Give us this day our daily bread.
I always say that baking bread is simpler and quicker than most people think. Here I will go through the way I make sour dough bread – it isn’t mysterious and complicated. It’s really easy actually, a beautiful ritual as old as the hills.
You need a ‘starter’, (this doesn’t have to be a bit of an ancient one from your friend’s Granny 😉like I used to think) but is just a fermented flour and water mixture. Just mix a handful of flour (wholegrain wheat, or Rye) into a glass jar half full with water. Leave it somewhere not too cold and after a few days it should start smelling a bit ‘off’ and have a few bubbles. You should keep ‘feeding’ it for a few days, meaning take a bit of the mixture out, pour a bit of the water off and add a bit of flour and water. Many factors affect how it ferments: temperature, supposedly how long you’ve been making it in the same place as the moulds are in the air more. (It was really beautiful, this last year, we had a Czech couple volunteering at Heartland who travelled with a sour dough starter. It must have held the stories of every place they’d baked on their journey).
So the day before you’re ready to make bread, you get a mixing bowl and get the ‘sponge’ ready, which is basically the starter with more flour and water. (A couple of cups of flour for a large loaf). It should be like a thick batter. Put it somewhere a bit warm for the night).
The next day it should have a few bubbles on the top : take a spoon of the mixture out, put back in the starter jar and add water and flour again to the starter. Don’t add salt or anything else before taking this bit out for the starter. (You don’t usually need to wash the starter jar). Mix in salt, more flour and other yummy things to go in the bread. (I put in leftover rice, grains, porridge etc if it needs using).
Knead until the dough becomes elastic. It’s a magical bit where it kneads (😉) to be not too wet and not too dry and after a few minutes it changes its look, kinda looks smooth and, depending on what flour you are using, becomes elastic ie when you pull a bit out it stetches. The elasticity means that the loaf will bind together and not be crumbly.
Add olive oil at the end – it gathers the last bits of flour together and helps clean the bowl.
Put in oiled tins about 3/4 full. (I use some baking parchment as my tin has the coating coming off). and Rise (and Shine 😉) for a few hours somewhere warm. (Can heat the oven a bit for a warm place, but don’t forget that you’ve turned it on so the loaves start cooking). With sour dough, unlike yeast bread, I find that it i can start baking when it hasn’t risen much and it rises much more in the oven. I usually start baking on really low heat then turn it hotter after a bit. A tray of water at the bottom of the oven helps it not get too dry. (The loaf in the picture is Saragolla flour with a bit of leftover spelt grain mixed in and rosemary and za’atar on the top).
When the loaves are formed enough to take out of the tins, finish baking them out of the tins upside down.
It is ready when you knock on it and it sounds hollow. Usually when you cut a slice when it’s still hot, it seems like it’s not cooked but as it cools it firms up some.
Eat and be merry.
I used to make bread mainly using organic spelt or rye and now, having discovered the ancient grains of Abruzzo, I’m trying them. Saragolla is great, the Solina is too. (Solina is low in gluten which usually would mean that it doesn’t make such good bread but it does. Faro (spelt), of course.
The secret is to think about it as something simple like making breakfast. Of course there are tricks of how to get it more/less crusty, different troubleshooting for the starter, different flour types, what to do in different temperatures (in summer keep the starter in the fridge) etc.
..and forgive us our trespasses.