So, you've read my 'sourdough starter' article, or have made yourself a starter using some other instructions, and now you're ready to bake your first loaf. As with creating the starter, baking your first sourdough loaf is an easy process, requiring time rather than any advanced skills. Baking is definitely something that becomes easier with practice, so if it doesn't work out the first time, then keep trying!
Be aware that this method requires you to start the process the night before you want to bake - there are plenty of other methods out there, but this is what works best for me.
A large mixing bowl.
A wooden spoon, or something else to mix with.
Space on a table or other work surface for kneading the dough.
Two loaf tins or baking sheets.
Measuring cups or scales and a measuring jug.
A knife for cutting the dough.
Wire cooling rack.
Sourdough starter (see previous article).
Bread flour - wholemeal, white or a mixture.
Cooking oil - I usually use rapeseed oil.
The Night Before:
Put five cups of flour (about 600g) into the mixing bowl.
Add about a cup and a half of starter.
Start to mix, while adding water a little at a time.
Add about four cups of water (about a litre), or enough to make a thick pasty consistency (use more or less water as required).
Beat the mixture well, then cover and set aside overnight.
You should have a nice bubbly bowl of sourdough batter - in order to keep your starter going, you need to remember to set some aside now - so, use a ladle or a measuring cup to bail out a cup and a half (or thereabouts) of starter into another bowl, and then refrigerate for next time.
Working with the rest of the starter, add two teaspoons of salt, and a quarter of a cup of oil.
Mix well, until the salt is well distributed through the batter.
Add the flour gradually - about five cups in total (about 600g), mixing well after each addition your sourdough should now be forming a dough in the bowl.
Sprinkle flour on the work surface, tip out the dough, and knead well for about five minutes (kneading is just stretching and folding the dough repeatedly), add more flour as needed.
Cut the dough in half - if you're not sure you've got it right, it's worth weighing the two pieces to be sure that they are roughly the same size.
Shape the sourdough into a loaf shape (if baking in a loaf tin) or into a ball (if baking on a baking sheet), or any other shape you choose.
Grease the tins or baking sheets, and put the loaves in.
Set aside, and leave to rise. Sourdough bread takes longer to rise than bread made with standard yeast, so be prepared to allow two or three hours for rising - the dough is ready when it springs back nicely if you press it gently with your finger.
When risen, sprinkle the top with water, make lengthwise slashes in the top with a sharp knife, and bake at gas mark 6 for about an hour. Bread is cooked when it sounds hollow as you tap the base.
Cool your loaves on a wire cooling rack.
Enjoy - sourdough bread tastes delicious straight from the oven, spread generously with butter. It also makes amazing, flavourful toast.
Keep your starter in the fridge until you're ready to bake again, and then take it out the night before and start the process again.