Friday, March 15, 2013

Sourdough Bread: Start to Finish

Sourdough bread..what can I say about it? Just...YUM! Big air bubbles, tangy flavour, great crust and amazing toasted with just about everything! I've loved sourdough for years but have always bought it in shops, never really knowing much about the process of it, other than it not using fresh or dried yeast. So I was having a look through Paul Hollywood's How To Bake book at home and thought "Why not give it a go? How hard can it be?" The answer...not at all!

Sourdough has probably been made using the same techniques for thousands of years, possibly as far back as the ancient Egyptians, how amazing?! It requires naturally occurring (usually air born) wild yeasts and lactobacilli coming in contact with flour and water and over a few days fermenting into a bubbly runny mixture, called a starter. This fermentation causes the lovely slightly sour taste associated with sourdough bread. You have to cultivate the starter by "feeding" it more flour and water every few days to keep it alive and mature the starter's flavour. Once it's ready you add some of the starter to your bread mix, leave it rise, shape it, bake it and voilà you have sourdough bread!

I actually never knew how many different ways you can make a sourdough starter, a quick google search will show loads of ways to do it. The usual and most common way is to leave a container of flour and water uncovered for a few days to let the wild yeasts fall into it. However the method that Paul Hollywood suggests is to use an organic apple to start the process. I'd never heard of this method but it worked out amazingly. It does take time (at least a week before you can use your starter) but it is so worth it! 

I will start at the very beginning. In a large mixing bowl measure out 500g of flour (I just used regular bread flour, but I intend to start adding in other types of flour to create different flavours and textures), 360ml of tepid water and 1 organic apple, finely grated. Mix these all together, put into a container and leave for 3 days to ferment (I left it in my bedroom wardrobe!) 

After 3 days it should have risen up by at least double and be all bubbly (very exciting!). Once you open the jar it will make a big "whoosh" noise and smell a bit like cider, I really like this smell!! You then have to feed it, so throw half away and in a bowl add the rest of it to another 500g of flour and about 170ml of water. Yum yum! Put it back into the container and leave for another 2 days.

After the 2 days it should have loads of bubbles and risen by a lot. Mine rose and fell, which is fine, meaning it was very active! If however it falls and gets kind of watery looking on top it means it's over active and needs more flour and has to be left for another 2 days.

But if all is well, once again, remove half and add 250g of flour and about 200ml of water, so it's all sloppy and soft looking (like a very think pancake batter). This feel of it at this stage is so lovely to mix in your hands. Then back into the container it goes and has a little rest only for 24 hours this time. It will have risen up again and is now ready to use..yey! 

The recipe that Hollywood uses makes 2 large loaves. You need 750g of bread flour (plus extra), 500g of the lovely starter, 15g of salt, 350-450ml of tepid water and a little olive oil for kneading.
Put all the ingredients (expect the oil) into a bowl and mix until it has formed a soft ball of dough. Knead for 5-10 mins with a little oil on the work surface so it doesn't stick and becomes smooth and uniform in texture. Leave the dough to rise in a slightly oiled bowl, covered with cling film in a warm place (the day I have a proving drawer in my kitchen I will be a very happy girl indeed!). This will take a long time to rise, possibly up to 5 hours, or until it is at least double in size.

Once it is risen, take it out of the bowl and knock it back until it is almost back to it's original size. You will then need 2 proving baskets quite heavily dusted with flour. Divide the dough in half and place a ball into each basket and leave to rise again. The recipe says that the 2nd rise should take 10-13 hours!!!! However I found that after 3-4 hours the dough had risen all the way up the sides of the proving basket and was ready to go into the oven. Tip the dough out of the baskets and onto floured baking trays and pop them into a preheated oven at 200C for 30-40 mins.

The bread will sound hollow inside when you tap the bottom of the loaf and be beautiful and golden. Don't forget that you need to feed your starter again, another 500g of flour and about 170ml of water. You'll have to do this about every 3 days or as often as you make a loaf of bread. I know that this looks like a lot of work, but really it's less than an hour every few days and the end result is so worth it. Making your own bread is so rewarding and seeing the whole process start to finish is fantastic! Once you start making your own bread you'll never look back and never want to buy a loaf of bread again! 

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