In January I posted this article on how to make sourdough bread. I was amazed at how much attention it generated. I was so pleased at how many people contacted me to say they’d started baking sourdough bread as a result. You’ll see by the button on the right that I’m now a member of the growing Real Bread Campaign too. Please check out their site for lots of really useful information.
Since then I’ve talked, tweeted and met with an exciting bunch of enthusiastic bakers, amateur and professional alike. As a result, the way I make my bread has changed a little from the way I described, so I thought an update might be helpful.
I’ve made changes in three main areas:
- Hydration – the amount of water in proportion to dry ingredients
- Wholemeal flour proportion
- Baking process
I’ll describe each of these in turn…
How to make sourdough bread – update
‘Hydration‘ is ‘baker-speak’ for the amount of water in a dough. It’s measured as a percentage of water by weight realtive to the weight of flour.
The dough in the previous post has a relatively low hydration of 54%. I’ve already written how hydration affects dough in my post about making French Baguettes.
I wanted the crumb of my bread to be more ‘holey’ and for it to have a nicely ‘chewier’ texture. Here’s what the crumb of my loaf in the January post looked like:
I was aiming for something more like this:
So I’ve changed the hydration of the loaf I make so that it is about 70%. This means that instead of 550g of water in the recipe, I use 670g.
My crumb has improved as a result. The higher hydration does make the dough a little stickier to manage and the loaves are less ‘pert’ than the ones before. Partly, the shape of the finished loaf can be regained by better shaping technique: getting more tension into the dough as you form it for the banetton. I’m getting better at this and have spoken to some good bakers about it. I hope to learn a whole lot more at Mick Hartley’s BethesdaBakin5 event in July this year.
I’ve played a lot with the proportion of wholemeal flour in this recipe. For some things (like bacon sandwiches!) an all-white loaf is perfect. For everyday use, for health, texture and taste reasons, I like to have a partly wholemeal loaf.
In the previous recipe the wholemeal flour is 18% of the total flour. Since then I gradually increased this to 33%. At this level, the loaf felt just too filling for an ‘everyday’ loaf. I’ve settled (for now) on 25% wholemeal which would mean 275g of wholemeal and 835g of strong white flour in the recipe.
As an aside, I’ve made a few all wholemeal loaves since January. They’ve been lovely and nutty, surprisngly light and toast really well too. I think the difference is partly in what you’re expecting from the loaf.
Mick Hartley is a baking enthusiast here in North Wales. He bakes fom home and sells to local residents and businesses. He is a force of nature and very generous with advice and has written a Sourdough Primer.
Mick commented generously on the original ‘How to…’ posting. I wanted to try his process for baking to see whether it fitted in to my schedule better than the overnight process. I also wanted to see whether it affected the flavour or handling of the dough too.
Mick’s method, as he commented, is now my preferred method. There’s a bit of work the afternoon/evening before. He kneads, but I fold: partly that’s because it’s easier on my dodgy wrist. The dough goes into the fridge overnight. Because of the low temperature it ferments relatively slowly. This slow fermentation also helps it develop a nice gently ‘sour’ flavour. Bakers call this a ‘retardation’ or ‘the retard’ because of the slowing down of the dough’s fermentation. In the previous method, the overnight pre-ferment of the sponge is designed, in part, to do the same but, obviously, you’re only doing it to a proportion of the dough mix.
In his book Bethesdabasics: Sourdough Made Simple, Mick describes the starter being refreshed the night before and then mixing and making the bread during the course of the day. I’ve tried this and often use it where schedules (or my lack of organisation) do not permit me to fridge ferment. The ‘sour’ taste is consequently not so pronounced.
One interesting observation came from a power cut. A frustratingly common occurrence in the sticks here. I had a dough in the fridge ready to come out in the morning. We lost power until 14:30 that afternoon. Losing the fridge wasn’t the problem, the electric ovens were. The dough still shaped OK but it was over proved. This means that the ferment had used up all the food in the flour and therefore could not generate more gases to lift the loaf. As a result, the loaves were considerably flatter and had a more pronounced sour flavour. Still tasty to eat and not at all heavy, but not what I wanted to produce.
The Baking Fraternity
So there you are. A few lessons and observations that I hope help anyone reading this make decisions about their own bread baking. There’s still loads to learn. What I’m sure about it that my fellow bakers will be generous with their help. I’ve been blown away by the ease with which the baking fraternity will help people learn how to bake. This from top professional bakers to enthusiastic amateurs like me and the occasional baker. Stars all.