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Picture of European Sour Dough recipe
A tried, tested and reliable Sour Dough recipe. What's more, it can be adjusted and tweaked to suit your preference for brown or white bread (see Optional Ingredients step).

This bread has a chewy and open consistency, really tasty crust and goes well with additional herbs and seeds.

For these instructions it's assumed that your Sour Dough Ferment is healthy, recently fed and bubbling with activity.
 
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Step 1: The basic order and timing

Day before baking;
          9:00pm      -  Mix the 'Starter', this needs roughly 12 hours to grow and replicate

Baking day;
          9:00am      -  Mix the dough by adding extra ingredients to your starter
                              -  Then let it rest for a bout 10 minutes
                              -  Once the liquids have soaked into the flour it's time to knead
                              -  Allow dough to rise for 4-6 hours.
                              -  It needs to double in size, so keep it warm and cosy
          2 or 3pm    -  Knock back the dough to remove the biggest bubbles and divide
                              -  Shape into loafs or place into floured formers
                              -  Allow loafs to prove for 1-2 hours
          4 or 5pm    - Flour the loafs, slash the surface and bake
                              -  Allow the loafs to completely cool

Step 2: Create your 'Starter' the day before baking

Picture of Create your 'Starter' the day before baking
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This recipe begins the evening before baking. I like to make a large starter in order to boost the number of yeast cells and ensure that they are operating at peak performance.

The Starter
  • 3-4 tablespoons of well fed active 'Sour Dough Ferment' (Glass Jar below)
  • 500g Strong white bread flour
  • 500g water (500ml)
          Measure out the water into a large bowl, then spoon in the 'Sour Dough Ferment'.
         Stir to dissolve the ferment (see first photo below).
         Slowly add the flour, mixing as you go.
         The Starter should be a thin paste (Orange bowl in photo below).

         At this stage I always take 3-4 tables spoons from the Starter mix and return
         it to my pot of Sour Dough Ferment. It's then fed and happy for a few days.

         Cover remaining Starter with cling-film and leave in a warm place for about 12 hours.

Step 3: Baking day - mix the dough and knead

Picture of Baking day - mix the dough and knead
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The Starter should have become very active overnight. It will smell yeasty and look bubbly on the surface (see photo below).

   The Dough
         
  • To make the dough add the following ingredients to your active starter;
  • 500g Strong white bread flour (also see 'Optional Ingredients' step)
  • 100g Water
  • 21g salt
  • 14g sugar

Kneading the dough

This recipe makes a moist sticky dough, in the early stages of kneading it can be messy and difficult to handle. Stick with it though, as the consistency changes it will become more manageable. (See photo below showing mixed dough, it's shiny appearance is due to the moist mix)


          You have two options when it comes to kneading.

          Option 1
          Scrape the dough mixture onto a clean surface and ensure it's mixed thoroughly.
          Knead the dough using the heel of your hand for 10 minutes.
          This option creates a smooth loaf with an even consistency.

          Option 2
          Scrape the dough mixture onto a clean surface and ensure it's mixed thoroughly.
          Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes.
          Knead for 20-30 seconds then leave for 10 minutes.
          Knead again for 20-30 seconds then leave for another 10 minutes.
          The process can be repeated until the dough feels smooth and stretchy.
          This option seems to break down the flour less, resulting in a better texture. It also
          introduces extra air into the dough, creating a more rustic and open looking loaf.

Step 4: Rise & Knockback

Picture of Rise & Knockback
Rising the dough
         Place the kneaded dough into an oiled bowl and cover with cling-film. A teaspoon of oil will prevent the
          dough from sticking and make it easier to turn out. Be prepared to wait patiently for your dough to rise.
          Sour dough can be temperamental, but will always grow well (see the photo below).

          Many factors will affect the rate at which it rises. So don't panic if it takes up to 6 hours to double in size.
          Rising time can be affected by the air temperature, activity of the Ferment or activity of the Starter.
 
