This is a truly easy, foolproof way of making consistently good sourdough bread. The sourdough world is full of time consuming labours of love, the results of which I’m sure can be delicious; but they are all so complicated, so dependant on the right room environment, correct water temperature, precisely measured ingredients, repeated kneading and proving, not to mention additional palaver during cooking, involving spray and steam, I feel exhausted before starting.
This simplified process involves no measuring, no kneading, very little time – ten minutes work, twelve hours wait – and minimal hand contact. Using short baguette trays with perforations helps ensure a consistent, less dense result, and the trays don’t need either oiling or cleaning. I’ve found, the cheaper the flour (such as Tesco ‘everyday’, mixed with wholewheat) the better the result. By ‘better’, I mean, less refined.
A ‘mother’ is required. This is the sourdough starter. Once you have it, it’s yours forever. Cadge some from a friend, or a baker, or make it. It’s simple, but takes a week or so. Mix some flour (preferably rye or wholemeal) and a mug or two of water into a pancake texture and leave in a bowl exposed to the air for a few days. When it starts bubbling, throw half away and replace with more flour and water. Repeat this until the mixture (a pint or so) gives off a nice, but definitely sour aroma and is bubbling somewhat. That is your mother! (If, at any stage, the mother separates into solid and liquid, whisk gently until it becomes one again.)
Take some of the mother (a couple of tablespoons, say) and place it in a second bowl. Add some water (any temperature will do) and some flour (any flour will do), and whisk into a pancake texture. Cover this bowl with a plate and put to one side. This is your ‘new’ mother.
Add flour (white and/or wholewheat) and any seeds (pumpkin, linseed, etc) into the first bowl, along with the leftover mother, bearing in mind the capacity of your baking trays. If you want (I don’t) you can add salt. Add water as needed (this can be any temperature, although warm adds springiness to the dough). Stir this and then ‘knead’ it with a strong wooden spoon until it is a fairly solid cake making texture. This is the critical part of the process. Too little water can result in too dry a loaf and small air bubbles. Too much water can mean a sticky loaf. The ideal is a dough that can be formed into a malleable lump that neither sticks to the bowl nor resists the pressure of the spoon.
Cover this bowl with a plate and leave for at least twelve hours – ideally overnight. Room temperature is unimportant. It should eventually double in size. If it doesn’t, there’s something adrift with your mother!
Put some flour on a flat dish (such as a Pyrex lid). With the wooden spoon, scoop out as much of the dough as will be required for the tray size you’re using, drop it onto the floured dish, scrape off any bits sticking to the wooden spoon with a knife, and prepare to use your hands.
Without disturbing its shape too much, roll the lump of dough over in the flour until its surface is well covered, and then place it in or on the baking receptacle. In the case of baguette trays, the piece of dough should be elongated to fit, roughly.
Bake immediately. Everyone’s oven is different. I have an electric, fan assisted model that gives the best result at 160 degrees Celsius for 45 minutes. If this doesn’t work with you, experiment with other temperatures and timings.
Take the bread from the oven, knock the loaves out of their trays, and marvel at the result.