Making a simple loaf of sourdough bread at home is simple. Though, if you read many articles on the subject it appears complex and bound by many rules and must-do’s. Those do improve your bread, but they do take practice. Basic bread does not require those rules.
With the world in lockdown, many people appear to have bought all of the bread flour, and are apparently doing their own bread baking. Indeed, on a couple of groups to which I belong online, there are people wading through the basic questions.
For about a year now, almost all of the bread we eat at home is sourdough. It’s been a year of experimentation, occasionally of “frisbee” bread. We certainly prefer it to any bread from the supermarket and most bakers. For some years we have totally avoided buying the stuff in a plastic bag, which is called bread.
In fact, with a few gaps, I have been baking bread at home for around 13 years. I had never cracked sourdough, so, about a year ago, I started working on that. My normal week includes baking between 6 and 8 loaves, using a no-knead method, eaten at home and distributed to family. (They are feeling very deprived during the lockdown!). My loaves are rarely “perfect” or, for that matter, consistent, but they taste great and store and freeze well.
Making that Simple Loaf of Bread
If you take some flour and add to it 60% of its weight in water, and then add a leavening agent, in the form of yeast or sourdough starter, you have bread dough. knead the dough for a few minutes, and leave it for some hours and it will expand (rise) as it ferments. Knock the gasses out and knead it a little more, and it will rise again. Bake that and you have bread. Simple!
I do bake sourdough, and you will need a starter for that. You can make the starter or buy it from various sources. There are many ways to do it. I’ll write more on that another time. Here’s Jack with video on making your starter. In the recipe below I suspect that taking out the starter and adding a sachet of 5 to 7g of yeast should work, though don’t hold me to that!
To prove the point I did that last week, in the form of a white loaf and a granary loaf, using the same recipe.
And here’s that recipe for you. A simple loaf of bread.
A Simple Loaf of Bread (Sourdough)
- Bowl of around 3.5l.
- Bread loaf pan. any loaf pan will do, as will a smaller round loaf tin. This is optional as you can shape the loaf in a bowl and turn it out on to a baking tray.
- 500 g White Bread Flour Any white bread flour will do. I also use a mix 0f 300g bread flour and 200g plain flour.
- 300 g Water I use filtered, but plain cold tap water works just fine.
- 50 g Starter Double this for a shorter bulk fermentation.
- 7 g Salt
- 25 g Olive Oil OPTIONAL. Gives a softer texture to the bread. Any vegetable oil will do as well, though I haven't tried that.
Mixing the Dough
- in a bowl mix the sourdough starter with the water, stirring to break up the starter.
- Add the olive oil.
- Add the flour and salt.
- Mix until it is all combined.
- Leave it to rest for 10 minutes.
Kneading the Dough
- Turn the dough on to a lightly floured surface.
- Knead the dough until it forms a smooth surface – between 5 and 10 minutes. Form it into a ball.
- Return the ball of dough to the bowl and cover.Typically, cover the bowl with clingfilm. A damp dish towel works, as does a bit of baking parchment secured with an elastic band.I normally don't wash the bowl first, and sometimes lightly oil. Different bakers have different approaches, but they all seem to work.
Bulk Fermentation / First Rise
- Leave the bowl out of the way in a safe place.The length of the rise will depend very strongly on the temperature. In my kitchen at around 21 degrees Centigrade the bulk ferment takes around 20 hours.
- Keep an eye on the dough, particularly as you reach the end of the 20 hours. Once it has doubled, it's ready to shape and bake.
Shaping The Dough
- Knock the dough back by flattening it out on a lightly foured surface, and then folding it back on its self.Do that twice.Roll the dough into a ball, and then into an oval, and drop it into an oiled or lined bread pan.Shaping those beautiful boules and batards takes practice. feel free to try. The use of a pan is a fail-safe approach.
- Cover the pan with a clean kitchen towel and leave it somewhere safe to rise and double.This typically takes between 1 and 2 hours.
Bake the Bread
- Boil the kettle.
- Slash the top of the loaf with a sharp knife, baker's lame or razor blade.
- Put about a cup of boiling water into the bottom of the oven. This ensures a softer crust. It is not vital.I will often skip this, and simply use a water spray to spritz a bit of water over the loaves.
- Put the loaf in the oven and turn the heat on to 230ºC
- After 35 minutes, turn the heat down to 190ºC.
- After 10 minutes check the loaf. It is baked when it sounds hollow when tapped at the bottom.If it is not ready, put it back in the oven for 5 minutes.
- Flours If you prefer a brown loaf, try replacing 200g of white flour with wholewheat or granary flour. Increase the water by 20g.
- Yeast: I bake with sourdough, so I have a couple of healthy starters waiting in the fridge to be used. I haven’t tried it, but I believe that replacing the sourdough starter with 5 to 7g of dry bakers yeast will still produce a decent loaf. First and second rise times will drop to around 2 and 1 hours, respectively. Though it won’t be as tasty!
- If you are using sourdough starter, remeber that is is a bacterial culture. If you are using ant-bac cleaners make sure to rinse and dry your equipment well to avoid any residual cleaner killing the starter.
- Rise Times: The time for the dough to rise depends very much on the amount of starter and the ambient temperature. Thry these:
- Double the starter quantity. This gives me a 12 hour bulk ferment.
- Triple the starter quantity and do the bulk rise in the oven with just the light on. That will cut the rise time to around 5 hours.
- If you do want to experiment with shaping the bread, try this video from Bake with Jack.
Some Bread Resources
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One of my favourite go to resources is “Bake with Jack“. He takes a basic approach, and delivers his methods in a series of YouTube videos. Check out #bakewithjack or @bakewithjack in your social media.
Sourdough Bread Equipment List
Here’s a list of some of the gear I have referred to here, directly or in passing. I have to say I try to keep to the minimum and buy only when I think it will be well used. These are tools I use, mainly purchased from Amazon. Click the link to see and buy.
- My scales are the most important piece of equipment. Everything is weighed, though extreme accuracy is not necessary. I use inexpensive Salter scales.
- I keep my starters in the fridge in one litre Kilner jars, but there is a special plastic jar for the purpose.
- Dough scrapers are essential.
- A large bowl, 5 litres or bigger. It gives space for the dough to rise. Many do not recommend a stainless steel one for sourdough, but I use it with no issues. A Plastic or traditional stoneware one will work.
- A Danish whisk – useful!
- Bannetons – round or oval.
- Baker’s lame for slashing the dough. I tried a few options but that sharp razor blade is invaluable.
- A spray bottle to spritz the oven.
- Britta Filter jug – I prefer filtered water for bread and drinking.
Wrapping it Up
So making a decent loaf of bread at home is simple.
Enjoy your bread, and please give me some feedback when you eat it.