It feels like everyone knows and yearns for good bread. Even if they don’t bake it, they have a supplier. And it’s because there’s something so fundamentally comforting about a good loaf – a combination, perhaps, of its mouth-watering aroma, chewy texture and thick crust.
Take Bristol; artisan bakeries have been popping up and, importantly, thriving across the city for several years now. Dripping with quality, these bastions of bread (and other such delights) are a component part of a sense of community not often found throughout major settlements.
The mythical aura surrounding sourdough is fading, but it has persisted far too long – not helped by farcically over-complicated recipes for ‘beginner’s sourdough bread’ you can find online. The very same recipes ask you to measure the temperature of each constituent ingredient.
What you need is a straight-forward recipe. Somewhere to start. Easy sourdough bread. Most of all, you need the reassurance that sourdough bread needn’t be as difficult or as involved as some make it out to be. It does take 2-3 days – that much is certain – but it can and should fit around your schedule.
A quick shout-out, if I may, to the Shipton Mill in the nearby Cotswolds for providing (at my expense, I assure you) some truly top-notch bread flour. And not forgetting Bristol’s genuinely world-class Hart’s Bakery for the inspiration and what remain the best pastries I have enjoyed anywhere in Europe – yes, France, that includes you.
Beginner’s Sourdough Bread Recipe
Makes 2 large loaves (easily halved)
Most of the below isn’t strictly necessary. Having said that, all are useful for non-sourdough bread and will contribute positively to the quality of any bread that emerges from your oven.
- Dough scraper
- Two large bannetons/proofing baskets
- Baker’s peel
- Baker’s lame
- Pizza stone
Day 1 (evening)
- 150g sourdough mother
- 75g tepid water
- 75 light rye flour
Day 2 (morning)
- 300g fed starter (from day 1)
- 600-700ml tepid water
- 1000g white bread flour
- 20g salt
Day 2 (afternoon)
- Bread flour for dusting
- A little rice flour
Day 1 (evening)
- In a large mixing bowl, combine your sourdough mother with the water and light rye flour. Cover with a tea towel, or similar, and set aside somewhere warm until the next morning. Don’t forget to give the mother a good feed.
Day 2 (morning)
- Assuming this is your first go at sourdough, add 600ml of tepid water to the starter in your large mixing bowl. Bring together. As you become more experienced you can start experimenting with hydration levels, but doing so makes the dough trickier to handle.
- Add the bread flour and salt to the watery starter mixture. Make sure it’s well combined by hand or large metal spoon. Set aside somewhere warm for 1 hour.
- Keeping everything in the same mixing bowl, grab a “corner” from underneath and fold over the opposite side. Repeat twice for each corner (8 folds in total). Cover and set aside for 30 minutes.
- Repeat step 3 a further three times, before setting aside for a final hour of resting.
Day 2 (afternoon)
- Your dough should be showing clear signs of activity, with large bubbles of trapped air dotted about here and there. Turn it out onto a lightly floured side.
- Divide the dough in two, and shape into an oval or boule, depending on the size and shape of your banneton. It’s difficult to describe, so the links above will give you an idea.
- Take your bannetons – you can also use loaf tins lined with a tea towel – and generously scatter them with rice flour to avoid a sticky situation. Transfer your shaped dough to the basket and cover.
- If you still have time to bake on day 2, leave the dough to proof for 2-4 hours. How long you leave it for will depend largely on temperature – it is ready to bake – proofed – when it springs back slowly and leaves a small indent.
- If you haven’t time to bake, leave the covered dough to proof for 2 hours and transfer to the refrigerator until the morning. Wrapping it in a plastic bag will stop a skin forming.
Day 3 (morning) or ready to bake
- Pre-heat your oven and pizza stone to 260C for around 30 minutes. Make sure there’s a tray beneath the stone that we’ll use to create steam, and with it a better crust.
- If baking on day 3, remove the first loaf from the fridge 15 minutes before baking. If you’re baking straight away, you’re good to go.
- Once the oven and stone are hot, boil the kettle and pour its contents into the tray at the bottom of the oven. Ready your baker’s peel and cover it generously with rice flour.
- Working quickly, turn your dough out onto the prepared peel, slash the top deeply with sharp knife or baker’s lame, and get it straight in the oven. Set the timer to 25 minutes.
- After 25 minutes have elapsed, turn the oven down to 230C for a further 20 minutes. Remove your cooked loaf from the oven, and repeat the cycle for loaf number two.
Cost: Including postage, 16kg of speciality bread flour costs me around £23. Factoring in a few other ingredients, two large loaves made according to the recipe above will cost about £1 each.
That feels like a good price to me, considering a large loaf of sourdough might set you back anywhere from £4-6 out in the wild. But if you’re on a tight budget, and don’t have access to fancy flour, a quick search tells me you could make both loaves for under £1.