Deliciously chewy and tangy with enormous air holes and a fine savoury crust, this is one of my favourite breads. The large air holes are due to a wetter than usual dough so you may find it tricky to handle. The shaped loaves will be rather saggy and would benefit from the support of proving baskets if you have them. In any case, this sourdough will rise dramatically in the oven and will always end up looking glorious, if occasionally perhaps a little misshapen.
This bread really is a labour of love. The starter takes about a week to make and establish if you don’t happen to have any to hand but while making it – as strange as it may sound – you develop a relationship and an understanding with your starter. You get to know it and what it needs and just a ladleful and a bit of nurturing can turn some flour and water into the most incredible thing.
I recommend that you read the recipe through before starting to familiarise yourself with the timings and techniques. Although this is not a challenging recipe, you will need to set aside some time for this one. Perfect for a rainy day and the biggest sense of satisfaction achieved too!
Makes 2-3 loaves
For the sponge:
- 650ml warm water
- 500g strong white bread flour
- A ladleful of sourdough starter (see sourdough starter post)
For the dough:
- 600g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
- 25g salt
- A handful of rye flour to finish
- Before you go to bed, make the sponge. Mix the water, flour and starter together in a bowl. Cover and leave in a fairly warm place overnight.
- The next morning, mix the flour and salt into the sponge. Bring it together and squidge in a glug of olive oil. The dough should be soft and sticky – just kneadable but rather wetter than a normal dough. You will need some extra flour for your hands, the dough and worktop. It will be quite messy to begin with. Every now and then, clean your hands and scrape the worktop. Use more flour if you need to but be sparing with it – you don’t want to make the dough stiff or you won’t get big air holes.
- When your dough is smooth and satiny (after about 10-20 minutes of kneading), shape it into a nice tight round and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and leave somewhere warm for about an hour.
- Now lightly oil the worktop and tip the dough out onto the surface. Press it out flat with your fingertips, shape into a round again, put it back in its bowl, cover and leave in a warm place for another hour. Do this twice more. You will see and feel the dough becoming smoother, shinier and more airy.
- After these four hours of rising and deflating, the dough will feel soft and puffy. Sink your hands in and diflate it once more. Divide into two or three and shape into loaves. Coat with rye flour and transfer to well floured wooden boards.
- Lay a plastic bag over the whole batch to stop it drying out and leave to prove for 2-3 hours or until doubled in size. You will probably notice big air holes developing near the surface. Unlike with other breads, you should err on the side of over-proving the loaves as the air holes will be bigger.
- When the loaves are almost ready, switch the oven to 250C, put a baking tray inside and place a roasting tin on the bottom shelf. Put the kettle on. Have a water spray bottle, a serrated knife and an oven cloth ready. Clear the area around the oven. You will need to work quickly now.
- When the loaves are ready, transfer them to the hot tray (removed from the oven). Slash the tops with the serrated knife. Spray the bread all over with water. Put the tray into the oven and pour some boiling water from the kettle into the roasting tin and close the door as quickly as you can.
- Turn the heat down after 10 minutes to 200C if the crust is still very pale, 180C if the crust is noticeably browning or 170C if the crust seems to be browning too quickly. Bake until the loaves are well browned and very crusty. They should feel hollow when you tap the base. In total allow 30-40 minutes for smaller loaves or 40-50 minutes for larger ones. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
This bread is immense served just warm from the oven with a nice thick soup to dunk into. It is also amazing as sandwich bread, toasted, tossed into tomato salads or simply on its own. This really is the best bread I’ve ever eaten. It is so crisp and flavourful on the outside and the inside is so springy, tangy and chewy.