Sourdough bread

5 Jun


I grew up eating homemade sourdough bread. My dad got bitten by the sourdough bug (metaphorically, of course), and eventually built up a little business selling his extra loaves to colleagues and neighbours. He installed a second oven in the basement, doubling his output to four loaves a day.

But despite a university degree in economics, the numbers just didn’t add up. After shelling out for raw ingredients, and putting in hours of labour that started at dawn, he was grossing about $8 a day. It was the 1970s, but still…

At the height of his home-bakery career, dad had seven ice cream buckets full of sourdough starter he used in rotation. I take a very different approach, keeping only a cup of starter in a jar in the fridge. When it’s time to bake, I measure out what I need, give it a feed to replace what I’ve used, and pop it straight back into the fridge.

Dad made long, flattish loaves which he slashed diagonally, but I’ve taken to baking round loaves in my Le Creuset casserole. I use a digital kitchen scale to measure the flour, water and starter. A dough scraper is useful, and I have also bought a pair of round bannetons to proof my loaves.

But none of that is essential – what is really needed is the right attitude. You have to recognise that the starter is calling the shots, not you. Sometimes your first feeding needs eight hours, another time it might take eighteen.

While you can’t hurry the process along, you can slow it down. If your bread hasn’t finished rising when it’s time for bed, just pop it in the fridge overnight. The slow rise improves the taste anyway.

In terms of timing, I usually do the first feeding after breakfast, the second feeding before bed, and then make the dough and bake the bread the following day. But it’s pretty common for me to form the loaves and pop the bannetons in the fridge for a slow rise overnight, before baking them the following morning.

Apart from being delicious, studies have shown that sourdough bread is good for you. The bacterial fermentation alters the starch, making it slower to digest (good for avoiding spikes in blood sugar). It also breaks down the gluten to the point that some coeliacs can eat sourdough bread without a problem. Read this article in the Guardian on sourdough bread if you want to know more.

Sourdough bread
(makes two loaves)

First feeding:

Second feeding:

  • 200g sourdough starter
  • 200g warm water
  • 200g white bread flour

Bread dough:

  • 600g sourdough starter
  • 500g water
  • 400g white bread flour
  • 400g wholewheat bread flour
  • 1 Tb salt
  1. Measure 70g of your reserved sourdough starter into a small bowl.
  2. Feed your reserved starter with 35g of white flour and 35g of warm water to replace what you’ve used. Stir to combine and return to the fridge until the next time.
  3. For the first feeding, add 70g of warm water and 70g of white bread flour to the 70g of starter, and stir to combine. Cover with a lid or clingfilm and leave until it is full of bubbles and has a nice sour taste (usually 12-24 hours).
    Sourdough – first feeding
  4. For the second feeding, transfer the starter (which should weigh about 200g) into a medium-sized bowl. Add 200g warm water and 200g white bread flour and stir to combine. Cover with a lid or clingfilm and leave until it is full of bubbles and has a nice sour taste (usually 6-12 hours).
    sourdough – second feeding
  5. Transfer the starter (which should weigh about 600g) into a large bowl. Add 500g water, 400g white bread flour and 400g wholewheat bread flour. Mix well to combine (I use my hand for this). The dough will be quite wet at this stage, so leave it for half an hour to allow the flour to absorb some of the liquid.
    Sourdough – just mixed
  6. Add the salt and mix well to combine. Tip the dough onto a flat surface and give it a working over.
    sourdough – ready to stretch and knead
    I prefer to stretch, rather than knead, it. Pull the dough into a long sausage shape, then fold the ends into the middle. Turn the dough and repeat several times. (The dough may still seem a bit wet, but avoid adding more flour if possible to keep it nice and elastic. Just use your dough scraper to get it off the work surface and your hands and back  into the bowl.)
    Sourdough – stretching the dough
  7. Return the dough to the bowl, using a scraper to free it from the work surface if necessary. Leave it to rest covered for 15 minutes, then stretch again.
    Do this once more, then leave until doubled in size (usually three to six hours, but maybe more in the winter).
    Sourdough – starting to rise
  8. Carefully tip the dough onto a floured surface. Cut in half and shape into two tight loaves, being careful not to press the air out of it. Place in well-floured bannetons, dust the top of the dough with flour and leave to rest for a couple of hours (or overnight in the fridge if you prefer).
    sourdough – flour the bannetonsSourdough bread – ready to bake
  9. Place a heavy casserole with a lid (such as a Le Creuset) in the oven and heat to 500°F (250°C). Transfer the first loaf into the pot, cover and bake for 25 minutes.
    Sourdough – remove the lid
    Remove the lid and bake for a further 20 minutes until the loaf is a rich brown colour and the crust is crisp. Transfer the loaf to a wire rack to cool.
    Sourdough bread cooling
  10. Return the casserole to the oven and allow to reheat for half an hour. Bake the second loaf the same way.
    Sourdough bread – ready to eat

10 Responses to “Sourdough bread”

  1. alisa June 5, 2016 at 2:35 pm #

    Hi Andrea..what a great story about your dad and his career in sourdough. I didn’t know that about him..hence your bread making flair. Beautiful loaves of bread!..I have to get myself those baskets and try this out.alisa:))

    • Andrea June 5, 2016 at 2:46 pm #

      He made great sourdough for years, but definitely no money in it. Undoubtedly selling it below cost, but then he probably needed to charge ten bucks a loaf…;-) I’m very happy with those bannetons!

  2. Margo June 5, 2016 at 3:19 pm #

    Must try your version. I like the inclusion of wholewheat flour.

    • Andrea June 5, 2016 at 3:24 pm #

      After experimenting with different amounts of white, wholewheat and rye flours, I’ve settled on this 50-50 version as the one that works best for me.

  3. The Culinary Jumble June 6, 2016 at 7:44 am #

    Andrea, that looks delicious! I am yet to muster the courage to make sourdough bread, but yours is fantastic!

    • Andrea June 6, 2016 at 11:01 am #

      Thank you! Hope you give it a try soon – there’s something very satisfying about baking this way. It took a bit of trial and error to get a bread making routine that works for us, but I’ve done it so many times now it practically makes itself 🙂

  4. Yana June 7, 2016 at 8:04 am #

    Wow, Andrea, you must be a real sourdough connoisseur! What a nice story and AMAZING looking bread! 🙂

    • Andrea June 7, 2016 at 1:34 pm #

      Thanks, Yana! I don’t know if I’ve reached connoisseur level, but I have eaten and baked an awful lot of sourdough bread over the years…:-)

  5. Asli June 13, 2016 at 7:38 pm #

    This looks amazing. I can almost smell how delicious it is!!!

    • Andrea June 13, 2016 at 7:49 pm #

      Thank you!

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