At this point, we're ready to go do some baking. So far we've:
- Started our first sourdough starter (see post labelled '7 day sourdough starter recipe')
- Assembled our baking toolkit (see post labelled 'baking essentials')
This recipe can make two one kilo sourdough loaves. If you only have one bread tin, simply divide the measurements in two.
- About 400 g ripe sourdough starter (to ascertain ripeness, see the post on '7 day sourdough starter recipe'). This by volume equates to about 2 cups full, though I usually don't use volume as a measurement, because starter varies a great deal in volume. There are times when it's very gaseous, and other times when it's more of a batter, depending on ripeness. Best to weigh it. If you have scales that tare, putting your water jug on the scales, tare it, and put the weight of starter into them using a large spoon or cup.
- About 1.2 kg white flour (I'm a fan of organic unbleached flour, but if you prefer regular white flour, go for it!). As a rule of thumb, the more wholemeal the flour, the more water it will hold, so allow for this when adding the water.
- Be ready with about 600 ml of filtered water (the temperature of the water needs to be luke warm in winter, but for the rest of the year room temperature will do - more on this in future posts).
- 24 g of coarse salt (cooking salt is fine. Salt flakes are even better for texture, but don't get these mixed up with rock salt. Rock salt just doesn't dissolve, and you'll end up with chunks of salt in the bread).
This method is known to bread geeks and bakers alike as the 'delayed salt' method. It saves a lot of elbow grease, and allows you to recreate that sensational uneven sourdough texture you'll find in all the great sourdough breads.
In your plastic box or mixing bowl (see my previous post on 'breadmaking equipment'), pour in the flour. Make a well in the middle, and pour in some (start with about half) of the the water. Use your plastic scraper, and put the starter in too.
Using one hand only, mix the ingredients together roughly. I go for a circular motion, using my whole hand. This causes the flour to fall into line quite naturally. You don't need to knead - what you're after at this stage is just a fairly loose dough. Lumps are OK - this method actually allows chemistry to do the work for you. If you can manage keeping one hand clean, you'll find that cleaning up afterwards is much easier. You may need to add some more water as you go, if the dough feels too thick or tight.
(Remember to just use one hand if you can - when you do stuff like turn on and off taps, open cupboards etc with doughy hands, you'll soon discover just how quickly dough gets onto everything! The distribution of small fragments of dough through your kitchen makes being a domestic baker quite a chore, so I do what I can to keep it tidy as I go).
Make sure that the dough has absorbed all the flour and all the water before you leave it to rest. Once this has been achieved, put the lid on and leave it for about an hour. The picture at the left gives you a bit of an idea about how loose this dough can be.
After about an hour, spinkle the salt over the dough. Knead it through, still using one hand until the dough comes together. You'll be amazed at how smooth the dough quickly becomes - in no time at all you should get a ball like in the second picture. This is because of putting in the salt later - the yeasts and enzymes are already working on the gluten structure, creating nice even sheets separated by water - all the better to play with and make shapes!
Don't worry about trying to get it perfect - as long as the salt is not all over the outside of the dough, it'll be fine. Once it starts to come together, you can use both hands. Now you'll find the dough is easy to remove from your hands too, because gluten has begun to form.
Leave the dough to rest in the box with the lid on overnight, or for about 6 to 8 hours.You'll find that the dough will have doubled in size or more, and will be quite soft. If it hasn't, leave it for the rest of the day. If it's hot weather, put it in the fridge after a couple of hours. It'll be fine. Sourdough isn't like yeasted bread - the natural yeasts are capable of handling cool temperatures as well as warm.
When it's ready, take it out of the box and divide it in two. This is where the stainless steel dough scraper comes in handy (see this blog post on 'Baking Essentials'). You can get this roughly correct by eye, and just use your scales to adjust, cutting small peices of dough from the bigger ball and putting them on the smaller one. Take each piece and round it by hand with the seam at the bottom. Place at either end of the plastic box so they don't merge in the 'intermediate prooving' stage(this is the baker's term for what you're currently setting up). Put the lid back on and leave the rounded balls of dough to recover. In warm weather, this will only take about half an hour. If it's cooler, this could take a couple of hours. Of course, if you don't have time to wait, you can just pop the rounded balls in the fridge and come back to them later. Don't worry, if your starter is ripe and you've done everything correctly, these dough balls will survive in the fridge for a day or so.
They're ready when they've expanded and are soft to the touch. If you poke them with your finger and the dough doesn't bounce back immediately, they're ready. If there is a fair bit of resistance, and they don't feel soft, leave them until they do.
