I came across the video above a few days ago. Now this is how I'd really like to be able to make sourdough bread at home. It features Sam Clark, in the Moro kitchen, making it look ridiculously easy - leave a 'sponge' overnight, mix in more flour in the morning, grab a handful of dough, plonk it in a proving basket (no kneading or stretching!!), leave to rise for 40 minutes (40 minutes!!) and throw it in the oven. Bish, bash and, indubitably, bosh. The video is entitled 'How To Bake Sourdough Bread'. As opposed, say, to 'How To Bake Sourdough Bread If You Have A Restaurant Kitchen, A Mahoosive Industrial Mixer And A Fuck-Off Wood-Burning Oven'.
Meanwhile, in a small flat somewhere in Peckham...
But then, after two further attempts, I thought, well, maybe if I write about it someone else out there might find it useful, might be encouraged to have a shot. I'll wager there's quite a few people who fit the same profile as me, that is: we're half-way decent home cooks with little or no baking expertise save for the odd cake, more than content to buy our bread from the experts (in my case living within easy access to the produce of quite a few excellent bakeries - some of my favourites being The Flour Station, Franco Manca and Blackbird). But once or twice a year, inspired by a newspaper article or, perhaps, a gift of a ladleful of starter from a friend, we'll waste almost an entire weekend in the labour intensive production of what is essentially a flour-based manhole cover.
But one of the things I've learned is that it's really is worth persevering, adapting, experimenting. Because, I now think, there are actually an almost infinite number of permutations of recipe/flour/oven/environment - and you've got to find the one that works for you in your own kitchen using your oven. It would just be nice if the cookery writers mentioned that fact when banging out a recipe for the Sunday food and drink sections.
So I'll give you the recipe that I used for these three loaves but I'm not suggesting for a moment that you follow it. By all means do if you want, but first I'd suggest getting hold of a book that explains in detail the process of bread-making. I borrowed the River Cottage Handbook No. 3: Bread by Daniel Stevens from my local library. There are 50-odd pages of explanation before the first recipe.
The recipe below is a mash-up of his 'My Sourdough' recipe (which I can't seem to find online) and this one from Laura Hart (which also gives instructions on creating a starter). Dan Stevens' recipe mentions adding oil, but it isn't mentioned in the ingredients list. I added a tablespoon of olive oil. Neither mention the temperature of the water. Mary Contini (of Valvona & Crolla fame) suggests a water temperature of 30C in the summer and 40C in the winter for her pizza dough and I thought I'd stick with that formula here.
You'll see from the photos below how the second and third attempts varied from the first one. None of them, I have to say, had the large air pockets you like to see in, or had much of the distinctive sour tang of, a sourdough. The first issue was almost certainly because I've been adding more flour during the stretching/kneading process in an attempt to get the dough to hold its shape. With the second, maybe the starter needs time to mature. I guess you'd probably more accurately describe what I've produced so far as a 'campagne' style of bread. But they all tasted lovely. And, of course, cost peanuts.
I reckon I'm at the beginning of a long and meandering journey towards a really good sourdough. But I think I might just get there. Eventually.
Above: the second loaf (different make of flour)...
Above: the third attempt (same flour as above but with 20% rye added)...
...with a much denser crumb
kitchen + equipment
I have an open-plan kitchen, free of draughts (double glazing) with your normal average temperature for a home (68F-ish, I'm guessing), with a bog standard electric fan oven. Set to maximum, it reaches about 240C (fan, remember).
I used a mixer with a dough hook to make the dough, but of course you can do this by hand, as in the Laura Hart recipe.
For the final rise, not yet having a proving basket, I lined a plastic colander with a piece of well-floured linen.
I used a bread knife (as recommended by Dan Stevens) to make the slashes on the top of the dough.
For the baking I used a water spray, a tray of boiling water at the bottom of the oven and my pizza stone.
To transfer the dough to the oven, not yet owning a peel, I tipped it out onto one of those cheap perforated oven chip trays and slid that onto the pre-heated pizza stone in the oven.
I've started saving up my pennies for this proving basket and this peel.
As I said, the Laura Hart recipe tells you how to make one from scratch.
Feed your starter daily or keep in the fridge for a week or so. Remove from the fridge a couple of days before you want to use it and start feeding it again. Don't feed it on the day you start making the dough - you want to have a 24 hour gap so it's hungry.
500g strong white bread flour
1 scant dsp fine salt
1 tbsp olive oil (optional)
more strong white flour for kneading/dusting
polenta flour for dusting
The night before baking, using a food mixer with a dough hook, mix together 250g of the flour, the water and the starter. Cover the mixer bowl with a plastic bag.
The next day, add the remaining flour and the salt; mix on a low speed to combine, then add the oil and mix that in. Turn onto a floured worktop and knead for ten minutes.
Form into a round and place in a bowl. Cover with a plastic bag and leave for one hour.
Flour your worktop again and tip out the dough onto it. Squidge it out with your fingertips to form a square (like a dimpled focaccia). Stretch the side furthest from you away and fold it into the middle. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat. Repeat with the other two sides. Form into a round and return to the bowl. Cover with a plastic bag and leave for an hour.
Repeat the above process twice more.
final shaping + proving
Flour your worktop again and tip out the dough. Shape it into a tight round. It's rather difficult (for me anyway) to describe how to shape a loaf in words only, so I'll let this video do it for me (it's the third loaf that she makes into a round at 2:20).
Dust a cloth-lined colander, or proving basket if you have one, with flour and place your shaped round into it, seam side up. Leave to prove for (very) approximately three hours. It wants to double in size.
After ten minutes reduce the oven to 200C fan. Bake for approximately 30 minutes until the bread is crusty and sounds hollow when you tap its base.
Leave to cool on a wire rack.
I'd love to get your comments, guidance and tips. Just don't have a pop because I don't really know what I'm talking about. That's kind of the point.