The king of Breads
MAKES 1 loaf
For the rye starter: day 1
50g wholegrain rye flour
For the rye starter: days 2, 3, 4 and 5
1 tbsp wholegrain rye flour
For the stiff starter
85g strong white bread flour
To make the sourdough loaf
400g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
50g wholemeal flour, plus extra for the proving basket
50g rye flour
12g fine sea salt
oil, for the bowl
semolina, for dusting
To make the rye starter, on day one just mix the flour together with 50ml of cold water. Cover the mixture with a tea towel and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
On each consecutive day, add one tablespoon of flour and one tablespoon of cold water to your existing starter, and mix together. By day five it should be nice and lively, with some bubbling and a slightly alcoholic aroma.
To turn this into a stiff starter (used in many sourdoughs), put the strong white bread flour, 43ml of water and 42g of your rye starter into a bowl and mix until combined. Cover with cling film or a shower cap and leave at room temperature for 8-14 hours.
For the sourdough, put 145g of the rested stiff starter and 400ml water into a large bowl and begin to break up the starter into smaller parts by squeezing it through your hands.
Now add the flours, then, with one hand shaped like a fork, gently bring everything together until just combined, which should take only a couple of minutes. Scrape the dough off your hand into the bowl, then take the dough out of the bowl and place it on a floured work surface, making sure you scrape all of it out to leave a clean bowl. Keep the bowl to one side, as you will need it later.
Now, with your dough on the work surface and you ‘poised like a puma’ (your hand like a claw above the dough), using the heel of your hand push the dough into the work surface and ‘stretch and tear’ it forwards, then grab it and bring it back to where you started the ‘stretch and tear’. Repeat for about six minutes. After four minutes you will begin to feel the dough strengthen as the gluten develops. Scrape the dough back into the bowl you used earlier, then leave to rest for 20 minutes.
Scrape the dough back on to your work surface. Add the salt to it and, again ‘poised like a puma’, start to bring the salt gently into the dough for a couple of minutes, making sure you mix it through evenly.
Lightly oil the bowl, pop the dough back in, then give the dough a fold – pick up the top two corners and pull up, stretching the dough upwards, then fold over to the opposite side (the first corners should meet the opposite two corners). Next, pick up the bottom two corners and again pull up, stretching the dough up and over, and fold to the opposite side. Repeat for the left- and right-hand sides then flip the dough over so that the bottom becomes the top.
Leave it to rest for an hour, then give the dough three more folds, resting for an hour each time. Between folds, you will need to cover the bowl with cling film, a tea towel or a shower cap. After the final fold, leave the dough for another hour. Don’t stress if you end up missing a fold or your timing goes out of sync – always remember that bread making is a journey, and one that you should enjoy.
After the last rest, take a proving basket (or colander) and a clean tea towel. Fold the towel in half, lay it in the basket and lightly sprinkle it with wholemeal flour. Pop the loaf, bottom-side up, into the lined basket, then cover with a shower cap. Place in the fridge for 8-12 hours, or overnight, so that the fermentation carries on slowly.
The next day, take the dough out of the fridge and leave it for an hour before uncovering. It should have a gorgeous wheaty and sour aroma.
Preheat your oven to 250C/gas mark 10, or as hot as it will go. Once ready, pop a cast-iron casserole into the oven to heat up for 10 minutes. Carefully take it out. Sprinkle the dough with semolina and gently place it top-side down in the casserole, then, using a sharp knife, cut two slashes in the top. Put on the lid and bake for 35 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for a further 25 minutes.
Take the casserole out of the oven and very carefully remove the loaf, then pop the loaf back into the oven, directly on the shelf, for a further 5-10 minutes, depending on how much singe you like.
Once baked, place on a rack to cool.