Is it Worth the Effort?
Well, making your own sourdough bread does take a bit of time and effort, but is it worth it? Definitely. When that first loaf comes out of the oven and you spread on some good quality butter; well it's worth the wait. The unique sour taste that gives the bread its name is unbelievably good, as is its texture. To be honest, most of the work comes at the start of the process when you create your starter mix and even then its mostly about waiting, when of course you can be doing other things. You will be using the natural yeast in the air and in the flour to make your bread, so no additional yeast is required. You can buy ready made starters from famous bread making regions, but in my opinion you will be wasting your money as the natural yeast in your own kitchen will soon take over the mix.
Preparing Your Starter Mix
Through trial and error I have found it best to use at least 50% whole grain flour in your starter such as spelt, wholegrain, rye or wholemeal. Kept in a warm kitchen, you should see signs of fermentation within 24 hours, although it can take longer.
Add 100g of this flour to a large bowl with some luke warm water and mix until you get a thick paint like batter. Next cover with cling film and leave in a warm place. Check every few hours for signs of fermentation such as bubbles and what can be a fairly unpleasant bitter smell at this stage (it will get better).
At this Point the Beast Needs Feeding
Whisk in approximately 100g of flour (doesn't need to be wholegrain now) and a little water to maintain the batter like consistency (cool water is ok now and the mix can be kept at room temperature).
Leave it for about 24 hours then discard (or give to a friend) half the starter then add another 100g of flour and some water. Repeat this discarding and adding routine over the next seven to ten days maintaining the sloppy consistency and you should end up with sweet, fruity smelling batter. Don't be Tempted to Make a Loaf until It's been Brewing for at Least a Week.
Creating Your Loaf
For your premix
Approx. 150ml of your starter
250g of strong flour (wholemeal, white or a mixture).
For the Loaf
300g of strong bread flour
1 tablespoon of olive oil
10g of fine sea salt
The night before baking combine your pre mix ingredients with 275ml of warm water. Mix, cover with cling film and leave overnight.
To make the dough add the 300g of flour to your pre mix with the olive oil and salt. It should now be a fairly sticky dough, if its a bit tight you can add a touch more warm water, if its too loose add a touch more flour, but its important you leave it fairly wet.
Get your dough on a lightly floured surface and nead for 10 to 15 minutes until its nice and smooth, then place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm. Sourdough likes to chill and will take a few hours to rise in a warm kitchen. Allow further time to rise if its left in a cooler place.
Tip: I knead mine in the morning and leave it to rise all day whilst at work, I've also kneaded it in the evening and left it to rise overnight.
It should double in size and feel springy to the touch.
It now needs a second rising (Proving) so punch the dough down with your knuckles to release the air. Create a neat oval shape by tucking the sides of the dough underneath so you have a smooth top and rougher underneath. Next place smooth side down in a proving basket or bowl lined with a clean cloth and cover with some oiled clingfilm again. Leave in a warm place for 2 to three hours until it has doubled in size again.
Get your oven on its highest setting (about 250c) and about 5 minutes before your ready to bake insert a baking tray. Take the hot tray, dust with flour and tip the dough out of the basket so it will now be the right way up. Slash the top a couple of times with a knife or scissors.
Place a roasting tin of boiling water in the bottom of the oven just before you put the bread in. This will give your bread an amazing crust and will help the bread to rise. Bake for 15 minutes then turn the oven down to 200c and cook for another 25 to 30 minutes. It should have a nice colour and sound hollow when you tap the base. Leave to cool for about 20 mins on a bread rack. Eat with some good quality butter or olive oil-delicious!