Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The perfect loaf

I absolutely love sourdough bread; the chewy crust and lovely holey texture make it the perfect vehicle to transport cheese towards a greedy mouth, and since bread and cheese has become my fall back working lunch, it seemed high time to make it myself.

This recipe is a combination of a half remembered conversation about sourdough starters with a breadmaking friend and two other recipes. There are a lot of differing opinions about how to make a starter, but I ended up using this very simple recipe by S.John Ross, which worked very nicely. My house isn't terribly warm at the moment as we're resisting putting on the heating in the 'summer', so it took a week before the mixture had become a frothy, bubbling living organism.

I like Dan Lepard's idea of freezing spoonfuls of the starter that can then be reactivated by mixing them with warm water and flour, then left to get cosy together overnight. Anything that makes the process of making bread a little easier sounds good to me!

Sourdough bread

Makes one rather large loaf

150g active sourdough starter
500g strong bread flour
340ml hand-hot water

1) Mix the starter, flour and water and leave them for half an hour, then add a teaspoon of salt.

2) Now get your hands wet (this will stop the dough sticking to them) and knead the dough for 30 seconds. Something flat like a palette knife is useful to have here to help scrape any sticky dough off from your tabletop afterwards! Leave the dough for 15 minutes in a warm place, then knead for another 30 seconds/ leave for 15 minutes/ then knead one last time.

3) Leave the dough to grow to about half as large again (this depends on how warm your house is) then wet your hands again and stretch out the dough into a large rectangle. Imagine the rectangle in thirds, then fold the outer thirds into the centre. Then stretch out again, and repeat. Leave to rest back in the bowl for half an hour then repeat the folding process again. Rest for another half hour then fold the dough again one last time.

4) Form the dough into a neat ball, and leave to rest on a lightly oiled baking tray in a warm place until it has grown again to half as large as its original size. Preheat the oven to 400f/200c/gas mark 6, then pop in the tray. If you toss a splash of cold water onto the oven floor at the same time it helps develop a crisp crust. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until it it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

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