I always find that there is nothing better than a fresh bread from the bakery, or even better, a home made bread that just came out of the oven. Well, maybe our soft chocolate tart does get close.
We used to have a bread machine, but the bread comes out as an unattractive block with two holes in the bottom. So after using that for a couple weeks it ended up sitting in a cupboard, hardly ever being used again.
We are big fans of crusty German bread, which is a lot more solid than Australian (and Dutch) bread. Oliver discovered a good German bakery, which also has a store close to Flinders Street station in Melbourne. Here you pay $ 7 for a loaf of bread.
So when my friend, with German roots, told me that she made her own sourdough bread, I was all ears. She uses sourdough starter for her bread and she offered me some of hers. I had no idea what sourdough starter was though.
You can use sourdough starter instead of yeast. Since the starter is made of flower, you are only using three ingredients for the bread, flower, water and salt!
Having a starter is like having a pet
Having a sourdough starter is just like having a pet, you have to feed it every day. Feeding just means that you have to add flour and water. Officially you have to take half of the starter out before you feed it, but I found that it is not necessary to do this all the time. We do bake bread quite regularly. If you do not want to feed it every day, you can put it in the fridge. Then you need to feed it about twice a week.
If you forget it, it will die, which is easily visible as it will go mold on top. I have read that there are people who take it with them when they travel. I guess we will search for a sourdough-starter-sitter though.
It takes a couple days to make your own starter, so it helps to get some from a friend. And then you can share it with others again. I have not made my own starter yet, but I intend to give that a try as well, as that does not sound too hard, either.
Making the bread
I found the original recipe on Stonesoup. Here you can also find a recipe for the same bread using yeast instead of sourdough starter.
So far I have used German grains and plain bread flower. The results are quite different. The plain flower is the easiest one to make as it rises very well. The German grains bread is staying more compact. But basically you can use all types of bread flower.
325g bread flour
200g sourdough starter
250 ml hand-warm water (30-35 degrees, stick two fingers in it should be pleasant)
1 teaspoon salt
semolina, optional but really recommendable
If you are testing the temperature of the water, stick in two fingers instead of one. It does make a difference, really. The water should have a pleasant temperature. If you want to pull your fingers out, it is too hot and the yeast will die.
Let the bread rise
The dough needs to rise for 8-12 hours. I prefer to make it in the evening and do the baking in the morning, because it is very tempting to start eating the bread.
The result of the rising is always different. The pictures below are the same quantity and the same bowl:
Preparing the dough after the rising
Before I prepare the dough I turn on the oven to 250 degrees with the pan (and lid) in it, since it needs to preheat for 30 minutes.
Since the dough is still very wet after the rising, I add some flour afterwards. I do this by putting a big layer of bread flour on the kitchen counter.
Then I pour the dough on the flower:
And fold the outside to the middle. This is why the bread gets the ‘bursts’ on top, that give it the even more rustic look:
Until I get a dough that does not stick to my hands anymore, but that is still more ‘runny’ than a regular bread dough.
On the bottom of the dough I pour some semolina, this gives a really nice crust. The rest over the dough gets an outside layer of flower, so that the dough does not stick to the kitchen towel.
Then I wrap it into a towel until the oven is hot.
How to bake the bread in the oven
The secret to this recipe it that you make an oven within an oven. This way you can bake the bread at a higher temperature without burning it. I do this by putting it in a pan with a lid in the oven.
Leave the pan in the oven for:
30 minutes preheat the oven with the pan and lid
30 minutes add the dough in the pan leave it on 250 degrees, with the lid on
15 minutes on 170-180 degrees, without the lid
I pop the dough on the side of the pan, this way I get a more oval shaped bread. If you prefer a rounder bread you can put it in the middle.
Once baked I take it out of the pan immediately to let it cool down on a rack. When I did not do that I lost the nice crusty bite.
This is the end result for the German grain bread:
And this the plain flower:
It is all a lot easier than I thought it would be. So I have ended up baking quite a few breads already. Although the bread is the absolute best when it just came out of the oven, it stays very edible the next two days. On the third day you just need to put it in the toaster and then it almost taste like they just came out of the oven again.
We will have to see if we can keep it up and not have it end up like our bread machine. But my hopes are high, as the happiest consumers are our children!