"Life's sweeter with sourdough."
We're no strangers to the delights of sourdough having been trying our hand at this delicious bread, with it's characteristic fermented sour tang, since attending a sourdough course run by the wonderful E5 Bakehouse in Hackney, London.
However, like many home bakers, we've seen our success with this naturally yeasted loaf vary from spectacular win to spectacular fail. From gloriously golden and crisp loaves, to moldy starters to damp pancakes, consistency can be tricky to achieve.
With a happy and healthy 100% rye starter bubbling away and the Real Bread Campaign celebrating Sourdough September we though it was time to go back to basics with home baking aficionado and smiling and patient teacher Jack Sturgess's (a.k.a. Bake with Jack) Sourdough Loaf for Beginners. His blog and YouTube channel are awash with easy to follow recipes with fantastic guidance on creating the best home baked bread and avoiding some of the most common pitfalls. He's a regular demonstrator at food festivals and runs courses and classes in the South of England.
We start by giving our starter a feast (flour and water) and leave it to get super active and bubbly overnight. The next day we make a dough using starter (100g as there's no pre-ferment in this recipe), flour, water and salt and leave it to rest for a short while.
The dough gets a fold (not a knead) and is left to rise for a couple of hours. You fold using water as your non-stick medium and it's incredibly effective. Repeat this process a second time before moving on to shaping. First up is a gently pre-shape, building some tension in the dough, and happens on a lightly floured surface before resting for an hour. The final shaping creates the loaf shape (we have a round banneton so use a simple boule shape) and is a delicate fold and pinch to maintain all the bubbles in the dough. Placed in a floured banneton the dough is put to bed in the fridge overnight.
The next morning it's out with the loaf while your oven comes up to temperature. One of the secrets to a fantastic rise is getting a good 'oven spring' and for that you need direct heat on the base of your loaf. We have an old terracotta tile that we use regularly as a pizza stone but any piece of stone/granite/heat proof tile will work (make sure you check it's safe to bake).
The dough is released onto a floured peel (we use a baking sheet with no lip) and given a quick score with a lame (Jack has some fantastic tips on his vlog) before being slid onto the hot stone. Boiling water in a tray creates essential steam to keep your crust from setting too quickly. An initial blast at a high heat gives lift before a longer slower bake to cook your loaf through.
What a beauty! Our ear is small but a bigger confident cut next time will sort that out. The fact is It's still got a ear and we couldn't be more chuffed. To everyone who looks at 'artisan' bread and thinks, "I wish I could bake like that", get in your kitchen and give sourdough a go. The rises and falls (terrible pun but how could we not?) are all part of your baking journey and you're bakes will be all the better for it.