Even though I spent three years writing a book on savoury baking, baking bread is not something I do on a regular basis. And baking sourdough bread is definitely not something I am comfortable with, not until recently that is. I tried to make my own sourdough but it didn’t really work. The dough just wouldn’t rise without adding a little yeast to it. Then, I went to Sao paulo and had Luiz Camargo’s (my lovely friend who edits Paladar) sourdough loaf which was simply perfect. I asked what his secret was and he offered to give me some of his mother. I was thrilled, although I doubted I would be able to achieve good results, given my sad past history. But his sourdough turned out to be brilliant, as were his instructions both to feed it and to make the bread. I have to admit that my first loaf was not so great but that was because I rushed it. The second one worked, as did the ones that followed — just now, i am worried about the mother but hopefully it’ll just be a hiccup. In any case, my loaves came out as good as Luiz’s and although the bread is different from that at St John’s Bread & Wine, which is my favourite sourdough in London, it is equally good. Here is how I do it.
Following Luiz’s recommendation, I refresh 100 g sourdough with 5 tbsps wholewheat flour (sometimes I do half wholewheat and half plain) and 150 ml water, which I mix well. Then I use 150 g sourdough for 500 g flour, together with 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt. I add enough water to make a softish dough and I knead the dough for 2-3 minutes. Then I roll the dough into a ball, invert the bowl over it and let it sit for 15 minutes. This is equivalent to the autolyse of professional bakers where they mix the flour with water and let it sit for 45 minutes to an hour to let it hydrate before they add the leavening. I have adapted this method because it does away with long kneading as you can see from the photos above. Once the 15 minutes are up, I knead the dough for 2-3 more minutes and let it sit again, covered for 15 minutes before kneading it for the last time. As you can see, the dough becomes very smooth and silky without me having to kill myself kneading forever.
Then, I place the dough in a lightly floured bowl and let it rise for 7 hours. You can leave it overnight. I did that once, for 10 hours, and the bread came out just as good.
Once the dough has proofed, I gently take it out of the bowl and shape it into a batard (oval) or a miche (round). I then cover it with a wet although not dripping kitchen towel and let it rise for an hour. Half an hour before the dough is ready, I preheat the oven to 200Âº C. Then, I uncover the dough and let it sit for 5 minutes, to allow the surface to dry. Then with a lame (baker’s razor), I make a slash all along the middle of the loaf — you need to hold the lame at a slight angle and don’t cut too deep into the dough. Then, just before I am ready to place the loaf in the oven, I put a baking dish full of water on the bottom of the oven to create steam. I quickly place the loaf in the oven and bake it for an hour. The slash opens up beautifully and the bread is crisp and golden brown. I let the hot loaf cool completely on a wire rack before serving to allow the flavour of the bread and the texture of the crumb to go on developing.
If you are reading this, thank you Luiz for the brilliant sourdough. I just hope I will be able to keep it going.