Now take them out of the box and place them on the bench, still with the seam at the bottom. Take one, turn it over, and flatten it out a bit, till it's about an inch thick. Now roll it into a cyclider, remembering to keep the seam heading into the middle of the dough. This will create a nice smooth outer surface. Once you have a cylinder, do the next one in the same way. Always return them to the bench with the seam you've created on the bottom, so you can't see it.
Spray or wipe some water on the moulded cylinders, take your sieve and scoop some flour into it, and dust lightly over the top. Now put a few parallel diagonal slashes into the dough - quite deep. Pick up from underneath and place in your oiled tins.
If your tins are the right size, the dough should occupy about three quarters of the space. This will allow them to eventually rise above the top of the tins, making a very pleasing looking loaf.
Put the tins back in your dough box and return the lid. If you have one like the one in this blog, you can turn it upside down, put your tins on the lid, and place the base of the box over the top. Once inside this container, you've prevented the formed and tinned dough from skinning, and you've also created a mini prover, which will help the dough to prove quickly.
Once they have risen to fully fill the tin, turn on your oven. But before you do, read the next section!
Baking your Bread
A word about ovens, before I go into baking details!
Your oven will either be gas, electric, or possibly even wood fired (the latter if you are baking obsessed, or if you live in a cold climate and have a fuel stove).
It pays to set up your oven for baking bread before you begin. Very few domestic ovens can give you the type of result a commercial baker's oven can. What follows is a quick rundown on getting the best out of your domestic beast - and believe me, neglecting this section can make all your hard work so far a complete waste of time if the oven is set up incorrectly. You will try time and time again to get a great loaf, and time and time again you will fail, wondering what went wrong. When you set up your oven, your bread will at least have a fighting chance of turning out just like a bought one!
If you have a gas oven, the heat tends to be sharper; they lose and regain heat quite quickly. Bread needs a steady heat for the best crust and rise. The antidote? If there is space at the bottom of the oven, I recommend placing a couple of paving bricks just off the floor. Obviously, you don't want to put them in the way of the flame, but if you can, put them on a baking rack so that air can circulate all the way around the bricks. This is particularly important if you have a fan forced (or convection) gas oven. These paving bricks will stabilise the heat somewhat. You'll need to 'set' the oven for a bit longer before baking, to get the bricks warm, but the results you get will be worth the small amount of extra gas used.
If you have an electric oven, it takes longer to get hot, but it is a steadier and drier heat. A brick at the base won't hurt, but it's more important is to make sure there is adequate moisture in there. When you are about to begin baking, place a small bowl of water at the base of the oven. This will begin to evaporate once the oven gains enough heat, and will really help to set a good crust on your bread.
Convection Ovens (gas or electric):
As a rule of thumb, convection (or fan forced) ovens run about 10 to 20 degrees celsius hotter than ones without a fan. The advantage here is that they have a more even temperature. The disadvantage is that they tend to dry the bread out. Again, a bowl of water in the bottom of the oven will work wonders. Remember to put it in when you first fire up the oven, or the water won't be evaporating until you pull the bread out, which is too late.
Ovens without a fan (gas, electric or fuel stove):
These ovens are prone to accumulating heat at the top, and near the element. Sometimes the element is on the floor, other times at the back. I've even seen them with the element on one side only! What were they thinking? Anyway, there are advantages to these kinds of ovens. One is that they tend to set a very good crust - quite thick and chewy. Sometimes you'll have to turn the bread around halfway through the bake, but generally you'll find the heat is steady and not too dry.
These ovens will benefit from the paving brick on the bottom - this will draw in the heat and disperse it more evenly. They also do well with a bowl of water. Finally, allow a good long time to 'set' the oven when first bringing it up to temperature - this will tend to iron out most of the unevenness in the oven itself.
Now, the most important thing most home bakers seem to forget is to set up the racks in the oven beforehand, so that when you place the bread tin inside, it is surrounded by roughly the same amount of space all the way around it. I know that's a long way of saying 'in the middle', but if you think about it, it's more accurate the way I've described it. I've seen people put the base of the bread in the middle, so the top is too high, and visa versa.
This is your starting point, and is generally the best placement, though there are exceptions. I'll return to these at a later date.
If you're keen to get started, I'll tell you that 180 degrees celsius is my default temperature for bread. Wind this down by 20 degress in a fan forced oven. Time varies depending on the volume of dough to be baked - longer for a bigger load. But again, I default to about an hour, checking after about 40 minutes to rotate or correct accordingly.
So that's enough for now. I'll return to discuss the finer points of oven work in a future post.
I have more recipes at www.sourdoughbaker.com.au.
Until then, happy baking!