Several months ago, I forgot to feed my sourdough starter and two weeks later it was dead. While it was in the fridge it was a case of ‘out of sight and out of mind”, clearly needing more love than I was capable of giving it at the time. After a brief period of regretful mourning, I prepared another starter. But this time was different.
I breathed life into my new sourdough starter using the same principles as outlined in an earlier blog. I start with 50g of flour and 50ml of water on day one. The following day I added 100g of flour and 100ml of water. On day three I added another 200g of flour and 200ml of water. On day four I took 50g of the beginning starter, discarded the rest and started again, adding 50g of four and 50mls of water. I repeated the cycle for well over six weeks in an attempt to get a really strong yeast culture. What I found was that the yeast culture flourished and the starter took on a life of its own. It had the classic aroma of bread yeast and the bubbles in the mixture were stronger and larger than before.
I leave my starter out of the fridge. It lives in a plastic container and I give it some food and water on most days. If I miss a day, it’s not big problem.
The rules of sourdough bread making tell you to prepare and knead the bread the evening before and allow the second prove to take place overnight. But I found the yeast in my culture was too strong and on several occasions the dough had over-proved by morning leaving the bread flat and shapeless. So I played around and through trial and error, dramatically reduced the proving time to four hours.
The other trick I have found is to use the oven for proving. If you have a setting on the oven that lets you take the temperature right down to 30°C or 40°C, use it. It is much more stable and has given me a reliable result every time.
400g sourdough starter
800g flour (bakers or strong)
400ml warm tap water
20g sea salt
Semolina flour, approximately 1 cup.
Place all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and bring them together using a clean hand. When the mixture has roughly combined, turn it on to a clean work surface and knead for approximately 15-20 minutes. (If your kitchen bench or the room is cool, you may need to add 5 minutes.) You should not need to dust your bench or workspace with flour. If you find the dough is too wet, just add a small amount of flour to the mixture. But try to avoid this if you can. There is a distinct moment while kneading when you can feel the dough relax. It often occurs in the last five minutes. It will depend on the warmth of your kitchen, your hands and the work surface.
Test the texture of the dough by taking a small ball of dough and stretch it out to make a window between your fingers. The texture is ideal if you can form a window in the dough without tearing it. If you can see the silhouette of your fingers through the thin dough window, it is right. If it tears, keep kneading until you reach this point.
Place the dough in a large bowl lightly wiped with olive oil, cover with cling film and leave it to prove in a warm spot for at least two hours. When the dough has tripled in size, turn it out onto a clean surface and punch the air out.
Divide the dough into even portions. Take each portion, one at a time, and fold it into thirds. Then stretch it out again and fold it into thirds again. Then shape the dough in to your desired shape, be it a loaf or individual bread rolls. Place the dough on to a lined baking tray. Repeat the process until you have used all the dough.
With a very sharp knife cut the surface of each ball in whatever configuration you like*. Generously sprinkle the semolina flour across the top of the rolls. Return the dough back to the same warm place in the kitchen for a second prove. Leave it for about 2 hours.
When it is time to bake the bread, pre-heat the oven to 250°C. Allow the oven to heat for about 10 minutes to ensure it is hot.
Bake the bread for about 20-25 minutes. To test if the bread has baked, remove it from the oven and tap the base – if it sounds hollow, it is done. Turn the bread out onto a cooling rack.
*You can make Turkish bread (or pide) with the same process. To shape the bread before the second proving, just use your finger tips to press the dough outward into a flat shape. I glug a few teaspoons of olive oil across the top, followed by some sea salt and some fresh rosemary leaves. You could also add crushed garlic if you preferred. I leave it to prove and then bake it in the same way as above.