This is a well-tried method for making cheap and easy bread for daily use. I’ve used this method (with variations) for decades, making some tons of bread (you could say our children are made of it).
Recipe in brief
This recipe makes 2 medium-sized loaves of bread, using a sourdough starter. It’s quick and easy, and suitable for baking several times a week.
§ Flour: 1kg
§ Lukewarm water: 1litre
§ Sourdough starter (see below for method)
§ Optional: 1 tsp salt, 2 tbsp linseeds, sesame seeds
§ Put flour (and salt) into a large mixing bowl.
§ Add water and sourdough starter to flour in bowl, using the water to wash all starter from the jar.
§ Stir with a strong wooden spoon until evenly mixed.
§ Refill the starter jar about half full with some of the mix from the bowl. Store the jar in the fridge for the next batch of bread.
§ Add linseed to dough if preferred.
§ Allow mixture to grow in a warmish place until obviously risen in the bowl (takes several hours).
§ Stir mixture in the bowl with wooden spoon.
§ Scoop dough into greased bread tins with spoon (scatter sesame seeds in tin before dough).
§ Use wet spoon or spatula to smooth loaf top (after scattering sesame seeds over dough).
§ Allow loaves to rise for approx 30min (use judgement – may need longer to show some rise) before baking approx 1hr in a moderate oven (~180C). Adjust time and temperature to your judgement.
Notes on recipe
I prefer to grind fresh flour for each batch (usually organic wheat). This way the nutrients in the grain, especially oils in the wheatgerm, don’t have time to oxidise and go bad before you eat them. You can mix flours, perhaps adding white flour for lightness, or rye for heaviness and flavour. You can add all sorts of seeds and additives, if you really want to, but I only use linseed and sesame seed.
|The humble starter jar, freshly re-filled|
The starter is a small amount of wet dough kept in a jar (about 400 – 500ml jar size). The starter grows the yeasts and bacteria which rise and flavour the bread. With each batch of bread the jar is emptied into the bowl and then half filled again with fresh dough.
You can use some starter from a friend, or make your own. When I lose my starter (maybe it’s been thrown out by a keen fridge-cleaner, or I’ve forgotten to save some when baking) I usually find out when I want to bake bread, so I use a quick and easy method to start again. I simply make bread with the same proportions, but instead of using starter I put a teaspoon of dried yeast into the water before mixing the dough. After mixing the batch, I save a scant cupful of this normal yeast dough in a jar, and use this mixture as starter for the next batch. The new starter made from yeast can be slow to rise the next batch but will gain in strength with use.
After a couple of generations the starter will culture a suitable range of microbes and produce the complex and slightly sour flavours you want. You will learn how to manage your starter to keep it vigorous and get the flavour you want in your bread. More time and more warmth – for the starter jar or for the bowl of dough - makes more sour flavour. To manage this, the starter jar is kept in the fridge between batches to slow down the yeasts and bacteria living in it. This helps to avoid it going too sour and vinegary, and keeps it vigorous when mixed into the dough.
If you don’t plan to bake again for 4 days to a week, put the starter in the fridge straight after being put in the jar. However if you’re baking again tomorrow, leave it on the bench for an hour or 3 to grow – until you can see some bubbles growing.
Sourdough starter is a culture of yeasts and bacteria. The yeasts eat sugary parts of the flour, and produce carbon dioxide gas (which rises the bread) and alcohol. This is the same process as fermenting drinks. Bacteria then eat the alcohol and produce vinegar – just as happens to wine if air gets into the bottle. The longer you leave the mixture, and the warmer it is, the more dominant the bateria are and the more vinegary it gets. Giving the yeast fresh flour favours the yeasts, gives less alcohol food to the bacteria, and makes a sweeter dough. When the starter is cold in the fridge, all the organisms grow more slowly, so it takes longer to go sour. So if your dough is smelling too sour, and making bread which is too sour, then you are leaving the mixture too long, or your starter is staying too warm or getting too old before baking. If your bread is taking extra long to rise, but has no sour smell, then you are probably putting the starter in the fridge too soon, not giving the yeast population time to build up, so the dough needs more time for yeast to reproduce and grow.
