A loooong while back, I posted a recipe for making your own sourdough starter. I had intended to post a bread recipe shortly after, but it took me this long to get one that I was completely happy with. Some recipes were too wet, some not enough flavour, and others too dense. I kept trying new ones, and new methods, until I had one that I knew would work every time. And here it is!
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This recipe started out as a San Fransisco sourdough recipe from my old school text book, On Baking: A Textbook of Baking and Pastry Fundamentals. It’s a great book that teaches the science and fundamentals of all manner of pastry and baking techniques, and includes recipes for almost anything you could think of! I often think that I need to really work through my recipe books, and this one is definitely high up on the list. It’s got such a wide variety of recipes, and explains them in full detail.
I tried making the sourdough recipe, as it’s described in the book, and it was okay, but not quite sour enough for my taste. That could be simply because of the unique wild yeast that lives in San Fransisco (L. Sanfranciscensis), or because this particular recipe was too ‘quick’ to develop a sour flavour. It actually used a small amount of commercial yeast in the dough, so that you could bake the loaf the same day you make it. Great if you’re strapped for time, but it leaves a bit to be desired in taste. However it did explain one thing I had been wondering in the past – how to acheive what I consider a San Fransisco sourdough crust.
See, in Victoria, BC all sourdough that is labeled as “San Fransisco” has this soft glossy crust. It’s not the super tough stuff you associate with artisan bread, but something almost more akin to buns. While you can definitely make a San Fransisco sourdough with a traditional crust (like they do at Tartine in San Fran), for me, the key to making a San Fransisco sourdough bread (besides the yeast) is that soft crust. And you want to know the secret? Egg White! You simply brush the loaf with whisked egg whites all over before slashing and baking. It adds the glossiness from the egg proteins, and softens the crust by preventing the chemical reaction that normally occurs.
Okay, but back to this bread recipe – I took the original one from the book, and started changing things, one at a time. First, I reduced the amount of flour in the recipe, to create a higher level of hydration. See, the higher the percentage of water in a recipe, the larger the holes and glossier the texture will be in the final bread. Really good sourdough bread has a slightly chewy texture, and large aeration holes – which can only occur with more water. Too much water, and the dough will become very wet and difficult to work with – which I had at first. Of course, if you can master a bread with a high level of hydration, it’ll produce an amazing loaf. However, for this recipe I wanted something a bit easier to manipulate.
Second, I omitted the commercial yeast. I didn’t add anything to replace it, but simply went from a quick fermentation and proving, to a much longer one (overnight, in the fridge). Third, I added a series of folds instead of simply kneading the dough. This was partly due to the higher level of hydration (and how annoying it was to knead) but also because a longer bench time and folds produce a nicer crumb structure. And finally, I changed the oven times and temperature to the style of bread I was now making – and baked it in an ovenproof dish. Oh, and I omitted the egg wash, as I was now proving the bread in a floured banneton.
And that produced this recipe! Now, I will give a few tips to help you along with it.
- If you don’t have a banneton, you can use a well floured tea towel in a bowl. The bowl should be a small mixing bowl size, and you really want to work the flour into the towel. Start by just rubbing flour into the towel surface, then drape it in the bowl, and dust over even more flour. If you end up with too much on the bread, you can always dust it off with a pastry brush before scoring. I like to secure my towel with an elastic.
- If you’re uncertain if your bread has proved enough, try gently pressing a floured fingertip in it. If the indentation remains, you are ready to bake. Just shy of doubled in size should be perfect, as it means the yeast still have a bit more energy left.
- If you don’t have the time for all of the folds, simply knead the dough twice as long, until smooth. You’ll develop a nicer texture with the added time and folds, but you’ll still have a great loaf without.
- Don’t fight the bread during folding – as the gluten develops it will not stretch as far. Just stretch it as much as it will let you, even if it means only 3 sides instead of 4.
- You can turn the bread out directly into the baking dish, but I prefer to use parchment paper. It allows me to shift the bread in the dish to center it, and provides more room to score the bread. I traced the bottom of the dish onto parchment paper, cut it out, and scrunched it up many times to soften the paper. I reuse it each time I bake.
- If you don’t have a lamé (scoring knife) use the sharpest paring knife you have, or a serrated knife. You want to cut about 1cm or so deep – too deep and the bread will open up too much, and too shallow and the bread will tear elsewhere to allow steam to escape.
- If you’ve never shaped bread into a boule or batard, watch some videos online. There are many great ones out there to show you how to do it (it’s hard to put into words). If the bread doesn’t hold its shape well after your initial shaping – you can let it rest for 20 minutes and then shape again.
That’s it! A great sourdough recipe, for days when you have lots of time (folds) and when you don’t (just kneading). Oh, and once you’ve got it down, why not experiment with adding in some flavour? My most recent bread had walnuts and figs worked into the dough (100g figs, 80g walnuts). I can’t wait to keep creating new flavours with seeds, herbs, and spices. Perhaps olive and rosemary next? Or beetroot from our own allotment?
Now I must get back to my next bread recipe development – a proper 6 day loaf. And one with a San Fransisco crust!
My Favorite Sourdough Bread Recipe
- 180 g sourdough starter 100% hydration
- 240 ml water
- 430 g white bread flour
- 15 g salt
- Day 1: In a medium bowl, mix together the sourdough starter and water. Add the flour, and salt on top, and mix together using a wooden spoon, until a shaggy dough forms.
- Turn the dough out onto your bench, making sure to scrape the bowl clean. Knead the dough together for about 5 minutes, then lightly oil the bowl and return the dough to it.
- Cover with cling film, and rest for 30 minutes.
- Perform your first fold: grab one side of the dough and stretch it out until you can fold it over the top of the dough. Turn the bowl a quarter turn, and repeat on all four 'sides' of the dough. Flip the dough over so that the folds are on the bottom, cover again, and rest for 30 minutes.
- Continue folding the dough 4 more times (5 folds total), resting 30 minutes between each fold.
- After the final fold, rest the dough for an hour at room temperature to ferment.
- Turn the dough out on the bench, and shape into a boule or batard. Place the dough into a floured banneton, and cover with cling film. Rest in the fridge overnight.
- Day 2: If the dough is proved enough when you want to bake, simply bake from the fridge. If the dough still needs a bit more proving, you can remove it from the fridge, and allow it to prove at room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 230°C fan, with a heat-proof lidded baking dish in the oven.
- Remove the dough from the fridge, place a piece of parchment paper over the dough, and invert onto a cutting board. Remove the banneton carefully, and score the top of the dough with a lamé or very sharp paring knife.
- Remove the baking dish from the oven, and lift the dough into it, using the parchment paper. Cover with the lid, and place into the oven.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 200°C fan and bake with the lid on for 30 minutes.
- Remove the lid from the baking dish, and return to the oven for a further 30 minutes, or until the crust is nice and brown, and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
- Allow the bread to cool fully before slicing.