How to make a sourdough loaf (using a thermomix) by an absolute rank amateur
Today I'd really prefer not to think about the crummy day I've had and focus instead on sourdough. From having no affinity for it at all a few years ago, I've recently developed a taste for the stuff. That delicious heavy crust and the light sour taste of the soft bread inside... delicious!
The best sourdough is of course from the Berry Sourdough Bakery which is well worth a visit if you're in this part of the world, but sadly, obtaining our daily bread from there would stretch the budget just a little too much, so I've been having to learn to do it myself.
After several requests from friends to give them a recipe, here's a slightly more lengthy explanation of how I do it.
Bear in mind two things however: firstly, I use my thermomix, which does all the kneading and saves me a lot of time and mess. Secondly, I am a rank amateur and do not hold myself up as an expert in any way. If you want to make great sour dough, go and do what I should have done - take a course in it and read a book or watch a youtube video or something.
If you're sticking with me and my amateur status, read on, fine people.
To make any sourdough products at all, you need a starter. This is the 'natural yeast' bit. Sourdough has no added yeast. It uses the natural yeasts in the air that ferment when fed and cultivated.
To begin my starter I googled 'how to make a sourdough starter' and found my way to a starter recipe, no longer on the internet, sadly. It was based on wholemeal flour (spelt I think, but it could equally be rye or wheat) and pineapple juice. I added a few spoons of flour to a bit of pineapple juice on day 1 and then every second day added a little more of each.
Two things are important apparently. Use a plastic or wooden spoon. Metal spoons react badly with the cultures. And use a glass jar. I use a washed out coffee jar which sits on my kitchen windowsill and remains about 3/4 full at all times. When I use some for a new loaf of bread, I add more flour and water and stir it up and let it sit.
Sometimes the starter bubbles up like crazy and looks wild with energy. Other times it's quieter and more sedate. Sometimes on the quiet days I add a couple of pinches of sugar and it seems to come back to life again. I also vary the flour I add to the starter, just because we all like something different to eat occasionally.
Apparently a starter takes 6 weeks to get to maximum strength. If you're desperate for sourdough before then, you can add a little yeast to each batch to help it rise. You'll still get the great sourdough taste.
It takes a long time to make sourdough. I start about 8pm at night, let it rise overnight and then bake it when I wake up in the morning. The hardest bit is leaving it for 20 minutes once it's cooked before I eat it.
So here's how it goes. I put all of this into my thermomix:
200g sourdough starter
3 tsps salt
400 g warmish water
40g olive oil
750g bread flour
I mix it on speed 6 for about 10 seconds until it's all combined. Then I set the knead function for three minutes and let it do its thing.
(If you're not using a thermomix, the dough will need to be kneaded. Either with a dough hook in a mixer, or by hand. A recipe for a great rustic sourdough loaf with minimal kneading can be found at stonesoup.com. I've made this one too. I found it yummy, but more time consuming and a bit more trouble than my thermomix version.)
At this point, the dough looks like this:
The next step is to shape it. I put it on a tray lined with baking paper, get some flour on my hands and gently pat it into a long rectangle. To make it smooth I kind of tuck it underneath itself. Imagine it's like making a bed, smoothing out and tucking in the bottom sheet. It then looks like this:
Once it's shaped, I leave it overnight to rise. To be honest, it doesn't rise that much.
Most of the rising seems to happen in the oven. Before you put it in though, it's important to cut some slits into the top. It develops a very thick crust which will stop the bread rising if there's no 'give' cut into it.
Use a sharp knife, saw carefully and don't press down too hard. I made cuts like this, but you could do whatever you like.
Oops. That one's upside down. Ah well. Keeping your loaf right side up, put it into a preheated oven with a tray in the bottom of it. (The reason for this will be clear in a minute.)
I heat my oven really hot. Between 200 and 250 degrees centigrade to be exact. And it needs to cook for a long time. I put in today's loaf for 50 minutes but it was undercooked. It needs to sound hollow when you knock on it.
About 15 minutes into the cooking, open your oven door and throw a cup of water into the tray at the bottom of the oven. The water should hit the tray and turn to steam, thus making the oven quite humid. Something about the humidity makes the crust thicker and chewier and gives the bread a lovely colour.
Hopefully when you pull your bread out of the oven it will look something like this:
Now you have to wait 20 minutes before you cut it up, add real butter and strawberry jam and enjoy your homemade loaf of sourdough.
Hey, by the way. Yes, you, reading this.
Did you know this post is the most popular one on my whole blog? Probably the most popular post I've ever written, and I've been blogging for years. So thanks for reading it.
And I know you're busy looking for the very best recipe for your sourdough, but you're going to have some time to kill while you wait for it to rise, so why not read something? Check out this little present from me: a free book for you. I'm a better writer than I am a baker. (Though I think I'm a pretty good baker...)
a gift for all the aspiring sourdough bakers of the world
Just tell me where to send it by entering your email address below, and I'll have the book to your inbox right away.