Making sourdough bread at home
Sourdough means dough fermented with naturally occurring yeasts and lactobacilli and without industrially manufactured yeast of the kind used by bakers and sold for home baking. Making sourdough bread is easy; after all, people have made bread this way long before commercial yeast. Let us introduce the rye leaven we use at The Handmade Bakery.
“Grandmother” Rye Leaven
This leaven was passed down to us by Aidan Chapman, of Phoenix Bakery, Weymouth. According to him it originates from 1970s Russia and it’s been kept alive ever since then. It’s affectionately called the “Grandmother”.
Starting and looking after your leaven
A sourdough leaven is just a mixture of flour and water refreshed regularly with more flour and water. The millions of yeast spores naturally occurring on flour and in the atmosphere multiply over time in this leaven to create a bubbly 'alive' leaven that will make your bread rise.
To start your own leaven simply mix 50g wholemeal rye flour and 50g warm water in a container and leave out in a warm place. After 1 day discard 90 percent of this mixture and add another 50g rye flour and 50g warm water. Repeat this over 5 days and you should find that you have a frothy looking mixture. Fill a small bowl with water and take a spoonful of the leaven. Drip the leaven into the bowl of water. If the leaven floats it is fully ready to raise your bread. If it sinks refresh again and wait a day and try again. The leaven should smell slightly acidic but not too vinagery.
Maintaining your leaven
When you add fresh flour and water to a leaven, the yeasts and lactobacilli can feed on the new source of fermentable sugars. To keep the leaven alive, it needs fresh ‘food’ regularly. If kept at room temperature, leaven needs to be refreshed every 2 days or so, which happens as a by-product of making a ‘production sourdough’ for baking.
If you don’t bake as often, keeping the leaven in the fridge slows down the fermentation process. 2 days before you plan to bake remove the leaven from the fridge and refresh it at least once, or preferably twice a day (morning and evening) so that it is nice and vigorous for your bake. It should be left out in room temperature during this process.
You can refresh the rye leaven by discarding 90% of the old leaven and mixing water and flour at the ratio of 1:1 (1 part water, 1 part flour) to the rest of it. You are looking for the consistency of thick Yorkshire pudding batter or runny porridge.
Before putting it back in the fridge, refresh it once more but make the mixture stiffer (less water). It will keep fine for up to two weeks without refreshing. If left in the fridge for some time the leaven will separate into a thin grey liquid and more solid goo. Just mix all this back together and refresh as above.
Yorkshire Leaven recipe
450g Yorkshire Organic Millers Superior White (or white bread flour)
50g Yorkshire Organic Millers Wholemeal (or wholemeal bread flour)
325g warm water
80g Yorkshire Organic Millers Superior White (or white bread flour)
45g warm water
14g mature rye culture
10 to12 hours before you plan to bake
Having refreshed your rye leaven for a couple of days previously it should have lots of bubbles on the surface and smell slightly acidic. Weigh and mix all the ‘Production Sourdough’ ingredients together and mix in a bowl until all the ingredients are incorporated. Leave covered for 10 to 12 hours in room temperature. This could be done in the morning for an evening bake or in the evening for a morning bake depending on your schedule.
10 to 12 hours later
Weigh the dry dough ingredients into a bowl then add all of your ‘Production Sourdough’ and water. Mix together until all the ingredients are incorporated and you have a sticky ragged dough. Leave in a covered bowl for ten minutes.
Wet the work surface and your hands with a little water and knead the dough for 1 minute. Put the dough back in the covered bowl to rest for another ten minutes.
Repeat this process 2 more times then shape the dough into a round and leave in a covered bowl for approximately one hour or until the dough has almost doubled in size.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Pat down some of the gas out of the dough. Stretch out the dough into a rough rectangle then fold the rectangle in thirds back in on itself. Imagine you are folding a business letter to fit into a slim envelope. Place your dough back in its bowl and leave covered for 1 more hour to rise again.
Turn the dough back onto a lightly floured work surface, divide into two pieces and pre-shape each lump into a rough round shape. Leave to rest for 5 mins. Then reshape each loaf into a nice tight round ball.
Heavily flour two tea towels and place them into two appropriately sized bowls flour side up. Place your loaves into the bowls with the underside (the untidy side with a seam) facing upwards.
Leave to prove (rise) until they've roughly doubled in size (40 to 60 mins).
Turn each loaf out carefully onto a floured baking tray, slash the tops with a sharp knife, and bake in a hot oven (230c)for approximately 30mins until the surface look crusty and golden.
Total time 13-15 hours approx. Actual work involved 45 mins.
Finnish 100% Rye 'Sisu' sourdough
We named this 100% rye loaf after an essential part of the Finnish psyche. ‘Sisu’ has no direct translation in English but sums up perfectly what Finns and this loaf are all about: Guts, determination, courage and perseverance to name a few of the key ingredients.
This loaf contains no baker’s yeast and is risen using a natural rye leaven that we were given by Aidan Chapman of the Phoenix Bakery and which originally comes from 1970s Russia. We affectionately call it the ‘Grandmother’.
500 g medium or wholemeal rye flour
25g molasses or black treacle
10g caraway seeds
15 g salt
350 g water (warm)
300g mature and vigorous rye leaven
Rye reacts very differently to wheat mainly because it contains very little gluten. This means that traditional kneading is not necessary. Simply combine all the ingredients and mix until you have a smooth clay like dough. Grease 2 400g / 1lb baking tins with sunflower oil.
Using wet hands take half the dough and form into a smooth shape approximately the same dimensions as your tin. Drop the dough into the tin carefully trying to avoid it smearing down the side of the tin. Repeat with the second half of the dough. Dust both with caraway seeds and rye flour and leave to prove in a warm draft free place.
Depending on the vigour of your leaven and the warmth of the room your loaves will take between 2 and 3 hours to prove. Heat the oven to 225 C. When the loaves are domed slightly over the lip of the tins and the rye flour on top has cracked showing the the dough beneath bake them for for 35 mins.
Allow the tins to cool for 5 minutes before knocking the loaves out onto a cooling rack. Rye needs to cool completely before being sliced as it is quite gummy otherwise.