Knockback the dough
         Once doubled in size the dough should be turned out on to a clean surface and knocked back.
          Knocking back removes the largest air bubbles and returns the dough to a manageable consistency.
          Fold the edges inwards and push down on the dough

Step 5: Shape the loaves and proove

Picture of Shape the loaves and proove
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Shaping the loaves
           This recipe will make two round cob loaves.
           Roll the knocked down dough into a ball and divide into two. Flour your hands and kitchen worktop to prevent   
           sticking. Shape the dough into a round, sprinkling with extra flour if it becomes to tacky.
           By rolling the ball between your hands on the kitchen worktop you need to tighten the surface of the loaf. This 
           takes a little practice, but it's obvious when the surface begins to stretch and become smooth.

          Transfer the shaped loaf to a sheet of baking parchment or a baking tray and dust with flour.

          Leave to prove for 1-2 hours, or until almost doubled in size.
          I like to cover the loaves with floured clingfilm. It does not stick and prevents them from drying (see photo).

Step 6: Baking the loaves

Picture of Baking the loaves
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Flour and slash
          Don't prove for too long. It's up to you to determine how long it too long. If proved excessively the internal
          structure will become too aerated and collapse sideways rather then standing up.

          Dust the proved loaves with plenty of flour. This serves to slow the crust formation and slow browning.
          By slowing the crust formation you give the loaf plenty of opportunity to rise in the first few minutes of baking.

          Take a very sharp knife or scalpel and slash a pattern in to the loaf. There might be a technical term for this
          step, but it's mainly cosmetic. The idea is that you want to reduce some of the surface tension and allow the
          loaf to expand outwards.

Bake your loaves
          The oven should be pre-heated to 200 degrees Celsius. I use a baking/pizza stone, heated along with
          the oven. The loaves can then be cooked directly on the stone for a more authentic oven baked finish.
          The baking stone is not vital, you can use a baking tray for a similar effect.

          Transferring a carefully risen loaf into the oven is best done with a well floured pizza peel.
          Otherwise try to slide it into the oven without disturbing the shape too much. Proving on a sheet of baking
          parchment is best, the loaf and  parchment can then be slid into the oven with minimal disturbance.

          The timer should be set for 40 minutes, but every oven is different so keep an eye on the loaves.
          Once the crust is nicely brown each loaf can be tested by tapping the base and judging the sound.

          When it cooked the loaf will have a hollow sound rather than a moist thud.

Step 7: Optional ingredients and finishes

For a wholemeal loaf
          The recipe needs a certain amount of white bread flour to feed the wild yeasts. Luckily the starter contains           
         500g of white flour, providing the yeast with all it needs.

         You are then free to choose a flour mixture for the additional 500g in Step 3.  I often use 250g of white
         and 250g of wholemeal. Other options could be all wholemeal, spelt flour, rye or wholegrain. Just keep the total      
         amount in Step 3 to 500g.

Herbs and flavorings
          Garlic bread, bruschetta, croutons etc. can  all benefit from a few extra flavours.
          A handful of fresh chopped herbs will completely change the bread and create a burst of aroma as you cut into it.   

         Personal favorites are sage and thyme, oregano, garlic and onion.

Fancy finishes
          Seed topped loaves not only look great, but contain a depth of flavour not possible with just flour.
          Once shaped the loaf needs to be washed in water or milk to create a sticky surface.
          Either sprinkle on your seeds or roll the shaped loaf in seeds for a denser covering.


For a way the professional bakers make a sourdough starter, see my post:

http://dangermencooking.blogspot.com/2004/10/i-promised-to-write-about-fermented.html
tz1_1zt (author)  Mark_in_Hollywood4 years ago
Many thanks for adding link. Very handy because I've not yet written instructions for making my Sour Dough Ferment.

Just to make things clear, where Mark_in_Hollywood's link refers to a "Starter", my Instructable calls it a "Ferment". I use "starter" to refer to a different part of the process. My recipe is not a San Francisco Sour Dough, more of an old fashioned European fermented bread.