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  • Michael

#0004: Rise & Shine

How do you like your eggs in the morning?

For me, it's a five and a half minute boil, a strong, black coffee, and, most importantly, a big old wedge of toast.

Shop bought bread is fine for during the week but, when the weekend arrives, you can't beat baking it yourself.

I've been playing at bread-making for a few months now, and I'm looking forward to sharing some recipes with you. Whilst dried yeast features in a lot of the recipes I've tried to date, I've found myself increasingly fascinated by sourdough.

I like the idea of these stinky little batches of bacteria and yeast being passed on from friend to friend and from generation to generation.

It's the appeal of sharing a tradition. A piece of our heritage. And, frankly, some really delicious bread.

Sourdough essentially works by cultivating the yeasts and lactobacilli that naturally occur in flour. By building up a good population of these little fellas, you don't need to use dried yeast to get a decent rise. It also has the added benefit of giving your bread a delicious, complex flavour due to the acids that the bacteria produce.

If you don't already a have a sourdough starter, ask around to see if anyone can share theirs with you. Don't worry if you can't track a starter down though; you can buy them online or you could even make your own by mixing 30g each of flour and water and keeping it at room temperature, adding the same quantities again each day for a week or so until you've made yourself a little army of bread-making friends.

The recipe I'm sharing today is for a 500g sourdough cob, using a starter based on one part wholemeal flour to two parts white flour. It's a pretty reliable recipe and, whilst it takes a while before your bread is ready, it's definitely worth the wait.

First, take 95g of strong white bread flour and 30g of wholemeal bread flour. Where you can, try to use organic flour, as it'll contain more of the bacteria you need to really get the party started. Next, add 75g of water. Things will happen more quickly and reliably if the water is around 35°C. Finally, add 100g of your sourdough starter and mix the lot together. This refreshes the starter by giving the bacteria something to eat. They'll break down the sugars in the flour, to feed the yeast. Cover it with a tea towel and leave it for about four hours to do its thing.

Once your starter is refreshed, you're ready to make some dough. Mix 150g of strong white bread flour, 50g of wholemeal bread flour, 6g of freshly ground salt, and 150g of water (again, around 35°C). You can do this by hand, or in a stand mixer with a dough hook. Once it's mixed, add 150g of your refreshed starter and knead it well. If you're using a stand mixer, about eight minutes at a medium speed should do the trick.

Kneading mixes all the ingredients together and also works the gluten,which gives your dough the elasticity it needs to capture the carbon dioxide from the fermentation process. This makes your bread rise and gives sourdough its characteristic texture.

Once you're done kneading, flour your hands and turn the dough out onto a clean, flat surface. Shape it into a ball and put it into a well floured brotform proving basket. If you don't have a brotform, line a bowl with a well floured tea towel and put the dough in there. Cover your dough with a tea towel and leave it in a warm place to prove for three to five hours.

You'll have some refreshed starter left over, so add this back to your starter to freshen it up.

To check whether your dough is sufficiently proved, give it a poke. If it springs back quickly, it could do with a little longer. If it springs back slowly, you're ready to go. If it doesn't spring back at all, you've left it too long. Don't worry though, this happens to all of us; it'll still be delicious, you just won't get a good rise when it bakes.

When you're ready to bake, turn your dough out onto a pre-heated baking tray, slash the top of it deeply to allow it to expand, and bake it in a pre-heated oven at about 230°C. I use a fan oven, so you might want to adjust your temperature if you use another type.

Now's the exciting bit as your loaf rises and browns. It should take about 25 to 30 minutes to bake but you can judge this by eye. Resist the temptation to open the oven door until your loaf looks like it's done. If you have a kitchen thermometer, you can check this by measuring the core temperature of your loaf. If it's 95°C or higher, it's done.

If you have one, transfer your loaf to a wire rack to let it cool. The crust of your loaf acts like a little oven, so your bread will continue too bake as it cools.

There's nothing quite like a freshly baked loaf, still warm from the oven, accompanied by a decent beer to get your evening started.

If there's any bread left in the morning, this loaf makes amazing toast. Just what you need to set yourself up for a day of adventure.

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