Sunday, 16 May 2010

Sourdough bread

Bread is one of the simplest and most satisfying things you can cook. Made with only four ingredients – flour, water, yeast or sourdough starter, and a pinch of salt – it’s incredible the transformation that takes place through the action of the yeast. And homemade bread is far superior to anything you can buy in the shops. Thanks to my sourdough starter, I have scarcely bought a loaf of bread at any time in the past year.

I use my breadmaker to make my homemade sourdough bread, and there are two different techniques that I use – the first of which makes a more rustic loaf, while the second is finer and closer to the kind of texture you would expect from a shop bought loaf. I discovered the second method completely by accident, but it makes a nice loaf of bread so I have stuck with it.

The yeast in sourdough is less active than commercial yeast, so making bread with it is a slower process. To get around this, I normally start the process either before I go to bed or before I leave for work, and just let the sourdough starter do its thing. The timings provided are approximate – sometimes it will take longer, sometimes quicker, depending on the temperature. The bread is risen when it’s doubled in size.


3 ¼ cups of strong white bread flour

1 cup water

½ cup sourdough starter

Pinch of salt

Method 1 – rustic texture

Place all the ingredients in the breadmaker and put on the dough setting. Allow to rise for six hours. Then turn the dough out onto a well-flour surface and knead to knock out the air. Place the dough into a grease loaf tin and cover with a lightly oiled sheet of cling film. Allow to rise for a further three hours and then bake in a very hot over – 240C – for about 25 minutes. The bread is ready if the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it. If the base of the loaf looks a bit pale, stick it back in the over for 5 minutes to brown.

Method 2 – finer texture

Place all of the ingredients in the breadmaker, save for one cup of flour, and put on the dough setting. This will create a sticky batter. Leave to ferment for six hours. Then add the remaining cup of flour and turn on the breadmaker’s dough setting for a second time. The dough will be a lot stickier than for the first method, but this is normal. Grease a loaf tin and then grease your hands to transfer the sticky dough from the breadmaker to the tin. Cover the dough with a lightly oiled sheet of cling film and then continue as for the first method.

NB: If you're wondering why I use the breadmaker to create the dough but not to bake the bread, it's because I prefer the taste of bread baked in a very hot oven. It's perfectly possible to bake sourdough bread in a breadmaker - you just allow the bread to rise in the tin, and then when it's ready you turn it onto the bake-only setting - but it doesn't come out quite as perfectly as if you bake it in the oven. Using the breadmaker to make the dough still saves a lot of time and effort, and baking it in the breadmaker still makes a tasty loaf.

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