If you love something for nothing, as most of us do, you’ll love making sourdough bread. But be warned, nurturing that living mass of yeasts in a jar can become compulsive. You’ll end up with delicious bread made from nothing more than air (and the yeast it contains), flour, water, oil and water. The first step is to grow your sourdough starter. Put about 100g of wholemeal flour in a bowl. Add some tepid water and beat it well with a wooden spoon until you have a thick, smooth batter. Put the bowl in a plastic bag or cover with cling film and leave to mature somewhere warm. The next day it should have started to ferment – bubbles appear on the surface and it starts to smell slightly yeasty. Mine took a few days to get to this stage. The starter is now ready to be ‘fed’. Add another 100g flour and more warm water and beat again. Leave for another 24 hours, discard half the mixture and repeat the ‘feed’ by adding 100g flour and water and beating well. Every day for the next week do the same and then you’re ready to bake.
If you want to keep the starter active, you need to continue this feeding process daily. Or you can put it in the fridge for up to a week and feed it weekly to get it going again. You can even freeze it although mine took a few days to revive after this treatment.
To make a loaf, put 150g of the starter (about half) into a mixing bowl and add 250g high-grade flour and 270ml warm water. Mix together and leave in a warm place for about 12 hours by which time it should be at least twice the size and bubbling. Add another 300g flour, a tablespoon of olive oil and two teaspoons of salt and bring together to make a fairly moist dough. Knead the dough vigourously for at least ten minutes, adding a little more flour if necessary. Put the dough back in the bowl and cover with a cloth. Allow to rise slowly in a cool pantry perhaps – possibly overnight, depending on temperature. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface, form into the shape you want and place on a baking tray or into a loaf tin. Allow to rise again in a warm place for 3-4 hours. If I’m short of time I don’t do the double rise – just slap it in the tin or, for free form, on a baking sheet after kneading. Pre-heat the oven to 250 degrees C. Put the loaf in the oven and put a baking tray beneath and fill it with an inch of boiling water from the kettle to give a steamy atmosphere. Bake for 15 minutes then reduce the temperature to 200 degrees C and top up the tray with boiling water if required. Bake for another 25 to 30 minutes until the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least half an hour before cutting. You’ll need to eat it within about a day of making it as it doesn’t keep well. I slice and freeze any extra for toast and toasted sandwiches.
For pizza bases (this quantity makes two large pizzas) I put the dough onto pizza trays after the first rising, top with fresh toppings and bake for 15-20 minutes at 200 degrees C. Quicker than take out. I’ve also made excellent naan bread from the sourdough starter.
I based this on the recipe from the excellent River Cottage Everyday.