I am often asked for a basic sourdough recipe. I am in so many ways I am reluctant to give a recipe because a recipe in itself does not guarantee a good loaf. There are so many variables that affect a good sourdough bread, from the kind of flour, to the amount it is handled, to the weather on the day. These are things that I cannot account for in a recipe.
Baking a beautiful loaf is about more than just the practical external factors. To make a really great sourdough you need the ability to judge the dough; to know it, understand it, feel it and instinctively correct or modify your technique on any given day. This takes practice, time, understanding and patience. The ability to judge these factors and allow for them is what I teach on my sourdough courses. But more than that I teach people to understand sourdough. Once you understand sourdough then you will always bake a great loaf.
That said, nothing gets you off to a better start at the weekend that a warm crusty sourdough loaf fresh from the oven and there are many bakers who read this site too far away to attend a course. So this is my basic sourdough recipe; it is based on the French country Pain de Levain that I grew up baking in the village bakery in the South of France, and is timed so as to be ready to take out of the oven on a Saturday morning to bake.
This loaf has an chewy elastic crumb and a proper crunchy, robust crust. Freshly warm from the oven and smeared with cold, creamy butter, it is exceptional. Torn up, dunked in light grassy green olive oil, stirred with a swig of sweet aged balsamic vinegar, it’s a delight. This sourdough also has longevity. Over the days subsequent to baking, you’ll discover that it makes the best toast in the world ever, and it makes superb bruschetta. As it ages it becomes more sour, and it tastes even better towards the end of its life; so it makes the very finest breadcrumbs and fantastically robust croutons for soup.
A traditionally French shaped sourdough boule. Allow yourself about3 –4 hours for the dough to be mixed, folded and shaped ready to place in the coldest part of the fridge to prove overnight.(If you are new to bread making, you can, instead of shaping the dough and putting it into a banneton, grease a 2lb bread tin liberally with butter, let the dough rise in it overnight in the fridge and then bake as per the recipe instructions below.)
100g sourdough leaven (‘starter’)*
100g of stoneground organic wholemeal flour
400g organic strong white flour
10g fine sea salt mixed with 15g of cold water
25g rice flour mixed with 25g of stone ground white flour (for dusting your banneton)
Semolina to dust the bottom of the baking surface
Makes 1 loaf
In a large bowl whisk your water and starter and mix well. Add all the flour and mix until all the ingredients come together into a large ball.
Cover with a clean damp cloth and let the dough rest on the side in the kitchen for between 30 minutes and 2 hours – this what bakers call Autolyse
Add the salt mixed with the water and dimple your fingers into the dough to allow the salty water and salt to distribute evenly throughout the dough. Leave for 10 mutes.
Next lift and fold your dough over, do a quarter turn of your bowl and repeat three more times. Repeat 3 times at 30 minute intervals with a final 15 minute rest at the end.
Shape the dough lightly into a ball then place into a round banneton dusted with flour (If you don’t have a banneton then use a clean tea towel dusted with flour inside a colander). Dust the top with flour, then cover with a damp tea-towel
Leave your dough to one side until it is 50% bigger then transfer to the fridge , and leave to prove there for 8 – 12 hours.
Bake the following morning
The next morning preheat your oven to 220°C for at least 30 minutes before you are ready to bake. Place your cloche or baking stone in the oven and a large pan of boiling water underneath (or use a Dutch oven). The hydration helps form a beautiful crust.
Once the oven is up to full heat, carefully remove the baking stone from the oven, taking care not to burn yourself dust with a fine layer of semolina, which stops the bread sticking, then put your dough onto the baking stone and slash the top with your blade. This decides where the bread will tear as it rises. Bake for an hour.
Turn the heat down to 180°C (and remove the lid if you are using a Dutch oven) and bake for another 10 -15 minutes. You need to choose just how dark you like your crust but I suggest that you bake until it is a dark brown – it tastes much better.
Sourdough is really best left to cool completely before slicing and is even better if left for a day to let the full flavour develop.
Once your sourdough has cooled, store in a linen or cotton bread bag, or wrapped in a clean tea towel.
Note: if you don’t like a crunchy crust on your sourdough bread, simply wrap your bread in a clean tea towel whilst it is still warm.
- * To make 100g of leaven, use 2 tablespoons of sourdough starter, 50g of filtered water and 50g of strong white flour, mix well and leave, covered on the side in the kitchen in the morning. It will be lively and bubbly and ready to bake with in the evening.
- More advanced recipes and tips are available to members of the sourdough club, and a very in depth explanation is covered on our sourdough courses.
- For all your baking equipment needs I recommend Bakerybits.