Making sourdough is a bit of a labour of love. First you need to make a starter, or “Biga” in Italian, which is where the yeasts to raise the bread comes from. A sourdough starter relies on the natural yeasts present all around us in the air, and the starter helps harness these naturally occurring yeasts and allows us to make bread using them.
It takes four days to make a good sourdough starter, but the end result is well worth it.
Day 1 . . . In a large bowl, mix the flour and water to make a batter the consistency of thick pancake batter. Beat it well, then cover with a clean tea towel and leave somewhere fairly warm for 24 hours.
Day 2 . . . It’s now time to start feeding your starter by adding another 100g of strong bread flour and 100g water and whisking again. Then once again cover and leave in a warm place for another 24 hours.
Day 3 . . . It’s feeding time again, but this time just sprinkle with 100g of strong bread flour over the top (Do Not Whisk). Cover once again and return to the warm place.
Day 4 . . . If you smell your starter, it should be developing a slight “beery” smell, this is good it means your starter is beginning to ferment. Today is the day to discard half of your starter, this may seem odd but it’s kind of like when you buy a new kettle and you have to boil it once and get rid of the water. So once you have removed half-ish of your starter, you can add another 100g strong bread flour and another 100g of water and mix well. Once again, cover and leave for another 24 hours.
Day 5 . . . Your starter can now be used 🙂
For the loaf . . .
300g strong bread flour
1tbsp olive oil
(1). The night before you want to bake your loaf, create a sponge: in a large bowl, combine the flour, starter and 275ml warm water. Mix, cover with clingfilm and leave overnight. In the morning it should be clearly fermenting: thick, sticky and bubbly.
(2). Next day, add the flour to the sponge, along with the oil and salt, and nix together well. You will have a fairly sticky dough, so don’t worry if it seems wrong. If it seems tight and firm, add a dash more warm water; if it’s too loose, add more flour, but do leave it fairly wet – you’ll get better bread that way.
(3). Turn out the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and silky – about 10 minutes – then put in a lightly oiled bowl and turn it to coat with the oil. Cover and leave to rise for a couple of hours.
(4). Deflate the risen dough by punching it down on a lightly floured surface. You now need to prove the dough again, but first form it into a neat round, tucking the edges of the dough underneath itself so you have a smooth, round top and a rougher base.
(5). If you have a proper proving basket, dust it liberally with flour, but if not make a proving basket by lining a wide, shallow bowl with a clean, floured cloth. Place your round of dough smooth side down in the basket or bowl, cover and leave to rise, in a warm place this time, for an hour and a half to three hours, until roughly doubled in size again.
(6). Finally, it’s now ready to bake.
(7). Pre-heat your oven to its highest setting (250C/Gm 9/ 10 is ideal). Five minutes before you want to put the loaf in, place a baking tray or pizza stone in the oven to heat up.
(8). Take the hot baking tray or stone from the oven, dust it with flour and carefully tip the risen dough out of the basket/bowl on to it.
(9). Put the loaf in the oven, give it a few squirts from the spray bottle and leave to bake for 15 minutes.
(10). Lower the heat to 200/ Gm 6 and bake for a further 25-30 minutes, until the now well-browned loaf vibrates and sounds hollow when you tap its base.