Updated: Apr 27, 2020
Whilst I've loved the opportunity to start my own business over the last couple of years, it's not left a huge amount of time for us to do baking at home. Pre-Cakery, I'd often make bread on the weekend - and had several brief forays into the world of sourdough bread. As it's quite an involved process, you need a fair bit of time on your hands (which I don't have with a full time job, a business, a child and a husband) and so Derek, my sourdough starter has been consigned to the back of the fridge for several years.
But as we've got all the time in the world on our hands at the moment, I've taken the opportunity to have a bit of an experiment with Derek. The first attempt this time went less well but I'm quite chuffed with loaf two and I thought I'd share what I'd learnt about this seemingly dark art.
Let's start at the beginning. Derek the First was born back in 2012. You may not know, but back then I wrote a blog for a year called 366 Recipe Challenge. It's a bit of a diary of a lot of cooking, the challenges of being mum to a toddler, the long overdue demise of my first marriage and a bit of an ode to my lovely Husband back when I had a bit of a girly crush on him.
I also started my love affair with Dan Lepard's book Short and Sweet back in 2012 - which is still my favourite, dog-eared reference when I want to bake something fabulous for the family. Dan briefly mentions sourdough in this book so I decided to give it a whirl. My first starter got a little bit excitable and exploded out of his Kilner jar so was christened after Derek Branning, a particularly volatile Eastenders character of the day. Derek the First met his end at some point - probably when I moved to Bristol post-divorce. And sometime in the intervening years, the current Derek was born, used a little and then consigned to the back of the fridge. Derek the Second survived a kitchen refit and moved to our new house last year (despite Hubby's attempts to acquaint Derek with the food waste bin) and was bought back to life this week by liberating him from the fridge and with some luck and some TLC, we've managed to make some lovely loaves.
Sourdough - a dark art?
Now sourdough is one of those artisan things that seems like too much faff and easier to buy. If you read up on it either via books (I have many) or the internet, you can get exhausted by the complexities of hydration, autolysing, percentages and temperatures. Despite my love for Dan Lepard, every time I've used his recipes, my dough has been quite wet and so the resulting loaf hasn't had any shape and turned out barely higher than a frisbee. Having done a bit more research, the obvious answer was less liquid and a bit more flour. Sure, I know the old breadmaking adage of 'the wetter the better' but finding a balance between high-hydration baking and a decent shaped loaf that doesn't involve too much faffing became my new goal.
Derek has always been maintained with equal amounts of flour and water when he's been fed so we switched this up to a 60:40 flour to water feed. This got him super-excitable. We then went for a slightly lower water volume in the final dough, an overnight rise in the fridge and then a final baking in a dutch oven (or a casserole) and we have success.
I'd like to caveat the following recipe with the fact that it worked for me. I've only tried it once so far in its current form so will update it as I repeat and refine but fingers crossed, we've found a recipe that will fit in around a (usually) busy lifestyle.
If you don't have a sourdough starter, you can read about how Derek the First came in to being here. I used the same method for Derek the Second.
Prior to baking this loaf, Derek the Second was four days out of hibernation and had been fed three times with 50:50 flour:water once a day, discarding half of the starter prior to each feed.
Update: I'm now back to feeding him 50g water, 50 plain flour each day at 2pm which means there is no need to discard on the assumption that I use 90g in a loaf.
465g strong white bread flour
275ml cooled boiled water
10g table salt
90g mature sourdough starter
Equipment - mixing bowl, banneton, clean tea towels, scales, dutch oven or cast iron casserole dish
4.30pm prepare the dough - In a large bowl,mix the starter, both flours and 250ml water (reserve the rest) and the salt. Using your hands, mix to fully incoporate to a shaggy dough. Cover and keep warm at room temperature for 30 minutes.
5pm - mix - Sprinkle over the remaining water then mix until combined in a mass. The dough is relatively strong so won't need much kneading other than a few folds until it starts to smooth. There may a little water that water that doesn't quite mix in, but this is fine.Cover the bowl with clingfilm and keep somewhere warm in the kitchen for four hours.
9pm - preshape - turn out onto the counter, shape into a ball and leave to rest on the counter. You may need toadd a little extra flour (1-2 tbsp at this point) to stop it sticking the worktop, but don't add too much. The wetter the dough is, the more lovely bubbles you'll get when it bakes. Whilst it's resting, prepare a banneton with lots of flour - or if you don't have one, dust a clean tea towel liberally with flour and place inside a clean mixing bowl.
9.30pm - shape your dough into a ball, pulling the edges into the middle to make a tight dome shape. Place the ball seam-side up in the banneton or teatowel-lined bowl and pull the edges into the middle once more to create a nice, firm ball shape. Cover with a tea towel and refrigerate overnight
7am - preheat the oven - turn the oven on to 230c/210c (fan) to preheat, placing an empty dutch oven or casserole inside to heat up.
8am - bake - cut a circle of greaseproof paper the same size as your loaf, place on a board and then invert the bowl containing the loaf onto this. Slash the loaf to allow steam to escape and get the characteristic sourdough splits. Place in the casserole on the greaseproof (to stop it sticking - been there, done that) and bake with the lid on for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for a further 30 minutes. Once baked, remove from the casserole and cool for two hours.