I've spent the better part of the last year and a small fortune on flour trying to achieve a really good loaf of sourdough bread. I'd made starter after starter, following a few slightly different methods, finally to end up with Algernon, my starter who has been living in my fridge for about four months now. Like leading men and Iberico ham, Algernon is improving with age, giving me a slightly more complex flavour and more active rise every time I use him. So it seems that while yes, it can take a while (days) to make a really good loaf of sourdough, it is worth investing some serious time in your pet starter, as over time you'll be rewarded a better and better loaf.
Last week, I bought a bag of Malted Blend organic wheat flour produced by Bacheldre Mill, a 16th century traditional watermill in Wales. Being still fairly new to bread baking, I'd never used malted flour before. I even had to Google 'malted wheat' because I wasn't quite sure what it even was.
Apparently, they let the grain germinate, thus releasing some of the sugar from the kernel, giving the bread a sweeter, nuttier flavour. This blend is a mixture of malted wheat and rolled malted wheat flakes.
I made the bread the same way that I made my last loaf of white sourdough, but replaced all of the flour with the malted blend. I made it to serve with a pasta dish I was making for dinner (tasty but not worth posting) for my hubby, stepson and stepson's friend. (In case you had not noticed, ours is a carb-friendly house.)
My stepson has an almost pathological aversion to wholemeal bread and the crusts in particular. It's not bad enough that I pack it in his lunch every day, but now I'm serving it with dinner??! I had put a large plate of the still-warm bread on the table, from which he and his friend took the smallest pieces.
That was yesterday. There is no more bread left now. as it got polished off with breakfast and at lunch today but I'm going to make another loaf tomorrow. I also bought a bag of Bacheldre's wholemeal rye flour, so I'll report back and let you all know how that turns out.
Malted Wheat Sourdough Bread
For the sponge:
250g (8.8oz) organic malted blend wheat flour
300ml (10.14oz) warm water
100ml (3.38oz) sourdough starter -Here is one of a few good resources for starter recipes/methods.
For the finished loaf:
285g (10oz) more flour
10g (.4oz) fine sea salt
tbsp cornmeal or polenta for dusting
At least 24 hours before serving, start the sponge. Mix together the warm water, starter and flour well until you have a wet, stretchy batter. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place overnight.
After 12 hours, you should have a bubbly, frothy mixture that smells all sour and beery. If only a little foamy, leave it for several hours more and see if it doesn't get the light, loose spongy appearance you're after. One thing I definitely learned is that you can't rush a sourdough and that at the beginning, a starter might need a little longer to work its magic.
Add the remaining flour and the salt to the dough (you can use the dough hook on your stand mixer for this part) and then knead well by hand for a good 8-10 minutes, until you have a very smooth, elastic dough that is a little on the wet side.
Spread a little olive oil all over the inside of a large bowl, form your dough into a ball and put in the bowl, covered with cling film in a warm place until at least doubled in size. This may take 4 or 5 hours, it may take ten, it just depends on your starter.
Punch the dough down and give it one final little knead, then shape it into whichever shape loaf you'd like and place on a board scattered with polenta or cornmeal to prevent sticking.
I cover my dough with the large clear plastic bowl from my salad spinner, but you could use a tea towel. Leave it to rise for a final time, probably around 2 hours, then turn your oven to 200C (400F) and put a baking sheet or (even better) a baking stone in to get nice and hot.
When the oven is hot, remove the baking sheet, (or stone) slash the top of the loaf quickly with a sharp knife and carefully slide your risen loaf onto the baking sheet.
Put a small bowl of water on the floor of the oven to help form a crust and set the timer for 40 minutes.
Check the loaf after 40 minutes by turning it over and tapping on the bottom. It should be dry and firm and there should be a hollow sound when you hit it.
After baking a few loaves of sourdough, as is true for many foods, you'll be able to smell when it's done. It's like a little nose alarm goes of like an oven timer and even if you're engrossed in a book (or 30 Rock...) your head will snap up and you'll just know. The first time I was aware of this phenomenon was when I was roasting chicken as a young thing.
Anyway, back to the bread. That's pretty much it. Take it out of the oven when it sounds right and you're happy with the colour. Try not to cut into it while it's really hot because you'll squish the inside into a doughy wad.
This was so good, I ate more bread in the past 24 hours than I usually do in a week. I then made pizza for supper, so I'm in a gluten stupor and I'm getting muscles in my upper arms from all the kneading. I'll look like Madonna with a potbelly in no time!
I wont pretend to be any kind of authority on the vagaries of sourdough, this is just the method I've been following recently. If you have helpful hints or critiques, please leave them in the comments section. xoxo