from one generation to the next
Clearing out my fridge recently I unearthed a little package of dried sourdough starter dated Feb 2016. It was the wheat starter I’d dried as insurance against failure when, in my beginner sourdough baking days, I’d launched into the great unknown and converted my young wheat starter to 100% spelt flour.
It was a fortuitous find as in that very same week not only had I read that slow fermentation makes bread made with wheat as digestible as that made with spelt but one of my sourdough support networks alerted me to the publication of “Artisan Sourdough Made Simple” by Emilie Raffa, AKA The Clever Carrot. Emilie’s bread baking journey began in the exact same manner as mine, a gift of dried starter from Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial fame. I was so enthused by what she’d written that before I’d finished perusing my Kindle download, I’d bought a hard copy.
For the sake of a little flour and water I had a shot at reactivating the aged dried starter, so I measured out 20g, soaked it in a little water to dissolve the flakes, added equal measures of flour and water and left it for a couple of hours. Not much was happening at this stage, but I fed it again and as I stirred the flour and water through I noticed a feint yeasty smell and a change in the viscosity of the mix.
After a few hours I took a peek and there were distinct signs of life, so I fed the starter again, prepared and ate dinner, then relaxed with a glass of wine in front of the TV and promptly forgot all about it. I was preparing to go to bed and saw the bowl on the bench, lifted the lid and was overjoyed to see the starter bubbling so actively I could have mixed some bread dough then and there but instead I gave it a generous feed and left it in the fridge overnight.
While the fermentation had slowed by morning my expectation was that by lunchtime I’d be making bread so I added flour and water and it was off like a rocket.
I put 140g of the now active starter into storage and mixed the rest into a dough using the 1:2:3 formula, one part starter, two parts water and three parts flour with salt added, 2g per 100g flour. This is the recipe I’ve been using recently for the basis of my spelt loaves and pizza bases so staying with it would enable a good comparison for my palate and my gut.
There were some interesting contrasts comparing the handling of wheat dough compared to that made with spelt flour. This dough was much stretchier and much much stickier. The proofed dough was impossible to turn out of the linen lined bannetons I’d prepared in my usual way. It stuck and stretched and pulled and refused to let go. I won in the end but any hopes I had for beautiful looking bread were dashed. The baked loaves may look ugly, but who cares, they taste great.
From the outset this dough felt good and I was exceedingly happy with the loaves despite the mishaps. From the grains of doubtful starter to crispy crusted and open moist crumbed loaves you have to love the magic of baking sourdough bread.
Simple Basic Everyday Sourdough
for 1 large loaf or 2 small loaves
200g active sourdough starter
600g unbleached bread flour
400mls filtered water
Put the Ingredients in the order listed into a large non reactive bowl and mix to a shaggy dough.
Cover and set aside to rest for 20-30 minutes.
Sprinkle flour on the bench then knead the dough until smooth and elastic.
Clean the bowl and oil the inner surface.
Return the dough to the bowl and cover allow to rest for 45 minutes – 1 hour.
Tip the dough onto the bench, no flour this time, then stretch the dough as thin as possible.
Fold the dough in on itself until you have a tight boule, return to the bowl, cover and rest in the fridge for 20 – 30 hours.
Prepare a bannetton by dusting it with rice flour or alternatively line it with a clean tea towel.
Tip the dough onto the bench stretch thinly again then fold, roll and shape your loaf.
Place into the bannetton seam side up, cover loosely and allow to rise on the bench until the fermentation begins to slow. You can test this by simply poking with a finger. If the finger indentation fills quickly, the dough need more time but if the hole only refills halfway then the loaf is ready to bake.
Preheat the oven to 225C.
Tip the dough onto a sheet of baking paper and slash the surface.
Lift the dough on the baking paper into a roasting pan, cover and bake for 20 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 200C and bake for a further 25 minutes
Cool, slice, enjoy!