Sourdough Recipe

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The River Cottage Bread HandbookThis is a simple wholemeal sourdough, which you can adapt infinitely, in the same way as the basic bread recipe. I have also given you the River Cottage variation.

  • Yield: 3 Loaves


For the sponge
  • 500 g strong wholemeal wheat flour
  • 600 ml warm water
  • A ladleful of very active sourdough starter
For the dough
  • 600 g strong wholemeal wheat flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 25 g salt
How to Make It
  1. Before you go to bed, make the sponge: mix all the ingredients together by hand in a large bowl or plastic container. Beat for a while, squeezing the lumps of flour out as you come across them. Put the container in a plastic bag and leave it somewhere fairly warm until the morning.
  2. The next day, mix in the flour and salt, and squash it all together, adding more flour or water as necessary, to make a soft, easily kneadable, sticky dough. Turn it out on to a clean work surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth and springy.
  3. Form the dough into a tight round, flour it all over and place in a clean bowl. Cover with a plastic bag and leave to rise. After an hour, tip it out on to your work surface (it may not have risen much at this point). Form it into a tight round again, return to the bowl, cover and leave to rise for another hour. Repeat this process once, or even twice more  you will notice the dough becoming increasingly airy.
  4. After the final rising period, tip the dough out on to the work surface and deflate it by pressing all over with your hands. Divide into two or three, and shape into loaves. Coat with flour, then transfer the loaves to well-floured wooden boards, linen cloths, tea towels or proving baskets. Lay a plastic bag over the whole batch, to stop it drying out, and leave to prove until almost doubled in size; this could be anywhere from 1–4 hours, depending on the temperature of the dough and the vigour of your sourdough starter.
  5. When the loaves are almost ready, switch the oven to 250°C/Gas Mark 10 or its highest setting, put a baking stone or a heavy 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, as well as a peel or rimless baking sheet, if you are using a baking stone. Clear the area around the oven.
  6. When the loaves are ready, either transfer them to the hot tray (removed from the oven), or one at a time to the peel. Slash the tops with the serrated knife and spray the bread all over with water. Put the tray into the oven, or slide each loaf on to the baking stone, pour some boiling water into the roasting tin and close the door as quickly as you can.
  7. Turn the heat down after about 10 minutes to 200°C/Gas Mark 6 if the crust is still very pale; 180°C/Gas Mark 4 if the crust is noticeably browning; or 170°C/Gas Mark 3 if the crust seems to be browning quickly. Bake until the loaves are well browned and crusty, and feel hollow when you tap them: in total allow 30–40 minutes for small loaves; 40–50 minutes for large loaves. If in doubt, bake for a few minutes longer. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

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