We have the starter and now we’re ready to bake my first ever sourdough loaf…………..well, almost!
For the sponge
For the loaf
1. The night before you want to bake your loaf, create a sponge. In a large bowl, combine 150ml (2/3 cup) active starter with 250g (1 2/3 cup) flour and 275ml (1 cup + 2 tbsp) warm water. Mix, cover with clingfilm and leave overnight. In the morning it should be clearly fermenting: thick, sticky, bubbly and smelling a bit sour.
2. To make the dough, add the 300g (2 cups) flour to the sponge, along with the oil and salt, and incorporate. You should now have a fairly sticky dough. If it seems tight and firm, add a dash more warm water; if it’s unmanageably loose, add more flour, but do leave it fairly wet – you’ll get better bread that way.
3. Turn out the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and silky – about 10 minutes – then put in a lightly oiled bowl and turn it to coat with the oil. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rise. Sourdough rises slowly and sedately, so it’ll take a few hours in a warm kitchen. One good option is to knead it in the morning, then simply leave it all day in a cool, draught-free place until it has more or less doubled in size and feels springy if you push your finger gently into it; alternatively, knead it in the evening and leave to rise overnight.
4. Deflate the risen dough by punching it down with your knuckles on a lightly floured surface. You now need to prove the dough (give it a second rising). First form it into a neat round, tucking the edges of the dough underneath itself so you have a smooth, round top and a rougher base.
5. If you have a proper proving basket – I do – dust it liberally with flour. Alternatively, rig up a proving basket by lining a wide, shallow bowl with a clean, floured cloth. Place your round of dough smooth side down in the basket or bowl, cover with oiled clingfilm or a clean plastic bag, and leave to rise, in a warm place this time, for an hour and a half to three hours, until roughly doubled in size again. It’s now ready to bake.
6. Heat the oven to its highest setting (250C/230C fan/500F/gas mark 10 is ideal). Five minutes before you want to put the loaf in, place a baking sheet in the oven to heat up.
7. Just before you put your loaf in the oven, place a roasting tin of boiling water in the bottom of your oven to create a steamy atmosphere, which helps the bread rise and develop a good crust.
8. Take the hot baking sheet from the oven, dust it with flour and carefully tip the risen dough out of the basket/bowl on to it; it will now be the right way up. Put the loaf in the oven and leave to bake for 15 minutes.
9. Lower the heat to 200C/180Cfan/390F/gas mark 6, add more water to the roasting tin, and bake for a further 25-30 minutes, until the now well-browned loaf vibrates and sounds hollow when you tap its base.
10. Leave to cool for at least 20 minutes – it’s okay to slice while warm, but not if it’s piping hot. My beloved much enjoyed it for a light supper with a selection of French cheeses, and some of my pickles and chutneys.
1. My dough was wet and sticky, even after using my dough hook for 10 minutes. But, you know what, it didn’t matter.
2. I used a mixture of bread flours: wholemeal, spelt and rye largely to use up odds and ends though the final loaf was largely a rye and wholemeal mix.
3. It smelled wonderful while it was baking, had a lovely chewy crust, excellent flavour and sliced easily, despite not being much of a looker!
4. What of the rest of the starter? It’s resting in the fridge until I need it next week-end for more sourdough bread and pizza.