Juliet Sear's sourdough lockdown loaf
Along with banana bread, it seemed sourdough saved our sanity earlier this year, as the nation baked their way through a long lockdown at home.
As we approach the halfway point of England's second lockdown, Juliet’s giving us a masterclass in perfecting the loaf of 2020 and sharing the secret to that all important ‘starter’!
Makes: 2 Loaves
Begin by making the starter for the sourdough bread a few days ahead of when you would like to make the loaves (see notes).
For the starter
120-200g good bread flour (I use Canadian Strong Flour)
8-12 tbsp tap water (this should equal the amount of bread flour)
For the levain
100g bread flour
100g tap water
Couple of tablespoons of active starter (see above)
For the dough
700ml warm tap water
200g of bubbly levain (see above)
1kg of bread flour of your choice (I love extra strong good Canadian white, or a mix of 50/50 white and mixed grain)
20g sea salt
Gluten-free plain flour, for dusting (you could use plain flour)
To serve (optional)
Medium sized jar with lid
2x bowls lined with a tea towel
Regular knife/scissors (or a bakers lame)
2x baskets (or 2x Bannetons)
Baking tray (or cast iron pot)
If you have, a bread scraper/ bench scrape
1. Making the starter takes a few days.
To start on day one: In a clean jar, mix 30g of the flour and 2 tbsp of the water. Stir well until you have a paste. Place the lid on just loosely.
On day two: Add the same amounts again of the flour (30g) and water
(2 tbsp) and stir well to make a paste. Repeat the process again with the same quantities of flour and water for a couple of days until you see bubbling activity.
2. When the starter is bubbling and active, discard most of the starter in your jar, leaving in a heaped tablespoon’s worth or so, then feed it with about 50g bread flour and 50g water. (You can then use this to make your bread, or place it in the fridge until needed.) After it’s fed on the new flour it will then collapse, which means you need to discard some and feed again. When you want to make the bread, feed the starter the day before, so it’s bubbling and active again.
3. Make the levain by mixing all the flour, water and active starter together in a bowl with enough room for this to double in size. Loosely cover with a clean tea towel, leave overnight at room temperature to bubble up.
4. Make the dough, pour the water into a very large mixing bowl. Add in the levain mixture (it should be all bubbly and floating in the water) and mix.
5. Add in the flour to the liquid and bring it all together, making sure you’ve incorporated all of the dry flour. It will be all shaggy like a thick lumpy porridge. If it feels super dry you can add a touch more water. Leave this for about 30 minutes covered over with a clean tea towel.
6. Slightly dampen the top of the dough and sprinkle over the salt, squeezing it with your hand to really press it into the dough. Make sure it is completely mixed. Push all the dough scraps down as best you can, I use a bread scraper for this. Cover over again, and leave it for another 30 minutes or so.
7. Give the dough a good knead. (I like to take it out and slap and fold or stretch and tear for a few minutes.) It should be feeling nice and springy now, make sure the dough is all scraped down.
8. Leave this to rise on a surface for 30 minutes. When rising, it should start to expand and feel puffy, smooth and less sticky.
9. Every hour or so, do a stretch and fold, lifting up some of the dough around the sides, pulling it up and folding it over onto itself about 4 times, spinning the bowl.
10. Once it is ready, take it out of the bowl and divide it down the middle in two (a bench scrape is great for this). Then make each half into a nice tight ball and leave it out on the surface for about 20-30 minutes.
11. Dust the baskets generously. Dust over the top of the balls of dough with a little flour, and turn it over onto a floured surface with the smooth side down. Open out the dough a little and fold it into three, like a parcel. (I like to do the swaddling style method.)
12. Put the dough in the basket, seam side up, and cover. Leave for about 30 minutes before placing in the fridge. Leave overnight in the fridge to slowly ferment, then bake when you like. (NOTE you can alternatively leave it out for a few more hours and bake it straight away. It won’t have quite a classic tangy sourdough taste, and the crumb may be a little more erratic, but it will still be delicious.)
13. For the bake; preheat your oven to its maximum heat (250C/gas 10). If using a pot, place this in to heat up also, this will give you the best type of springy rise. Alternatively, if you’re using a heavy-duty baking tray, place this in the oven.
14. Place your dough in the pot, and score down on one side. Place the lid on the pot and pop back in the oven for 30 minutes.
15. Alternatively, if you are doing this on a tray, flip the bread out onto a flat surface and scatter with a little flour. Score it, then put it onto the preheated baking tray with about ½ glass of water placed into a tray at the bottom of your oven to help create steam which will make your bread lovely and crusty. Bake for 30 minutes.
16. After 30 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 240C/gas 9 and bake for a further 10-15 minutes, according to your desired finish.
17. Leave to cool for at least an hour if you can bear it, because it won’t cut properly, it will be all gooey and smooshy. This will last for 3-4 days if well wrapped, or you can slice it once it’s a little older and pop in the freezer for toasting.