For the past year, I’ve been on a sourdough tour of discovery. It’s been a fascinating ride, taking in many different dough formulae and techiques. Some I’ve sourced from bread gurus – Hamelman, Reinhart, Lepard, Glezer – but most have come courtesy of amateur home bakers generously sharing their recipes and expertise on artisan bread sites like The Fresh Loaf and Wild Yeast.
My sourdough adventures have not been confined to bread…
Try sourdough pizza and there’s no going back.
Even hot cross buns!
The sourdough breads I’ve baked have included pain de campagnes, pain au levains, walnut breads, barm breads, Italian batards, semolina sourdoughs, country boules, ciabattas, simple milk loaves, San Francisco style sourdoughs, and various adaptations of classics by acclaimed bakers such as Lionel Poilâne, Gérard Rubaud and Chad Robertson. If you’re not a breadhead these names won’t mean much to you. Don’t worry! For here we come to the core of this post, which is a return to basics: a no-fuss, everyday sourdough bread that tastes great and is simple to make.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve enjoyed every bake on this long and winding road of learning and experimentation and I will continue to try new breads – the stupefying variety of gorgeous breads waiting on that endlessly building must-try list is one of the most exciting aspects of home artisan bread baking. However, most of us do not have unlimited time, and in any case, there’s a life outside the kitchen you feel sort of obliged to acknowledge with your presence every so often. There’s much to be said, then, for an undemanding recipe that yields a gorgeous bread every bake.
Following is such a recipe. Not only easy and reliable, it delivers an extraordinarily good bread. And surprise surprise…it’s based on the simplest of sourdough bread formulae, which I’ve tweaked to accommodate my taste. Which is?
Well, I like a slightly spongy yet well-structured crumb (everything under the crust) that is tending open rather than tight, and that holds together when spread. A crust with some crackle but not so thick as to pose a dental risk. And most important of all, a flavour that transcends the simple parameters of an all-white sourdough without losing itself in complexity that might not adapt to everyday purposes.
If you want a sandwich, this bread will fit the bill. Plain buttered as an accompaniment to soup, salads or sloppy beans dishes – beeyootiful. Thick sliced with butter and honey – oh mama! Toasted for breakfast, or as bruschetta – oh mia!
The tweaks that have elevated this bread out of pain au levain suburbia are threefold:
- 1. The delivery of rye undertones through the inclusion of 30% whole-grain organic rye flour in the starter (rather than via rye added at the dough mixing stage)
- 2. The combination of high gluten bread flour and lower gluten plain flour in the dough, and
- 3. The sweetening touch of wholemeal flour.
Quality, flavour and environmental sustainability are priorities for me, so I use only premium organic flours (mostly the local Western Australian Eden Valley bio-dynamic stoneground flours, which I find superb).
But enough from moi. Here’s the recipe.
As stated, it’s based on a standard sourdough formula, which in baker percentages is:
|Filtered water||110 gm||68%|
|Pizza flour (I use Anchor)||162.5 gm||100%|
|Salt||5 gm (or to taste)||2-3.5%|
|Ripe sourdough starter*||15 gm||9%|
|Instant dry yeast||0.5 gm (a pinch or two)||0.3%|
|Olive oil||1 tablespoon, or a bit more|
I like to scale my doughs to a total pre-baked weight of 1000gm. Of course, the following recipe can be re-scaled to personal preference, using the above baker percentages.
If you don’t have a set of accurate scales (preferably digital), you’ll need to invest in some. Mine are from Target (‘Modern Living Kitchen’ – Target’s own brand, I think) and cost less than $50. Recommended by Choice Magazine as a value buy, and I have to concur.
- 157 ml 100% hydration starter (30% whole rye, 70% white flour)
365 gm bakers’ flour
145 gm plain flour
12 gm coarse-ground wholemeal flour
313 ml filtered water
8 gm pure sea salt
- 1. Whisk starter with water in mixing bowl, then mix in other ingredients apart from salt until combined. Autolyse 20-30mins.
- 2. Add salt and cut into dough (still in bowl) using dough scraper.
- 3. Stretch and fold, then repeat every 30 mins for next 2 hours if in summer and your kitchen temperature is warm (27C+). If in winter and your kitchen temperature is cold (20C or less), stretch and fold every hour for 3 hours, and proof one more hour – so, 4 hours proof in total.
(I like to transfer dough to oiled 10L Décor oblong container and after S&Fs drape the dough with food grade plastic bag then put cover on container. If you prefer, leave the dough in the bowl, or do the S&Fs on the kitchen bench then put it back in the bowl and cover during bulk proof rest periods).
- 4. In moderate ambient temps, 2 hours bulk proof is sufficient before retarding in fridge overnight. Take dough out of fridge next day, allow to warm for 30 mins, preshape and rest for 5-10 mins, then shape and proof – draped with a tea towel to prevent drying out – for 40 minutes.
- 5. Alternatively, you can bake directly out of the fridge, in which case you need to pre-shape and shape before retarding overnight (and increase pre-retardation bulk proof by 30-45 mins in summer, or 1.5 hours in winter, assuming your kitchen temperature fluctuates with the seasons).
(Note: Above proofing times are approximate only – you’ll learn to ‘read’ your dough rather than going by the clock, but while you’re learning the proof times suggested above should be a good guide.)
If you’re already baking your own sourdough bread, give this one a go. I reckon it’s hard to beat as an everyday bread.
If you’re thinking about baking your own naturally leavened bread and have a starter ready to rock, go ahead – make your day! Follow the recipe and procedure above and you can’t go wrong…and if you’re wondering whether it’s worth your time, assess that after you tuck into your first slice of this superb sourdough bread. Here are a couple of pics of my most recent bake to tempt you onwards…
Note the crazing on the crust – you get this lovely effect when you bake straight out of the fridge after retarding the shaped dough overnight. And if you’re very lucky – as I was with this bake – your bread will ‘sing’ to you for as long as 10 minutes when you take it out of the oven!
The all-important ‘crumb shot’!