Or 'what I've learned in lockdown'
Like many people at the start of lockdown I started making sourdough. I was given some starter by a friend and duly trawled the internet for recipes, getting more and more disheartened the more I read about kneading, resting, proving, bannetons, autolysing etc etc. I eagerly uploaded a recipe here and to be honest it wasn't that bad, but there was no way I was going to even that palaver twice a week. I did however update that recipe with the disclaimer that I had found a saviour in Elaine Boddy and now used her method, which I still do. This recipe is basically her method of making sourdough, repeated and probably mutated by me over the course of the year. I'm only writing this recipe post for my own self to remember what I do in case I ever decide to pause sourdough making and then want to come back to it. Do go back to her source material if anything I say here makes no sense - she really is the queen of sourdough.
About 2tbsp sourdough starter
180ml warm water
300g flour (any mix you like - but I generally don't do all 300g wholemeal or spelt/rye etc)
Not essential, but useful:
A large light weight/plastic mixing bowl (mine is a 6ltr one)
A danish whisk - these are odd looking tools, but easily available on Amazon
A banneton - which is a French proving basket
A hotel freebie shower cap
What you can't get round is that sourdough, in any form, is time consuming. The natural yeasts in your starter aren't as strong as the sachet stuff you can buy, so proving will take time. I will tell you my approximate timings, but you really have to use your eye as your yeasts/temperatures/humidity/mood will be different.
Start by adding your warm water, starter and salt to the bowl (pic above). Give it a stir. There will be people shouting at me here that salt kills the starter if added at this point, but it really doesn't and this is by far the easiest point to add it in. Give it a stir and then add your flour. Use the Danish whisk (see pic, you could use a fork if you don't have one) and gently and loosely bring the dough together. As soon as it's combined and looking a bit ragged, leave it be, in the bowl, covered with the shower cap (or a damp tea towel) for at least 30 mins but up to an hour. This is called the autolyse and it's when the flour and water start to do some of their magic (ie something technical - check out one of the umpteen YouTube videos on sourdough for a full explanation if you care enough).
After the autolyse it's time to get your hands - or at least one of them - dirty. Start by giving the dough a good squish if you want to, or just start the pulls and folds. This is the technique for kneading that just involves you pulling the edge of the dough up and then folding it into the centre. Turn the bowl a quarter turn between each pull and fold and keep going for about 20 turns. You should have a slightly glossy, easily rounded ball by the end. Cover the bowl with the shower cap again and set whatever kitchen timer you have for about 45min-1hr. When it pings, go back to the dough and do about 10 pulls and folds. Again, cover and leave for another hour and do it again. This should be enough and I tend to do this part of the bake in the late afternoon, say starting the autolyse at 5pm, doing the first round of pulls and folds at 5.30pm, then another at 6.30pm and if I remember the final set at 7.30pm.
Then just leave the dough in a warm place. If, like me, you don't have an Aga (one day, sigh), then the airing cupboard should do or even the oven (if you're not using it to cook that night) with just the light turned on. Surprisingly, just the bulb is quite a good heat source.
We go to bed late - no earlier than 11pm most nights - and so I find that the dough has usually done enough of a rise by then. It should be about double in size (though sometimes it's hard to estimate this as it flattens out so much) and potentially lightly bubbling (see pic). If you think it's ready, then get your banneton prepared by sprinkling it liberally with flour. I use rice flour as it's less absorbent than normal flour. With the banneton prepared (if you don't have one, you can use a mixing bowl lined with a clean tea towel, which you should flour too), go back to your dough and perform some pulls and folds again. It should have some sort of Aero/honeycombe-esque feel to it, if not, it's under proved, sorry. This won't matter too much on taste, you'll just get a flat loaf. While pulling and folding, coax it out of the bowl into the banneton and then flour the top and sides too. Cover again with the shower cap and pop it in the fridge overnight.
By the morning you should see a dough that has expanded to fill the shape of the banneton, but hopefully not erupting over the sides! It would only do that if you either failed to put it in the fridge, or it was over proved the evening before (which would show if it was a very soft bubbly mixture in the bowl).
Set the oven to 225C and tip the loaf into a large enough Dutch oven (I use a trusty old Le Creuset). Score its top with a blade and pop the lid on and into the COLD oven (yes, I know) and set the timer for 50mins. If you have an Aga, or a pre-heated oven for whatever reason, just set the timer for 40-45 mins.
When the timer pings, take the oven dish out, remove the lid and put it back in for another 5 minutes. And then, once that 5 mins is done... there you have it, a beautiful sour dough loaf. Perfect warm with melting soft butter.
There are so many flours out there, and this morning I've just made a loaf using 100g Wessex Mill Sun-Dried Tomato and Garlic flour, with 200g strong white bread flour. I often combine wholemeal and strong white and wouldn't recommend making a loaf that's 100% wholemeal as it could be quite heavy.
You can also add a glug of olive oil to the bowl before your first mix and autolyse. This creates a loaf with a much softer crust and better for sandwiches, especially if you bake it in a proper loaf tin.
If you don't have a Le Creuset or similar Dutch oven, then you can just bake the loaf in the oven, either on a baking sheet or in a loaf tin, but add an ice cube to the bottom floor of the oven to create steam, which in turn creates a delicious crust on the loaf.