when my big sis Nic finally showed me how it’s done. God knows how I got away with the method I’ve been using for the last few years, but it certainly explains why my loaves used to be as dense as black holes…

Simple white sourdough

I don’t usually give exact measures in my recipes but you really do need some idea of quantities for this, so I’m going to break my habit just this once.

First you need a starter – you can either make it yourself (google it) or buy it from a baker or even on Amazon (or ask me and I can probably give you some of mine). You then need to keep the starter alive, which is pretty easy: either stick it in the fridge where it will happily lie dormant for quite some time, or every day add 100g of strong white flour and 100ml of water to the starter and mix it together. If the starter beings to grow beyond the confines of your jar, take the excess and stick it in another jar – you can use it for pizza dough, pancakes, all sorts of things.

Now, two nights before you want to bake your loaf, make sure you give your starter a feed and leave it out in the warmth of your kitchen. The next morning when you wake up take about150g of your starter and add it to 450g of strong white flour, 280ml water and 12g of malden sea salt.  At this point you can add whatever else you like – I often throw in a couple of tablespoons of caraway seeds. You could also try a few handfuls of olives and jalapeños. Or raisins and walnuts. It’s also amazing if you add absolutely nothing. Either way, adulterated or not, mix everything together until it makes a fairly smooth and slightly sticky dough. It does not need to be perfect at this point, Stick it in a large tupperware container, slap on the lid on and leave it for an hour. After an hour take it out then stretch it, fold it, stretch it, fold it, stretch it and fold it a few times. Put it back in the container and an hour later do the same thing. and again. and again and again. After a 4-5 hours, the dough should be very stretchy and springy. If you poke it with your finger the indentation should spring back fairly quickly. It should feel really good to the touch. Maybe even a little too good if you get my drift. And this is the great thing about sourdough – there’s no kneading required, just this gentle folding and shaping, which you’ll enjoy far more than you might expect.

Now let the dough continue to prove for a few more hours and round about early evening stick it in a well-floured proving basket and cover it with something relatively airtight. Leave it there until you go to bed at which point pop it in the fridge overnight, still covered.

When you wake up in the morning, turn the oven to full power and place a small saucepan full of water in the bottom. Take your loaf out of the fridge, turn it out onto a floured baking tray and score the top of the loaf to allow it to rise freely (if you don’t do this it will burst somewhere you least expect it). When the oven has reached full temperature, stick the bread in (being careful not to get a face full of steam as you open the oven door). After about five minutes turn the temperature down to about 200c and bake for a further 35-40 minutes. When it’s done, the bread will sound hollow when you tap its bottom.

Take it out and leave it to cool down on a rack, wait as long as you can bear and then cut a slice, cover it with butter and slip into a rare state of perfect pleasure.

I guarantee that once you go sourdough, you’ll never want to bake regular bread again.


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