Levain 25g mature starter (my starter is 100% hydration) 50g 50/50 flour blend (my blend of white and wholemeal bread flours used for the starter) 50ml water at 27C
Sourdough Recipe 100g levain 450g white bread flour 50g malthouse flour 375ml water at 27C 10g salt
Make the levain
The levain needs to double in size to be ready to bake with and unlike with the starter I like to do this in a slightly warm environment. I like to use my oven with the light switched on. This creates just enough ambient warmth to create an environment perfect for the levain. (4 hours to rise)
An hour before the levain is finished rising, when its roughly 3/4 of the way to doubling, we mix together the flour and water (keeping back 25ml for a later use). To do this we don’t need to knead the dough, or develop the gluten, we just want to hydrate the flour. Squeeze the mixture through your fingers, until everything is moistened, scrape any dry bits from the side of the bowl and then cover the bowl and pop it the oven alongside the levain until it finishes doubling.
Before we mix everything together, test that the autolyse is ready by doing a float test. The recipe for the levain makes a total of 125g and we only need 100g for the dough itself, the rest is for this stage. Take a teaspoon of the the levain and pop it into a bowl of water. If it floats the mixture is full of gas and is ready to bake with, if it doesn’t, we need to leave it a little longer.
Scrape 100g of the levain on top of the autolysed dough and use your fingers to dimple it into the dough. We want to fully distribute the levain so once the dimpling stops working, I start folding the dough on itself until it feels more uniform. Leave the dough for 15 minutes before adding the salt.
Sprinkle the salt over the dough and use that last 25ml water to pour on top of the dough to help the salt dissolve. Repeat the dimpling and folding process until the salt is distributed. At this stage the dough will separate a little due to the added water but just keep folding the dough until it becomes uniform.
Stretch and folds are this recipe kneading and it thankfully takes less time and less effort. To stretch and fold the dough take a wet hand and scoop under the dough lifting it up, gently stretching until you feel some resistance then fold it over itself. You do this at the north, east, south and west points on the dough. This is one set of stretch and folds. We are going to do a total of four sets, spaced 30 minutes apart.
This rough shape now needs to be tightened up a little. Using both hands, which should remain in contact with the work surface the whole time, cup the dough and drag it towards yourself for a drag of about 15-20cm. The dough should drag along the work surface and you should feel the ball tighten up. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat the dragging, doing this a few times until the dough is taught and round. Be careful at this stage as doing this too many times will tear the dough. Carefully lift the dough and turn it into a proving basket, the seams should be showing.
Pop the dough into the fridge and leave overnight.
We are going to bake the bread in a cast iron pot, something like a large le Creuset. We want it blisteringly hot so preheat it, as high as it will go, at least 250C, for a full hour.
Take the dough from the fridge and carefully turn it out onto a crumpled piece of parchment. To control how the dough opens up as it bakes, we are going to score it with a sharp blade. I use the traditional lame, a razor blade attached to a handle, but you can happily start with a sharp bread knife. The key to this stage is depth and speed. We want a cut that won’t disappear as the dough bakes and we want to work with speed so the cut is nice and clean. To start off I simply do a single cut along the length of the dough.
Remove the cast iron pot from the oven and remove the lid. Cut away the remaining parchment and carefully transfer the loaf to the pan and place the lid back on. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes. Baking the loaf in the pan helps to trap the moisture from the dough, creating steam so the crust is slow to form and the bread can rise to its full potential. Reduce the temperature to 220C and remove the lid and bake for a further 20 minutes or until the crust is nice and dark. If the loaf browns too quickly, in under 10 minutes, you’ll find the crust will soften quicker than desired. If this happens reduce the temperature next time to 200C after removing the lid.
Even though it is very tempting to cut into the bread immediately leave it at least an hour before enjoying otherwise it will be a little gummy.