As you may have heard, we here in the UK have had a bit of weather this week.  Now, when I used to live in Connecticut, 8-10 inches of snow wouldn’t be a problem.  They’d have snow ploughs out before the first flake hit the asphalt.  Here?  Not so much.  Now, granted, things seem to be a bit better than they were in last January’s freeze — but, when snow isn’t a definite part of your annual weather, it’s not something that you’re going to invest heavily in.  Nor is it something that people are particularly adept at driving in.  So, might as well stay home.

Since we ran out of bread long about Wednesday (and live too far from the shops to bundle up and walk there), I pulled out my trusty Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and cracked open his bread chapter.  I was quite impressed with the tv episode he did encouraging people to make their own daily bread rather than buy “manufactured” loaves.  And, indeed, was so blown away by the cheat’s sourdough bread that I took the plunge and have created my own starter so that I can start to make real sourdough bread a couple of times a week.

I’ve named my starter Reginald.  He’s only a day and a half old right now, but he’s starting to ferment and form bubbles like he’s supposed to (he’s a fast learner).  I’ll introduce you to him next week when we make our first loaf.

Until then, this recipe uses a short-cut to the starter sponge that you’d use for a real sourdough.  You use instant yeast with half the required flour and let it develop over 8 or so hours before adding the rest of the flour and going through the rest of the motions.  If the focaccia recipe is an introduction to bread-making, I’d say this qualifies as a first date.    But, even when you look at the time involved, it’s mixing and letting things sit for a number of hours, then a little more work, then letting it sit … then finally baking.  More sitting than working – that’s no bad thing!

Oh, and at this time, I’ll reiterate my emphasis on using bottled water rather than tap – it gives all the little yeasties a far better chance at being activated.

Cheat’s Sourdough Bread

  • 250 g bread flour
  • 5 g instant yeast
  • 325 ml bottled water, heated to feel slightly warm to the touch
  • 150 g whole grain bread flour
  • 100 g bread flour
  • 10 g salt

In a large bowl, combine the first weight of bread flour with the yeast and water, mixing well.  Cover and let rise for 8 hours.  It’ll be gelatinous and will have a gorgeous yeasty smell – heaven!  Add the rest of the flours and salt, and mix as well as you can to combine in the bowl before tipping out onto the counter.  It will be sticky – very sticky.  But knead and work the dough for 10-15 minutes – making sure you get all of the flour out of the bowl – and you’ll feel the dough slowly come together and feel silky and springy and still a bit tacky.  Do a windowpane test to make sure the gluten is developed, then oil your bowl and let the dough rise until doubled (tis could take from 90 minutes – 3 hours).  Punch the dough down and let it rise again until doubled (another hour or so).

Preheat the oven to 450F  – if you have a baking stone, put it in the oven to get hot.  Turn the dough out onto the stone and slash it across the top, then bake 15 minutes before turning the heat to 400 for another 35 minutes, until the loaf sounds hollow when you thump it on the bottom.

TIPS: 

1)  for a nice crust, put a rimmed baking sheet on the rack below the baking stone and fill it with boiling water.  The steam will give the loaf a lovely hard crust.

2)  you don’t have to do this as a 1-day project.  Mix the starter the night before and let it do its thing overnight.  In the morning, pick up on adding the 2nd round of flour, kneading, etc.

better than any bread you'd get in a plastic wrapper

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