Updated: May 12, 2020
Nothing beats a loaf of slow-proved, homemade bread
It's been a long-held ambition of mine to make bread... if not on a daily basis then at least so that we can stop being slaves to the plastic-wrapped shop-bought loaves (even though they may be full of seeds and general yumminess). My mum used to make bread in the 80s and it always filled the house with such an amazing aroma... weirdly, although I'm pretty darn proud of this attempt at sour dough the only smell that filled the house was that of burnt flour, but hey ho, it tasted great, so here goes:
150g sour dough starter
250g flour - I mixed 100g rye flour with 150g plain white flour PLUS lots for dusting
1tsp golden caster sugar
As with any sour dough, the method starts by mugging one of your friends for a 'starter'. Mine came from a friend who has been using it for at least seven years, so there's pressure on me not to kill it. A brief word about starter maintenance. If you're lucky enough to be given one by a friend you will probably need to 'feed' it to get it up to useable size (unless your friend has been very generous and given you loads). You do this by adding equal amounts of flour and water and stirring well. Then pop the lid on and keep it at room temperature until visible bubbles start to appear. Then you can refrigerate it until needed. Please don't ignore it or forget about it - it will die if you don't feed and nurture it, but keep it going and you'll have bread fairly easily whenever you need it (if you can wait a day for the proving/baking etc etc)
Once you have your starter, measure out 150g and slop it into a mixing bowl. Then add in all the other ingredients and stir until the mixture comes together. You might as well use your hands to bring all the last bits together as you'll be kneading it now anyway.
Dust your worktop with flour and keep some nearby as I found I kept adding more flour to my hands and the work surface as I kneaded. I went for about 15 minutes, using the sort of method you see smug bakers employ on Bake Off, ie with the heel of one hand constantly folding and pressing and rolling and squishing. You're meant to achieve what they call the 'window pane' effect, ie that after kneading you can pull the stretchy dough and hold it up to the window and see light through the taught dough. Honestly, I never quite achieved that but found (luckily) that 15 minutes of hard labour had been enough.
Prepare a large-ish bowl by lightly greasing it with flavourless oil (I used ordinary cooking/sunflower oil) and then pop your little ball of dough in. Cover it with a clean but damp tea towel and leave it at room temperature for 3hrs. Yes, that's right. THREE HOURS.
After three hours you will see a rather disappointing lack of growth. This is because it's sour dough and you haven't used commercial yeast with its pumped up growing power. Don't be upset if your dough looks barely different - check out these two pics of mine to see that there really isn't much difference, but ACTUALLY there is a difference and you will feel it as you lift the dough out of the bowl. (At this point you'll really regret it if you forgot to grease the bowl.)
The dough will feel springier and now, on a freshly flour-dusted work top you 'knock it back'. I just dropped it from a height and gave it a rather satisfying punch or two. Then you form it into a roughly round loaf shape and guess what...? You leave it to prove again for ANOTHER THREE HOURS. This time the recipes suggest you pop it in the bowl on top of a generously floured tea-towel and put the damp one back on top. I did this, but didn't really see the point and I'll experiment and up date this recipe with just placing it back in the greased bowl, or even proving on a baking tray at this point.
So, three hours later you have a slightly larger ball of dough - yay. Again, I thought it looked a bit flat when I popped it on the baking tray, but it did rise in the oven into a proper sour dough loaf shape, so fear not.
Pre-heat your oven to nuclear temperature (ie hotter than standard) - 225-230C. When it's up to temperature place a deep-sided small baking tray in the bottom with a couple of ice cubes in it, or some cold water. Then prepare your loaf by slashing the top of it a few times, all arty like.
Then in it goes for 35 minutes and you'll finally get - yes, probably a full seven hours after starting - a beautiful golden sour dough loaf.
Take a slice straightaway, slather on real full-fat unsalted butter and enjoy.
Credit obviously due to my friend Richard who has been nurturing his sour dough starter for longer than he's had his children... and with equal care as it is a belter of a starter. I cobbled the recipe together from BBC Goodfood - and if you Google search sour dough bread recipe you'll come up with something similar.
Next loaf I'm going to try all white flour to see what that's like. Also, Rich recommended not to use all rye/buckwheat etc as it can get quite heavy.
I am now a convert to Elaine Boddy and her method on her FoodBod blog - it involves no kneading, no flour all over everything and once you get into the flow of it, it's really very easy to do. That's not saying that the method listed above doesn't work, but I now no longer do it that way. I would put up 'my' new method, but it is wholly Elaine's and I wouldn't want to just steal her work and paste it here as my own.