Sourdough Bread

I might have mentioned that I have turned into Roddy’s very own version of Nigella…

For a while I have baked him regular sponge cakes with sunken cherries, his favourite. However, I have expanded my horizons:

A few months ago it dawned on me that we might be exposed to factory baked cardboard bread during our trip. Oh the horror! I cannot stand cheap and nasty bread. It makes you feel bloated and I am sure it is very unhealthy. So I decided to train myself in the art of baking. I Googled my way to the holy grail of breads, the sourdough loaf. Being German, I grew up on that stuff and have always loved it but so far have always failed in producing a tasty result. Finally, though, I thought that I am not a total thicko and should be able to bake a decent loaf of bread, so I gave it another go. Initially I failed numerous times. The loaves tasted fine but were as dense as bricks. At one point I thought that I should stick to simpler yeast based breads, but then my inner master baker had some stern words with me and I gave it another go. Success at last! Each batch seems to be getting better than the previous one, possibly because the starter is maturing. We bought a small oven for the van, which works brilliantly. Now we have a regular supply of amazing bread. Here is my rye recipe, followed by the recipe for the sourdough starter.

Rye Sourdough Bread

Mix together:

500-600g sourdough starter

300-400g rye flour

300-400g whole wheat (or a mix of whole wheat, spelt, plain wheat… It’s all quite flexible really)

A handful of linseed or other seeds (optional)

15g salt

A large tablespoon of honey

Enough cool to lukewarm water, ca. 300-400ml, to make a fairly soft dough.

Not firm, this should be very sticky and sloppy but not runny. Don’t even try to shape it with your hands… Don’t add all water at once but as it is mixing together, add more to achieve the desired consistency. Different flours absorb different amounts of water. It’s also a great idea to use potato water or other cooking water as it all adds bacteria and depth of flavour. Just make sure there was no salt added to the water when used for cooking.

Beat, ideally in a mixer with a paddle whisk like the K-whisk in a Kenwood, on high power for ca. 10 minutes to get the gluten going. You will see it change a little and come together more as the gluten is working but you still won’t be able to shape it with your hands – it’s a sticky, shaggy mess.

Rest in the mixing bowl, covered with cling film for ca 6 hours or until risen by about an inch. Room temperature is fine.

Carefully scrape and lift the dough into two loaf tins (use Teflon ones that don’t need greasing). Don’t mix the batter, in order to keep the air bubbles in the dough.

Stand for circa 1 hour or until risen a little bit, circa 1 cm. I often stand them in the cold oven to avoid having to move them because you don’t want to destroy the mousse-like structure that should have developed during the 6 hours rising time too much and because it saves space – motorhome trick.

They should be in the lower half of the oven, which you can now simply turn on to 220 Degree Celcius (no pre-heating required) and bake for circa 50 minutes. Unlike with a cake, you can open the oven if you want to check at any time. Many recipes say that the oven needs to be hot and that you have to spray water into the oven but I find my method works well as there is so much water in the dough anyway. Also the gentler development of heat doesn’t shock the bacteria so that you get more ‘oven-rise’! See me? See Nigella?

Pop the loaves out of their tins and tap the bottoms, which should sound hollow. Stand to cool. Freeze one and eat the other. Great for toasting too and keeps fresh really well.

You can use any flour for this recipe, it does not have to be a rye loaf but I love the sour taste you get from it. The honey gives it that sweet and sour quality. (This is where I am licking my honey pot fingers seductively.)

How to make a sourdough starter

Take 200g flour – any grain but not self-raising

Add 200ml lukewarm water

Mix in a Tupperware bowl with lid and let stand at room temperature

Feed every day or two with another few tablespoons of flour and add some water to keep the consistency soft, not runny but not firm either. Always give it a good stir when you add more.

After a few days the dough should start to smell sour and develop bubbles. That’s good as the dough is now fermenting. It’s eating all the protein in the new flour. I think of my starter as a pet that needs a little bit of TLC but is really quite hardy. Mine even once froze when I kept it in a fridge that was too cold and at one point I added a little yeast when I felt it was very lifeless. If you intend to bake a lot, keep it out of the fridge but if you don’t, then let it live in the fridge as it will be less active.

Tend to your starter for a week or two. By then it should be ready but it will not yet make brilliant bread. The older the starter, the better it will get. Vary the types of flours you feed it with, as each flour will have different bacteria, which will make your starter more versatile. It’s a good idea to feed it with the main flour you intend to use in your next loaf for a few days beforehand so that you have the necessary bacteria in your starter: Use rye flour if the next batch will be a rye bread.

By the time you have an established starter that has been well fed with additional flour and water, you should have about 800g of dough. Take ca. 600g off and use it in the recipe. Keep the remaining 200g and feed them as before. Always keep about that much back as your ongoing starter.

The other day I made two rye loaves but forgot the salt and the honey! Shock Horror! The bread is a little bland but actually still tastes fine, especially with a savoury topping. It was mix of rye and whole wheat flours with linseeds. It’s probably healthier for us…

I love rye, partly because I grew up on it in the bread heaven that is Germany but also because you don’t feel bloated afterwards. I actually now find shop bought bread, even good bakery bought bread, blant and dusty. I have turned into a bread snob!

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