So you've made your starter, and you're rightly proud of this bubbling, fermenting pot of life that you've grown and nurtured. Here is our basic country sourdough recipe. This uses a kneading method. Some days, it just helps to bash out your frustrations on an inanimate lump of dough! Remember, this is sloooooowwww dough. All good things are worth the wait!
Country White Sourdough
(makes 1 medium loaf)
Plan ahead. Sourdough will always be at least 2 days in the making. Feed your starter about 8 hours (overnight is perfect) before you are ready to make your sourdough, so that it is lively and active before you begin.
300g strong white flour
80g wholemeal flour
120g active starter (liquid, 100% hydration)
8g fine sea salt
Measure your dry ingredients into a large bowl. Place your starter and water in a separate bowl and mix roughly together. Now pour these into the dry ingredients. Mix with your scraper until all the ingredients are combined and a rough dough has formed. Turn out onto your clean work surface and knead for 15-20 minutes until you have an elastic dough which doesn’t stick to your fingers or to the work surface. Alternatively, place in your mixer with the dough hook attachment and mix on medium for about 7 minutes until the dough comes cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place back into your lightly floured bowl. Cover with a large plastic bag or a baking cloth and leave to prove.
After 30 minutes, fold and stretch your dough: using your scraper, turn the dough carefully out onto a lightly floured surface – with the ‘top’ of the dough now underneath. Taking the 4 points of the compass in turn, pull the dough gently to one side then bring over to the middle point of your dough (as if you were making a paper windmill). When all 4 ‘corners’ have been brought into the middle, turn your dough back over and place back in the bowl, so that the top of the dough remains uppermost. Repeat folding action every half an hour. This is the ‘bulk proof’ stage and should take 3 or more hours. Stretch and fold your dough about 6 times during this stage. Each time you will be building the strength of your dough and improving the final loaf.
After 3-4 hours (depending upon ambient temperature) you are ready to shape your dough. Don’t expect it to have doubled in size like a yeasted dough. It will not need de-gassing. Using the round side of your scraper, carefully tip out the dough onto a lightly floured surface, so that the ‘top’ of the dough is now lying underneath on your floured countertop. Shape your loaf by stretching the edge of the dough and bringing onto the middle, like when stretching and folding your dough during the first prove. Go around the entire circle of dough, then flip and place it seem side down on your counter, ensuring there is no flour underneath the seam.
Now you can ‘tighten’ your ball by dragging it towards you and allowing the friction of the counter to resist the movement. This should cause the ‘skin’ of your ball of dough to tighten a little. Adjust and do the same in a few different directions around your ball. Do not over-tighten. A few little stretches are all it takes. You don’t want to tear the skin that is containing your dough under tension. When you have a tight ball, place seam side up into a pre-floured proving basket – wholemeal flour works best here, as the bran prevents sticking (do not use rye flour). However, a well-shaped loaf will not stick in your banneton. It is essential that you pay attention to the tightening of the dough at this stage. If your loaf collapses when you tip it out, ready to bake, it could well be you have not tightened sufficiently before placing in the basket. If you have no proving basket, flour a good quality linen cloth well, placed inside a round 1litre bowl (eg Pyrex bowl). This prevents your dough relaxing into a puddle whilst it proves for a second time.
Cover with a loose-fitting plastic bag or baking cloth for about 3-5 hours (depending upon ambient temperature) until the dough appears ready. At this stage, the dough will bounce slowly back when pressed gently with a floured finger. If it bounces rapidly back, it needs a little longer. If the indentation remains, you have over-proved your dough. Alternatively, you can place the dough in the fridge when it appears to be nearly ready, say after 3-4 hours, and leave overnight.
When the loaves are ready to bake, turn them out onto a lightly dusted peel. Be gentle with your loaves at this stage. Slash the loaves at an oblique angle of about 30 degrees, to allow extra expansion in the oven. Place in a very hot oven, pre-heated to 240°C. As you place the loaves in the oven, spray the walls, ceiling and floor of your oven with water, avoiding the loaves themselves. Now turn down your oven down to 220 °C and bake for 35-45 minutes for the larger, until golden or dark brown, according to preference. Alternatively, bake inside a pre-heated Dutch oven or cast iron casserole dish – the lid will keep in all the steam that is released by the dough during the first 15 mins, after which you can remove the lid and continue to bake and crust over. To check reliably whether your bread is baked, place a probe thermometer into the centre. A loaf will be reliably baked when the thermometer reads 95°C or more.
Notes on refreshing your starters:
Wheat starter: Wheat starters can be kept in a liquid state (usually 100% hydration) or a stiff state (usually 50% hydration). This recipe uses a liquid starter. To refresh your liquid starter, take 100g of starter (discarding or using the rest) and add 100g water and 100g of flour, ie equal parts flour and water. If using a new recipe, always check whether a stiff or liquid starter is required and adjust your overall water/flour quantities in the recipe, if necessary. Leave the refreshed starter at a warm room temperature for 8-12 hours before using. If it is not required straight away, simply place in the fridge after a few hours. Your starter will keep refrigerated for a couple of weeks (and can even be dehydrated or frozen!), but it is best to refresh it every 7 days even if not being used.
Our workshops are run by award-winning sourdough baker Helen Underwood.