MIKE’S FAMOUS SOURDOUGH BREAD

By Mike McEnearney

 

Sourdough Loaf

Makes 1 loaf

  • 90g sourdough starter
  • 275g filtered water, at room temperature
  • 375g organic unbleached flour, at room temperature, plus extra for dusting
  • 10g salt flakes
  • Handful semolina, for dusting baking tray

Mixing

  1. Refresh or “feed” the sourdough starter the day before (see Feeding Started below).
  2. Remove starter from fridge 2 hours before needed.
  3. Mix the water and sourdough starter in a mixing bowl; if the starter floats, it is healthy.
  4. Add the flour and mix with your hands for 2 minutes, until all the water is absorbed, and you have a shaggy mass.
  5. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and set aside to rest (“autolyse”) for 15 minutes.
  6.  Mix in the salt with your hands and knead for 5 minutes in the bowl until the salt has dissolved into the dough.
  7. Cover the bowl again and set aside to rest for a further 20 minutes.
  8. Pick up the side of the dough furthest away from you and fold the dough towards the centre, then pick up the side of the dough closest to you and fold towards the centre, as though folding a business letter.
  9. Rotate the bowl 90º and repeat this process.
  10. Cover the bowl again and set aside to rest for a further 20 minutes.
  11. Repeat this folding/resting process 2 more times; the dough will become smoother over time.
  12. Cover and set aside in a warm place for 1-2 hours, until increased to about 1½ times its original size.

Shaping

  1. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured bench and cup your hands around the dough, pull it towards you then stretch it into a round shape against the bench to create a loose ball. Cover with a clean tea towel and set aside for 15 – 30 minutes.
  2. Line a 1200 – 1700mL stainless steel bowl with the tea towel used to cover the dough. Dust the tea towel lightly with flour.
  3. Neaten and tighten the ball’s shape with cupped hands. Dust with flour and place upside-down into the basket so the smooth side faces down. Pinch any loose ends on the underside together. Fold the edges of the tea towel over the dough and refrigerate (to “retard”) overnight.
  4. Remove from fridge 1-2 hours before baking and set aside at room temperature until it proves (increases in size by 50% of its original size) and feels soft to the touch; it’s ready when you lightly press your finger on the surface of the dough and they leave an impression.

Baking

  1. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 280 ºC or the highest possible temperature with an oven tray partially filled with boiling water on the bottom shelf.
  2. Turn the loaf onto a semolina-dusted baking tray, dust the top liberally with flour, wipe off excess with your hand and use a sharp razor blade to make a 1cm-deep cut across the top of the dough.
  3. Spray lightly with water and slide the tray into the oven.
  4. Spray the sides of the oven with water to create steam. Bake for 5 minutes, then spray dough and oven again. Bake for another 5 minutes, spray dough and oven again, then reduce heat to 250ºC and bake for about 25 minute, until the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the base and crust has a deep brown colour. A digital probe thermometer inserted through the base into the centre of the loaf should read at least 96 ºC.
  5. Remove from oven, spray lightly with water and set aside to cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

 

Mixing by Machine

If you own a mixer with a dough hook attachment, you can use this method.

  1. Place water and sourdough starter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook; if the starter floats, it’s healthy.
  2. Add flour and mix on the lowest speed for about 2 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed.
  3. Cover bowl with a clean tea towel and leave the dough to rest (or “autolyse”) for 15 minutes.
  4. Add salt and mix on low speed for 1 minute.
  5. Increase speed one setting higher and mix for 5-8 minutes, until glossy and coming away from the sides of the bowl. It is important that the dough doesn’t get too hot during the mixing, ideally monitor the temperature with a probe thermometer and stop mixing when the dough reaches 23 ºC.
  6. Transfer to a large, lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover and set aside in a warm place for 1-2 hours, until increased to about 1½ times its original size.
  7. Follow the above steps for shaping and baking the loaf.

 

Feeding Starter

Every time you use some of your starter, you need to replace it with flour and water in equal weights; this is called ‘feeding’ it.

You should add more back to your started than you take out (e.g. remove 90g starter, add back minimum 50g flour and 50mL water) so you will forever have a growing amount of starter that you can give to other people if you have more than you can handle. If space is not an issue, for best results add back double what you take out (e.g. if you remove 90g starter, add back 90g flour and 90mL water).

The more airborne bacteria and yeasts you can add to the starter, the feistier it will be. When you feed your starter it is best to leave it out for 2 hours on the bench at room temperature so it can start digesting, before putting it back in the fridge to hibernate.

Constant feeding daily, or at least every second day, will keep your starter alkaline and give your bread a sweeter taste, whereas a more acidic starter will give a more sour, heavy, less bubbly bread.

Sourdough loves routine, so try and mix your dough and feed your starter at the same time each day and you will have a consistent loaf of bread. If you are not making bread every day, discard a ‘pretend’ portion of the starter (the same amount you would usually use to make dough) and feed as discussed above.

If you are going away, don’t worry as the starter will sit in your fridge formant for a number of weeks. When you get home just fall into the routine of discarding and feeding for a few days until it becomes active and bubbly and doesn’t taste too acidic.

If you ever require more starter, just add more flour and water than the contents of the starter and keep building until you have more than you need. Never use the entire contents of the starter for obvious reasons.

Enjoy parenting your new child.