Shiao-Ping’s recent post, Home Bread, in which she signalled a return to simplicity in her bread baking, has given me the shove I needed to complete a similar post I had had sitting around almost done for a couple of weeks. After a fascinating sourdough tour of discovery over the past year taking in many different dough formulae and techniques (a great number of which Shiao-Ping has provided!), I too have found myself returning to basics.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve enjoyed every bake on this long and winding road of learning and experimentation and I will continue to try new breads – the stupefying variety of gorgeous breads waiting on that endlessly building must-try list is, for me, one of the most exciting aspects of home artisan bread baking. However, most of us do not have unlimited time, and in any case, there’s a life outside the kitchen you feel sort of obliged to acknowledge with your presence every so often. There’s much to be said, then, for an undemanding recipe that yields a gorgeous bread every bake.
Following is such a recipe. Not only easy and reliable, it delivers an extraordinarily good bread. And surprise surprise…it’s based on the simplest of sourdough bread formulae, which I’ve tweaked to accommodate my taste. Which is?
Well, I like a slightly spongy yet well-structured crumb that is tending open rather than tight – and not too heavy, but not too light...a bit of chew is nice, I reckon. I like a crust with some crackle but not so thick as to pose a dental risk. And most important of all, a flavour that transcends the simple parameters of an all-white sourdough without losing itself in complexity that might not adapt to everyday purposes.
This bread is as versatile as it is delicious: great for sandwiches, plain buttered as an accompaniment to soup or sloppy beans dishes, thick sliced with butter and honey, toasted for breakfast, as bruschetta…
The tweaks that have elevated this bread out of pain au levain suburbia are threefold: the delivery of subtle yet distinct rye undertones through the inclusion of 30% whole-grain organic rye flour in the starter (rather than via rye added at the dough mixing stage); the combination of high gluten bread flour and lower gluten plain flour to produce the sort of crumb I love, as described above; and the sweetening touch of wholemeal flour.
Quality, flavour and environmental sustainability are priorities for me, so I use only premium organic flours (mostly the local Western Australian Eden Valley stoneground flours, which I find superb).
Enough banging on from moi. Here’s the recipe.
As stated, it’s based on a standard sourdough mix, which in bakers’ percentages is: Water 60%
Salt 1.5% (some might prefer to raise this to the standard 2%)
Overall dough hydration: 65%
I like to scale my doughs to a total pre-baked weight of 1000gm. Of course, the following can be re-scaled to personal preference, using the above bakers’ percentages.
157 ml 100% hydration starter (30% coarse-ground whole rye, 70% white flour)
365 gm bakers’ flour
145 gm plain flour ('AP flour' is approx American equivalent)
12 gm coarse-ground wholemeal flour
313 ml filtered water
8 gm pure sea salt
Whisk starter with water in mixing bowl, then mix in other ingredients apart from salt until combined. Autolyse 20-30mins.
Add salt and cut into dough in bowl using dough scraper.
Stretch and fold, then repeat every 30 mins for next 2 hours. (I like to transfer dough to oiled 10L Décor oblong container and after S&Fs drape the dough with food grade plastic bag then put cover on container. If you prefer, leave the dough in the bowl, or do the S&Fs on the kitchen bench then put it back in the bowl and cover during bulk proof rest periods).
In moderate ambient temps, 2 hours bulk proof is sufficient before retarding in fridge overnight and shaping next morning.
Can bake directly out of fridge, in which case you need to preshape and shape before retarding overnight (and increase pre-retardation bulk proof by 30-45 mins). Alternatively, take dough out of fridge next day, allow to warm for 30 mins, preshape and rest for 5-10 mins, then shape and proof for 40 minutes. Note: Above proofing times are for mild ambient temperatures – increase times if inside temps are cold…
Pre-heat oven to max temp (250C/480F in my case), with pizza stone or baking tile on lower middle shelf, and metal lasagne tray or similar in bottom of oven.
When final proof is complete, drop 2 ice cubes in lasagne tray and quickly shut oven door to retain temp at max.
Slash dough and transfer to oven. Immediately puff some sprays of water into oven and shut door. Note time: baking commences now.
2 minutes later, spray more water into oven, keeping door open as short a time as possible. Turn oven down to 235C/455F.
15 mins after baking commenced remove icetray and rotate loaf to ensure even browning. Turn oven down to 225C/435FC.
12 mins later, turn down to 200C/390F. Bake another 20 mins, then remove bread and cool for minimum 2 hours on cake rack or similar.
15 mins steam period, initially at max temp, then down to 235C/455F after second spray.
12 mins @ 225C/435FC
18 mins @ 200C/390F
Note: If baking straight out of fridge, odds are good that you’ll end up with a ‘singing’ bread and a crazed crust. My last loaf serenaded me from its cake rack for 10 minutes! A truly delightful experience.
The pics immediately below are of this ‘singing’ loaf – you can clearly see the crazing on the crust. The two bottom pics are of a bread shaped and proofed after the overnight retardation – little crazing is evident, and the quality of the crumb is slightly different, though both breads were equally delicious.
These ones of a loaf baked after post-retarding shaping and proofing...