This recipe uses 1:1 flour and water by weight (1000ml of water weighs 1000g). This is a pretty wet mix, too wet to knead, but quick and easy to mix with a spoon.
You can change the proportion of flour to water as you like, which will significantly change the wetness of the finished bread. For pizza dough I use 650ml water per 1000g flour. This mix is kneadable, and is good for free-form loaves baked on a tray or on the floor of a masonry wood-fired oven. Alternatively you can use more water than 1:1, which will tend to make moist, flat-topped loaves in the tins. In general, I recommend using as wet a dough as you can manage for the type of loaf you are baking, for moist, longer-lasting loaves.
Using your preferred proportions you can make any sized batch, but bigger batches may take a little longer to rise, as the starter needs longer to grow. I usually use 400g – 500g of flour per medium-sized loaf. If I’m making 5kg or more (usually for a pizza party) I might mix the starter with some flour and water the night before so I’ve got a bigger starter to grow into the big batch.
To make lots of bread, I mix multiple bowls with approx 1.5kg of flour each (3 loaves worth), and use as many bowls as I need (and can bake).
Most bread-making problems come from trying to bake un-risen dough. Getting the rising right requires getting a feel for the microscopic organisms which are doing the work of digesting and rising your dough.
Before going into tins, the dough needs to be left in the bowl long enough to rise up and get a full, swollen look. This takes my dough 5 – 10 hours, depending on the temperature. To get to this stage the microbes in the starter must multiply and eat flour to make the carbon dioxide bubbles which rise the dough. The yeasts which do most of the work like to be warm, wet, and have plenty of fresh food.
If the dough is cold the yeasts will take much longer to rise the dough, but it does rise. Some bakers like the qualities of colder, slower-raised doughs (some people raise their dough in the fridge!). It’s just a matter of giving the dough enough time to rise, longer in cooler weather than warm.
For baking in the evening in winter I mix the dough in the morning, using warm water, and try to find a warm place for it. In summer I might wait until lunchtime before mixing the dough, and use water from the cold tap.
Loaves should show some sign of rising in the tins before baking in a pre-heated oven. While in the oven, bread is tougher than cakes and is less likely to collapse from a shock or opened oven door. When done, the loaves will be browned (lightly or darkly), and give a hollow sound when patted on the bottom. Don’t try testing with a skewer (like a cake) as bread stays sticky until the loaves are cold. You will learn to get a feel for when bread is done.
|Sprouted grain in the jar|
Recently I’ve made sprouted grain an occasional part of my bread. This adds a range of nutrients and gives a good flavour and texture.
My current method is to take about 200g of wheat from the batch (before milling to flour) and sprout it instead of milling it to flour. I put the wheat in a jar, soak it in water for a few hours, then periodically rinse the wheat with fresh water. The wheat sprouts in the jar during the day.
An hour or so before I put the dough in the tins, I put the sprouted wheat in a blender with a little water, and blend it to a paste which I then mix into the dough. The dough takes a little longer to rise after this, so I might wait 40 – 50 minutes after putting in tins before baking.
Sometimes I make fruit bread – with dried fruit and spices – as a treat or for a local café. For this I use something like the following recipe:
§ Sourdough bread dough with 50% stoneground + 50% white flour
§ About 500g flour per loaf (a bit bigger than normal loaves)
§ About 1 ½ cups of mixed dried fruit per loaf
§ Spices mixed with the fruit before adding: dried ginger, cinnamon
The bread is made as a normal 1:1 (flour to water) mix, and raised during the day without the dried fruit. Fruit is added when mixing the dough just before placing into the baking tins.
I suspect that something in our dried fruit (perhaps some sulphur preservative) inhibits the yeast, because mixing in the fruit seems to really slow down the yeast. It can take up to an hour to rise the loaves before baking. As normal, watch the rising bread and bake when ready.