Okay. Your culture is fermenting away nicely and you’ve just finished force-feeding yourself yet another slice of only-supermarket-bread-left-on-the-shelves and, hopefully, people have started selling bread flour again. You’re ready.
Some equipment that will really help you out:
A dough scraper, metal and preferably 15cm wide.
Bannetons – the cheap wicker ones are fine and you don’t need one which has the linen lining. For the purposes of this loaf I’m showing you, a 1kg banneton is best, either in a boule shape (round) or, more practically, an oblong shape.
A baking cloche – assuming you don’t have a steam oven, this is the best alternative. You can also use a baking stone (which is also useful for making pizzas) or a metal baking sheet with a tray of water placed on a shelf underneath your baking bread. The problem with not using a cloche is that the oven is going to do a very good job of extracting the steam before your bread can fully benefit from it.
Brown rice flour – this is what you use to line your bannetons to stop the dough sticking. You can use normal flour, just know that it’s more likely to clag up and result in a thick pasty flour layer on your crust. Brown rice flour simply brushes away.
Patience – you need oodles of this. If your first loaf turns out perfectly then you are a better baker than most. Chances are your timings might be a little off, or temperatures of the dough weren’t quite right at one stage or another. It’s going to be a matter of try and try again to find what works for you- what works for me in my kitchen might differ from the conditions in yours.
A lame – a razor blade on a stick. It will make a nice clean cut into the bread prior to baking.
Start the day before you want to eat your bread, preferably in the morning to give the dough time to rise. This isn’t like yeast-based dough- it’s an all day affair, which is why it’s probably a good idea to do this on a Saturday.
Take the starter culture, which was fed the day before (see previous blog post), and feed it again in a new container. Add another 90g rye flour, 90g water and 90g culture. If you have done this in the same quantities previously, what is left of your culture is the perfect amount to make a 1kg loaf of sourdough.
Place this remaining culture into a big mixing bowl and add 700g tepid water (just about warm – around 35C). Mix the culture into the water until it becomes pretty homogenous. Add your flour – I use 1kg of Shipton Mill’s No.4 untreated organic flour. As long as it is organic and of good quality, you can use what you like- either plain flour or bread flour. Experiment and see what works for you.
Mix the cultured water and flour thoroughly and leave for 30 minutes, then add 25g fine salt (pure dried vacuum salt is good quality and doesn’t contain the anti-caking agents that normal table salt has) and 50g tepid water. Mix the salt and water into the dough until it is homogenous.
Every 30 minutes for 2 hours, imagine the bowl of dough split into quarters. Reach your hand underneath one corner of the dough and lift it – not too high or the dough will tear. Flop the corner onto the rest of the dough and repeat for the other corners. You should find this gets easier after each 30 minute interval as more gluten is developed. You should place a damp towel over the dough after each stretching session to keep it from drying out.
After those 2 hours are over, leave it alone for another 2 hours with the towel on top. On a warm day, this might change to 1 1/2 hours, on a cold day you might be waiting 5 or 6. The way to tell is that the dough has visibly risen (not necessarily by half) and that there are bubbles forming underneath the surface of the dough.
At the point, empty the dough onto a large and un-floured surface. If it comes away fairly cleanly, it’s a good indicator that it was ready to come out. If it struggles to come away after 30 seconds of the bowl being turned over, it probably needed longer.
Sprinkle the flour you used for the dough over the top, but not excessively – probably about 20g worth – and spread it over the surface. Use your dough scraper to form a ball with the dough – push the scraper underneath one side of the dough and, holding at about a 45 degree angle, push into the dough so that it rides up and folds itself underneath. Do this repeatedly around the dough and you should end up with a ball shape – resist the temptation to keep adding flour to make it easier as this will result in a more dense loaf.
Leave this ball, covered in a damp cloth, for 30 minutes.
Repeat the previous action to make a ball again – if making an oblong, it’s fairly easy to shape it that way instead. Sprinkle the top with brown rice flour and also flour the banneton your using. You can be quite liberal with the flour as it brushes away after cooking. The newer the banneton, the less of a coating it has of the previously used flour, so don’t be afraid of using plenty of flour. (NB never wash a banneton)
Use the dough scraper to flip the bread upside down into the banneton. Flour the dough which is still exposed and place into the fridge with a damp cloth on top. Leave overnight.
The morning you will bake, take the dough from the fridge to warm up for 1 hour before baking. In this time, place the cloche into a cold oven and turn to 230C – leave the full hour to heat the cloche fully. The same goes if you’re using a baking stone.
After the hour is up, remove the cloche carefully. Remove the lid of the cloche, invert the dough onto the base of the cloche and take away the banneton. Use a lame or serrated knife to make an incision along the length of the dough – leaving about 1 inch either side of the length.
Replace the lid and put the cloche into the oven for 30 minutes. At this point you can remove the lid and bake for another 15 minutes. If all has gone well, the bread would have risen and be a beautiful burnished brown with a hard crust. Leave on the base of the cloche until both have cooled.
If you’re using a baking sheet, make sure you have sprinkled the brown rice flour on it before inverting the dough onto it or it will stick- this is not a problem with the cloche or stone sheet. Also, place a tray of water underneath the baking sheet to create steam for the dough to rise – do not do this if using a stone/ceramic baking sheet at the steam isn’t good for it.
Happy baking! I can’t wait to see your results!