Sourdough bread is really easy to make and, contrary to a lot of recipes on the internet, does NOT have to mean that you are wasting resources by throwing away half your starter each time you feed it. I’d hate that kind of wastefulness, especially in times when flour is in short supply, as it is now under COVID-19 lockdown in the UK (where has all the flour gone?).
Here is a recipe inspired by the Tassajara Bread Book, which has been in the family since 1975 (!)
Unless someone (who otherwise would have chucked it) has given you a starter, you need to make your own sourdough starter.
Start a sourdough starter from scratch
You can use dry yeast (1 teaspoon) or fresh yeast (~1 tablespoons). Thoroughly mix the yeast with 200 mL of warm water, 1 tablespoon of honey (or sugar) and 100 g flour. It should have the consistency of thick mud – consistency is more important than exact quantities.
Loosely cover it and let it ferment for five or six days in a pantry or cool room, but not the fridge, stirring daily. Liquid will rise to the top, which you can stir in again.
The fermentation will result in a slightly alcoholic and sour smell, which is quite pleasant ans shows that the process is working as it should.
If you keep feeding and replenishing this starter about once a week, it can last for years. If it ever smells ‘rank’ or unpleasant when you open it up to use it, it’s gone off.
Feed your starter to make the batter in preparation of baking
About 12 hours before you want to bake, you need to feed the starter to make the batter, from which you will (1) take off a starter for keeping and
(2) make your sourdough for baking.
In the evening, for a dough made from 500 g flower, thoroughly combine
– all your starter
– 340 mL lukewarm liquid (water, milk…)
– 200 g flour (wholemeal, white, plain, bread, spelt, rye….)
and let it rest overnight at room temperature.
You’ve now got your batter made (easy!).
In the morning, the batter should smell faintly like the starter did. Now, take a quantity off the batter and keep it in a jam jar. A normal soup ladle is sufficient for a loaf made from 500 g flour – again exact quantities are not an issue here. If you decide later you want to bake more, you just let the batter ferment for a little longer or in a slightly warmer room.
Leave your replenished starter at room temperature for half a day, then store in the fridge if you don’t plan to bake more the next day.
Bake the bread
Once you have set aside your new starter, use ALL of the remaining batter to make your bread (or cake base, muffins, rolls…).
While stirring the batter, add
– 4 to 6 tablespoons of oil or butter
– 1 to 2 teaspoons of salt
– 300 g of your favourite flour
and when the consistency allows, knead until you get a nice light dough that comes away from your fingers (or the bowl) without sticking too much. As you are kneading, add liquid or flour as needed – the consistency is much more important than the exact amounts measured out.
For example, I often add oats to my bread mix and this requires a little more flour during kneading. I recently experimented with replacing some white bread flour with coconut flour when making sourdough rolls and this is more absorbent, hence a little more water was required…
Shape your bread or buns, place them in an oiled bread pan or on an oiled baking tray and let it rise at room temperature for two hours.
Pre-heat the oven at 240oC with a small pan or tray of water in the bottom to create steam – this will generate a nice crust.
Brush the tops with water and bake at 240oC for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 180oC, again brush the tops with water and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes or until the loaf looks golden, sounds ‘done’ (kind of hollow-ish) when you knock it and comes away from the tin easily.
That’s it. Easy!
However tempting it is to eat hot – let it cool down first if you want to avoid getting the ‘indigestion blues’.
I’ve already mentioned that I replace some of the flour by oats or coconut flour. Obviously, you can make this fully wholemeal or mix white and wholemeal, spelt or rye, corn meal or buckwheat…anything.
You can add seeds or nuts after replenishing the starter, or make a sweeter loaf by adding some sugar and dried fruit.
A milk loaf based on white flour and warm milk instead of water is a special treat.