As you will see from the ingredients for sourdough bread, there is no yeast added. The only ingredients are flour, water and salt. The yeast comes from fermenting the cultures that are naturally present in the wheat flour. By allowing the mixture of flour and water to aerate and ferment over the last 25 days, the natural or wild yeast has developed to a robust and useable state.
Of course, I can go no further without crediting the authors of the Bourke Street Bakery Cookbook – Paul Allam and David McGuinness. I have followed their guide for developing my starter, and while it has taken some attention and dedication, it has been relatively easy and straight forward. The process for baking homemade sourdough is not challenging or difficult – it just takes time and patience. True to their honour, the recipe is taken from their book.
765g plain flour
20g sea salt
Mix the starter, flour and water in a large bowl. When the mixture is combined, turn the dough on to a clean work surface and knead the ball for approximately 10 minutes. Cover it with cling film and let it rest for 20 minutes.
Remove the cling film, sprinkle the dough with the salt and knead again for a further 20 minutes. (You can supplement the manual kneading with an electric mixer and a dough hook and reduce the kneading time by half). You can test the dough’s ready by taking a small ball of the dough and stretching it out to make a window. The dough is ready for the next stage if you can stretch the dough in to a transparent window. If it tears, keep kneading.
Use a thermometer to test the temperature of the dough – if it is sitting between 25 and 27 C, it’s ready. If it is cooler, leave it to prove in a warm area until it warms up. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with cling film and leave it to prove in a warm spot for an hour. (The Bourke Street Bakery Cookbook suggest an ambient room temperature of 20C.
The knock back stage follows – turn the dough out onto a clean surface and punch the air out and shape the dough into a simple rectangle. Fold the dough into the centre by a third at each end. Turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat the folds by a third back into the centre. Place the dough back in the bowl and prove for a further hour in the same warm spot.
Divide the dough into three even portions. Take one portion of dough and shape it into a familiar loaf shape. Repeat for the remaining two portions.
Place the loaves on a lined baking tray, with the seam facing downward. Cover the loaves with a sheet of baking plastic or a clean plastic bag and place the tray in the fridge for 8-12 hours.
Remove the loaves from the fridge and let them come to room temperature in a warm place. This could take between 1 and 4 hours, depending on the temperature of the rooms and the season. The loaves should grow by about two thirds.
It is important to score the loaves before baking – this allows steam to release from the loaf without splitting or tearing through, ruining the shape of the loaf. Immediately prior to placing the loaves in the oven, spray the walls with water. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the loaves around and bake for a further 10 minutes. When the bread is baked, tap the base of the loaf – it should sound hollow.
I was not completely happy with the size of the loaf, but I was happy with the texture – it seemed to have all the qualities of a good sourdough bread and I’d much rather be displeased with the size than the texture. It does not look like a bakery bought loaf, but I did not expect it to do so; it is after all, home made. I have chomped my way through several slices fresh from the oven and can now say that I have successfully grown my own wild yeast and can make a loaf of sourdough bread using authentic methods.
I will continue to love, feed and nurture my starter so that I can continue to make my own sourdough bread. According to the Bourke Street Bakery cookbook, the starter just needs to be fed every two to four days and will continue to grow and develop in strength and quality. When I am ready to bake a loaf, I only need to feed the starter in the 24 hours preceding baking day (see previous post). I am confident with more loaves and experience, future loaves will only improve.
I would recommend committing to developing your own stater. While it does take some dedication, it is not that difficult or time consuming and there is a unique sense of comfort and achievement in being able to make your own bread.