Sourdough: not a recipe, more of a way of life

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Day One

I started with a sourdough I’ve been keeping dormant in the fridge for quite a few months. There was only a very small quantity of it in the bottom of a jar, and most of it was that liquid alcohol known as hooch. Hooch doesn’t look terribly appetising (it’s grey like old dishwater), but the aroma of it will blow the back of your head off. You just stir it and its flavour back into the dough.

I retrieved it from the fridge and stirred in 100g of light rye flour (sourced from flourbin.com) and a similar quantity of filtered water. This was left for a day at room temperature in order to revive the starter.

Day Two

The following day, I added a further 100g of light rye, but about half the quantity of water, in order to stiffen the batter. Again, this was left for the whole day.

By bed time, the starter had risen well and was full of air pockets. I had almost forgotten it, but it was now demanding attention. I split the mixture, reserving half of it in a jar to return to the fridge. I fed this with 50g of light rye. The other half was fed with another 100g of light rye and some water, and again left overnight.

Day three (!)

After another overnight rise, the starter is ready for use. I was up around 7 a.m. and now added around 225g of the flourbin’s French Bread flour (the same Type 55 I used previously) and a little water – about 50 ml, but this is where you watch the dough as it mixes and adjust the water till you’re happy. As usual, you’re looking for a dough wet enough to stick to the bottom of the bowl, but not to the sides.

Once the dough was starting to look stretchy, I added 1 1/2 tsp of salt. Cheat’s charter: I also added 1/2 tsp of dried yeast, just to give the mixture a boost – to slightly speed up the rising process. It’s not necessary, but doesn’t affect the sourdough flavour.

I then left the dough to prove at room temperature. When I say this: my house is never particularly warm, unless we keep the heating on all day, which is rare. So my “room temperature” is more like it was 50 years ago. I’ve always got the option of using the warming feature of my oven at around 35–40° C, but the longer the dough proves, the better the flavour. So I left it, prepared to wait all day.

The sun came out. The conservatory got warm, so I put the dough out there. By lunch time, after around 5 hours proving time, the dough had doubled in size. I knocked it gently back and then shaped it into two small loaves, which I again left in the conservatory.

It was so warm in there by now that within a couple of hours the loaves were ready for the oven, which I heated to 240°C and steamed. I slashed the tops and brushed with salted water, sprinkling them with flour before putting the loaves into the hot steamy oven.

Ten minutes later I reduced the temperature to 205°C and opened the door to let out the steam. These loaves had been proving so long that the outside of them was quite dry: they split in the oven in interesting ways, especially along the base. This created some interesting crusty textures.

After another 20 minutes I got the loaves out and let them cool. They were cracking and hissing, sitting on the cooling rack. I Just had a slice: this is a light rye bread made with around 50/50 light rye flour and French bread flour. It has an intense flavour and an open texture, though the colour (being Rye) is on the grey side. It’s as close as I’ve got to my favourite variety of French bakery bread: the Banette 1900.

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