Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The sourdough bread

If you thought the sourdough starter and sponge was complicated, get ready to make the actual loaf. Each step is not particularly difficult, it's just learning to read when the dough is ready. I'm going to do some follow-up posts with more details for this, but reading on should take you through the basics.

This is a recipe I have adapted to my own tastes. All sourdoughs are individual to the area you live. It's determined by the naturally occurring yeasts in the air and even what's in your skin. Every sourdough loaf should be all about it's maker. Don't be limited by this recipe. Sourdough is an incredibly forgiving medium which adapts to many ingredients, well.

This is the loaf I make for our daily bread, so the recipe is designed around subtle flavour and fine crumb. There are quite a few photos, so just be aware if you're on dial-up.

You've made the sourdough sponge (a minimum of 2 hours beforehand or up to 8 hours overnight) You really only have to wait for the sponge to double in size before using.

Add to the sponge:

1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon full cream milk powder (optional)
2 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil

*** *** ***
2-3 cups unbleached bakers flour

Only add the ingredients above the asterisk (***) to the sponge. Stir these ingredients in with a plastic scraper until well combined. Then incorporate 1 cup of the flour. Stir again until combined.

After the first cup has been incorporated - still gluggy

Add another cup of flour (cup 2) and stir until combined - or until it becomes too uncomfortable to incorporate. You never know if you can fully incorporate that second cup - it changes, so be kind to your scraper and your wrists.

After the second cup has been incorporated - getting firmer

Save your very last cup of flour for the bench. Sprinkle a little, but not the whole cup at once.

Portioning out the third cup of flour

Turning the dough onto the floured bench, start kneading until it takes up the flour. Once it starts sticking to the bench again, add more flour. In most cases I incorporate the whole cup with a few handfuls of flour to get the right consistency.

The consistency of the dough you're looking for is "tacky", but you don't want it to stick to your hands or the bench either. I'm going to have the leave the details of tacky for another post. Basically you only want it to stick temporarily to you or the bench top, but it will free itself with ease - without leaving residue.

When you're happy that your dough is malleable, knead for 10 minutes. There's a subtle change to the dough after this time. It goes from being limp to elastic - it seems to bounce back from every push and it will be smother. Roll into a ball and then place into the same glass bowl, after it has been cleaned and smeared with oil. Cover and leave anywhere between 2-6 hours, depending what the temperature, inside your house is.

I borrow a lid from a large plastic container. A large ice-cream lid would do the job too. It's a lot easier to handle than cling wrap or a wet tea towel, and it cleans very easily. Your rising dough should touch the top of the lid after 2-6 hours.

This time will allow the dough to roughly doubled in size, then it's ready to be punched down. "Punch" does not mean with force. You just use the ball of your fist to push down gently into centre of the dough. This releases the air bubbles.

You then take it out of the bowl and knead lightly for about another minute or two. You'll feel the bubbles escaping. This is what I want for a sandwich loaf. It makes the crumb a lot lighter, rather than having Swiss-cheese holes which is more common with your traditional sourdough loaves.

After squeezing out enough bubbles, you roll the dough into a sausage shape, which roughly fits the size of your bread tin, which has been oiled lightly too.

You can see in the above picture, the seam of the roll is facing upwards. That's because it gets laid on the bottom of the tin - smooth side facing up.

Some people like to make a longer sausage and fold the edges under too, but I like the no fuss approach myself. The dough gets placed in the tin and scored three times with a sharp, thin knife.

Why the scores? You'll see later, but they're about 2 cms deep, crossing diagonally over the loaf. You want the scores to go well to the edges also. Leave again in the tin for about another two hours. I like to put my oven on for 10 minutes at 50 degrees Celsius - don't put the bread in until you switch the oven off again. You also want to place a shallow bowl of boiling water at the very bottom of your oven. Once you put you loaf in and close the door, there should be just enough warm, humid conditions to avoid the top of your loaf drying out. After two hours, take it out and it should have risen to the edge (if not slightly over) the sides of the tin.

Notice how the scores have widened? You will soon see why these scores are important. With the oven empty now, crank it up to 210 degrees Celsius (fan forced oven) and 220 for a standard convection oven. This is the temp you'll cook your loaf in for 25-30 minutes. Once the oven has heated, put the loaf in. Bake for 15 minutes and then turn the loaf around in the oven.

After the allotted time, it should come out looking golden brown. You'll know it's cooked when you tap the loaf on the bottom and hear a hollow sound. Now I have a fan forced oven, you may have to experiment with other sorts (re: times and temps).

Notice how the scores have filled out again? The scores are not really there for decorative purposes. They are to stop the loaf from cracking on the sides, as the heat from the oven makes it rise. I'll show you want I mean in a minute.

But it's important when you take your loaf out of the oven, to remove it from the tin immediately. If you don't, you risk getting a soggy bottom. Make sure you use two oven mitts to stop your hands from burning as you turn the loaf out. In the picture above, you can see the loaf standing on it's bottom, but it's important when you first turn it out on the cooling rack, to have it sitting on one of it's sides. This too avoids a soggy bottom, as the humidity rising from the bench will make it soft too.

I want to show you why the scores are so important to my sandwich loaves. I'm going to show you a picture of the other side - compare it with the former side in the picture above.

This side is always the one facing the back of the oven. It rises the quickest because it's facing the hottest point of the oven. The other side has time to rise gradually. But this is where the scores help. It allows the bread to expand through the middle of the scores, rather than have one side bulging and the other side perfect.

It's also the reason you need to turn your loaf at the halfway point of cooking. Try never to leave the door open for too long while you're turning it. You want to keep that heat in.

Now the fun part - the autopsy! Whenever cutting a freshly baked loaf, make sure it's been cooling from the oven at least 10-15 minutes. If you don't, you'll have an irrevocably limpy loaf.

This is what I consider a perfect crumb - only what I am aiming for. It's sweet, light and just the right amount of holes. I don't want Swiss cheese holes in the bread I make sandwiches with. It has just a light sprinkling spread evenly through the loaf.

Notice also, how the top crust is thicker than the bottom and sides? If the bottom crust is too thick, you've cooked it in the oven too long, or had it on too low a shelf in the oven. Aim to place your bread in the middle of the oven, if it's possible. That way you'll get the heat at the top of your oven, giving that lovely thick crust at the top.

I hope to do a post on kneading and dough tips soon.

In the meantime, sit back with a chunky slice of your own home made sourdough, and live like a peasant for a day. All that hard work but so much reward!

My favourite way to eat sourdough is toasted with lashings of real butter and marmalade. Home made Kumquat marmalade is the best!

1 comment:

  1. Wow...another great bread post! I have been meaning to ask you about the size of your loaf pan. I had bought a pan that seemed the right size but with baking, I think its just a bit too big. While the bread rises well, I get a lower loaf overall than yours because I don't have enough dough for it. Size matters? LOL!


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