80:20 White:Spelt Sourdough
We’ve been making sourdough for a few years now and, whilst we’re fairly consistent, sometimes things just don’t quite work as well as we’d hope. Yesterday we tried using an oval banneton for the first time. Because it won’t fit in our trusty Dutch oven we decided to bake on our pizza stone (a 3cm thick, 30cm square terracotta tile). Without the lidded casserole you have to use a tray of water in the bottom of the oven to help your crust stay moist, however, fan ovens are so efficient at getting hot that they can scupper even the best laid plans.
We baked at 240 degrees centigrade, briefly opening the door to let the steam out and set the crust but, the loaf was very much done at just 30 mins. Despite using a 100% white flour with high gluten, the oven spring was retarded and the loaf barely opened. The crumb, whilst perfectly normal looking for a standard batch loaf, had none of the open texture of a classic sourdough (something which has eluded us of late).
Despite reading plenty about the virtues of gluten in creating an open texture we decided to go for flavour with a 80:20 White:Spelt mix. The resulting loaf has much to celebrate including a hugely satisfying ear, multi-coloured because of a well timed oven spring and rise. This is how we went from meh to a-meh-zing in 24 hours! :
Firstly, you’ve got to have a happy starter. Whilst there is much to celebrate about a really good, dependable starter, the myth that your starter is 10, 20, a hundred years old needs to be broken! A healthy starter has it’s bulk removed before feeding, so a 100 year old starter may have the same yeast strain, but the gloop itself is most definitely not 100 years old. Ours originally came from the E5 Bakehouse in Hackney, London and is rye based. It’s fed every 2-3 weeks when we’re not baking and 2-3 times in the week leading up to a bake. Each time we discard 80-90% of the bulk and feed with equal parts rye flour and water. The resulting bubbly mix is kept sealed in a Kilner style jar at room temperature.
Now that you’ve got a happy starter you need your go-to recipe, after all, who can be bothered digging around for a book or Googling every time you want to make the same thing?! Our go-to recipe comes from the Weekend Bakery and they call it their Sourdough Pain Naturel, however, our method, timings and bake all come from a variety of sources, including Bake With Jack’s Sourdough Loaf for Beginners.
So, we start in the morning between 06:00 and 07:00 as the dog is a pretty reliable alarm clock! Mix 15g of your bubbly starter with 115ml of water and 115g of strong white flour (we generally use Allinson’s Strong White as it comes in a bulk bag). Once combined to a thick paste, cover with cling film and set aside at room temperature.
10 hours or so later you should have bubbly soup with a strong yeasty/beery smell. This means your starter has multiplied and it’s ready to make your dough. We add 180ml of room temperature water and whisk to ensure everything is smooth and combined before adding our flour. The Weekend recipe calls for 100% white but we love to mix in a little of something different for a nuttier finish and this time we added spelt, just under 100g. Whilst there are many complex explanations about hydration and adjustments for different flour types, we’ve found that adding no more than 20% of a rye, wholemeal or spelt flour doesn’t impact on your final loaf but really boosts the flavour. With the rest of our 340g made up with white flour we mix to a ragged dough and leave for 20-30 minutes.
This resting phase is called the autolyse and allows your flour to soak up as much moisture as it can. You can skip this but we’ve certainly found better results and it shouldn’t slow you down too much. With the 20-30 mins up it’s time to add salt. 7g of finely ground sea salt, sprinkly in stages and folded in to your dough. After a couple of minutes working your dough it should be slightly glossy and you shouldn’t have any dry, ragged bits left. Cover again and leave for 90 minutes.
If you started your dough at 17:00 it should now be about 19:00. Using a dough scraper, release your dough from your bowl before wetting your fingers and folding in on itself. Whilst you don’t need to knead, a good couple of minutes folding your dough into the centre should help develop your gluten nicely. Cover again and leave for another 90 minutes.
20:30 and it’s time to knead. Release the dough with your scraper and this time just fold your dough enough to go one full turn around the bowl, about 8-10 times in all, then cover and leave for about 60 minutes.
21:30 and it’s time to shape. Flour a banneton or cloth lined bowl and set aside. Carefully release your puffy dough onto a lightly flour surface and shape. For an oval banneton you’re creating a thick sausage, but whatever shape you’re making, be gentle. Too firm a shape and your final loaf with have a more uniform loaf crumb and not the open chewiness of a sourdough. Once shaped, lightly flour and gently place in your well flour banneton. Then it’s into the fridge, uncovered, for 8-12 hours.
For us it’s 06:00 and Rodney has nudged us for his breakfast. Take your dough out of the fridge and set aside at room temperature for 60-90 minutes. Your dough is ready bake when you can gently press it with your finder and leave a dent that will very slowly disappear. Turn your oven on (without the fan if possible) to 230 degrees centigrade and put your baking stone/pizza stone/ heavy tray in to warm up. When you’re ready to bake, flour the top of your dough (it’s going to become the bottom, and gently turn out onto a peel or baking sheet. We often smooth off the excess dough but that’s entirely personal preference.
Boil a kettle and place another pan in the bottom of your over for the water. It’s best to stick to metal as ceramics can shatter. You can leave your loaf to burst as it wishes or try to control the resulting rise with a slashed pattern. For today we stuck with a simple long slash made at 20-30 degrees to the dough with a razor blade or lame. A shallow angle will help the resulting ‘ear’ develop.
Just before you open your oven spray your loaf with water, this will help the crust to stay mobile whilst your loaf undergoes ‘oven spring’. Open your oven, slide your loaf onto your baking stone (or tray) and pour your boiling water into your tray at the base of your oven, then close the door and set a time for 15 minutes. This initial phase of cooking is the ‘oven spring’ where your loaf will undergo rapid expansion. You can see from our finished loaf that our slash is darker on one side as it the slash continued to open up, exposing more and more fresh dough to the heat of the oven.
At 15 minutes we turn our oven down to 180 degrees and leave our loaf to bake through and it’s crust to set for a final 30 minutes, and that’s it! 08:00 and the whole house is smelling of delicious fresh bread. Take your loaf out and set aside to cool before slicing and revealing that classic chewy ‘Swiss cheese’ textured crumb.
So go ahead and have a go. Experiment with recipes and find what works for you, in your house, with your flour, in your oven, with your equipment. Everybody will have a different experience but no matter what, that first successful slice, no matter when it comes, will taste perfect.