Overnight sourdough

Tangy, open crumbed sourdough bread with chewy crust. Deliciously flavoursome. With its natural yeast, long overnight fermentation and ease of shaping, this loaf fits into the busiest of schedules. Sourdough has always had a special place in my heart and this overnight loaf is no exception.

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I have dabbled with sourdough for quite sometime now, trying to follow the various advices I was being given and not always being very successful. And each failed attempt, each misshapen loaf meant another go, another try. I have persevered and through the process I have learned how my starter is behaving and how to recognise the key signs of various stages. There is a wealth of information available out there, both from accomplished home-bakers as well as professionals. I have spent many hours over the last couple of years reading up and following the instructions. But it wasn’t until I have learned to be patient and to watch my starter and the dough carefully that it all fell into the right place. So I can assure you that the only way to do it is to have a go yourself, not to be discouraged by failures and to listen to your instinct. And the reward of the delicious smelling bread, all crackly as it comes out the oven will be worth every tear, late nights and proving basket tantrums… Yes, I admit to them all, even the last point. I have washed the said baskets, dried them out and apologised to the whole household…

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This recipe is an amalgamation of various tries and finally I am happy to share it. It works well in my kitchen and the results make me proud. The proof is in the loaf of bread that gets devoured in one sitting, what more could I ask for. It uses organic flour which I source from the local farm shop and the nearby mill. But it would work equally well with any white bread flour and I am a strong believer of using the best that you can within your budget. The dough requires minimum of handling and I have done away with covered containers some bakers insist on using during the baking. I have a well established routine of feeding my starter in the morning, creating leaven mid-afternoon, proving and shaping in the evening, overnight rise and morning bake. Meaning we always have delicious fresh bread at any time of the day and if there are any leftovers, these get turned into croutons, breadcrumbs and vessels for quick stews. You can make it 100% white but I like the slightly nutty flavour the wholemeal flour adds. I have added photos of each stage to help guide you through it and to demonstrate the changes in the dough at each step. I hope you find them useful. Here is the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 200 grams of leaven (see below points)
  • 650 grams of lukewarm water
  • 12 grams of salt
  • 700 grams of organic strong bread flour
  • 300 grams of organic wholemeal flour

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Begin by feeding your starter approximately 6 to 8 hours before you want to make leaven. I tend to feed mine in the morning so that by the time I return home, it is all bubbly and active. Depending how often you bake with yours, you may need to give it a couple of feeds – I find mine is a bit sluggish at this time of the year when we are going through the transition of temperatures as it is starting to get cold and the heating is not on yet. Once your starter is rearing to go in the afternoon, take out a generous spoonful of it and place it in the bowl. It is best not to use metal bowl as it can react with the starter. Add to it 200 grams of strong bread flour and 200 grams of lukewarm water. Mix well and set aside somewhere draft free for a couple of hours. This is now the leaven and it is ready when it is fluffy, almost marshmallow like and it passes the floating test. This is performed by simply dropping a small amount of leaven into a glass full of water – if it floats, it is ready to be used. If it sinks, it needs more time so let it rest further.

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Once the leaven is ready, place 200 grams of it into a large bowl and either discard the rest or add it back to your starter. Add 600 grams of water to the bowl and mix it well to ensure the leaven is well dispersed. Now add the flours, the remaining 50 grams of water and the salt and using your hand mix the ingredients together. You only need to do this until you can no longer see any lumps of unmixed flour and the mixture is beginning to look shaggy. Do not knead. Clean of your hand and cover the bowl tightly with some cling film and a tea towel. Set aside for at least 30 minutes but preferably one hour.

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Once the initial resting period is over, you will notice the texture would have changed slightly and the dough is no longer looking as shabby as when you started but has come together a bit more and is softer. Using your hand, start to turn the dough on itself. Grab any outside section of the dough, pull it upwards towards you without breaking it and fold it into the centre. Give the bowl a slight turn and pick up the next section. Continue all around until you have done 360 degree turn. Cover the dough with tea towel and let is rest for 30 minutes or so. Repeat the process twice meaning the dough had been turned 3 times in two hours. With each turn, you will notice the dough becoming more and more elastic and softer. This is one of my favourite parts of the process. I love how the dough changes and feels smooth in my hands yet each stretch builds up the tension in the dough which will be the basis of the loaf’s structure.

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Prepare your proving baskets by coating them with rice flour – this ensures the dough will not stick and I can definitely vouch for this tip. Give the dough one more 360 degree turn before turning it out onto a bench. You can lightly flour it if you wish. Divide the dough into half and shape each into a round loaf. Do so by lightly flattening out each piece of dough and similarly to how we turned the dough in the bowl, give it 360 degrees turn by tucking the outside to the centre. I tend to do this 3 times with each loaf. Now turn the loaf over so that the centre you were tucking into ends up underneath. Cup the loaf with both hands and start turning it around in your hands whilst tucking it underneath and shaping it into a smooth round. Pick it up gently and flip it upside down before placing it in the proving basket. Repeat with the other half.

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Place both baskets somewhere cool. I use my conservatory for this purpose at this time of the year and the fridge in the summer. The cool environment means the fermentation is a lot slower and the gluten has at least 8 to 12 hours to develop. Cover the baskets with damp towel to ensure their surface doesn’t dry out as it can prohibit the rise. Leave overnight.

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The following day you should find both baskets full to the brim and the dough would have at least doubled in size. Remove from the cold and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to maximum. Place two baking dishes in the oven so that they preheat too. I also add another dish to the bottom of the oven and fill it with water. This helps to create steam as the breads bake which allows that deliciously chewy crust to develop without it being overly hard.

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Scatter the surface of each loaf with some semolina as this will stop the bread from sticking. Now take some non-stick baking paper slightly bigger than the vessel you are going to be baking the loaves in and scrunch it. Straighten it out roughly. I use my Le Creuset buffet casseroles and find they do the job really well. Whilst the bottoms of my dishes are heating together with the oven, I use their tops to turn the dough out of the proving baskets. I do this by placing the baking paper on top of the dough that is still in the proving baskets on top of which I now place the lids. I flip the whole thing over meaning my loaves come out of the baskets without any intervention and are the right way up for baking. Simple! And without the need to invest in extra baking equipment.

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Using a sharp serrated knife, a grignette or a lame, score the top of each loaf. I suggest you experiment here with your cuts and patterns as they all result in different rise and the overall appearance of the loaves.

Carefully remove the preheated dishes from the oven and place the loaves together with the baking paper in them. Immediately return them into the oven, lower the temperature to 225°C and bake the loaves for 45 minutes without opening the doors. Once that time is up, lower the temperature to 180°C, remove the baking dishes and place the loaves directly onto the oven shelves and bake for further 15-20 minutes. This ensures the underside of the loaves is baked evenly.

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Test the bread by tapping each loaf underneath, it should sound hollow if it is well baked. Remove the loaves onto some cooling racks. You might hear their “song” as they crackle away, all bronzed and burnished. Almost like a log fire. That is definitely a sign of a good bake. Allow the breads to cool down completely before slicing.

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The loaves can be stored wrapped up in clean tea towels or a linen bread bag. They will store well for at least a couple of days but I doubt very much they will last beyond 24 hours. In this household both loaves get demolished in a day. Enjoy x

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