Master Sourdough Loaf

The perfect sourdough loaf (in my opinion)- a thin, light crust with a moist, airy and soft interior with a slight chew. 

I've been tinkering around with my recipe for sourdough bread for a while- I've tried bread recipes from various cookbooks, and while they've all been somewhat delicious, the lacked the sort of flavour and texture that I was looking for. Some were too dense, too sour, too heavy, to many large air pockets, etc. This recipe I'm sharing with you today is deliciously light- with a slight tang from the sourdough- and a perfect one to use in sandwiches and grilled cheese. 

I have to say this recipe is very different from most of the sourdough recipes you see out there- I've tried using the high hydration and folding method- and while I did get some nice results, it took me more time than I can spare on my Sunday mornings to make my bread. This recipe, though, is a lot more flexible. You need to give your starter some time to get warm and cosy, take about 30-45 minutes of mixing and prep and kneading, an overnight rise, or slightly more, a second rise and then bake! This fits into my schedule a lot better because it means that I can knead the dough for a loaf of bread one afternoon after school, bake it the next, and get delicious fresh bread for dinner. 

Personally, I'm much more used to soft, fluffy buns and not so much the chewy, crusty artisan loaves that many people love. This particular recipe yields bread with a thin, light crust that gradually softens over time- though it will crisp up again once you toast it lightly in the oven. The crumb consists of small air pockets, but it's light and very slightly chewy, and I think it's the perfect vehicle for anything, sweet and savoury. I'm giving you 2 variations on the classic- one with some delicious fresh rosemary (perfect for grilled cheese!) and one with pumpkin powder, which I love eating with some peanut butter for breakfast (is that weird??). But as always, feel free to make it your own and experiment with whatever you like! 

What's really important for this dough is not to overknead- and for this I prefer kneading by hand instead of by machine, which we tend to forget and leave it kneading for a long time. Sourdough needs some help to rise- and if you've got too tight gluten strands, the starter might not give your bread a good spring or even rise, even if your starter alive and bubbly. Trust me, this has happened before! Just knead till it is elastic and stretchy and is no longer lifeless and sticky. I prefer to play on the safe side and add 1/8-1/4 tsp of instant yeast to my dough just to ensure a good rise, but really you can leave that out.

Master Sourdough Loaf 
Makes 1 loaf for an 8-inch banneton 

200g bread flour 
50g cake flour* 
3/4 tsp salt 
1/8 tsp yeast (optional) 
100g sourdough starter, fed
150g water 
10g honey 
10g olive oil 

2 tsp dried rosemary (for a Rosemary loaf) 
15g pumpkin powder (for the pumpkin loaf) 

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients together (including the Rosemary/ pumpkin powder). Knead till smooth, elastic and springy, and can be stretched relatively thinly (doesn't have to be windowpane stage). 
Let rise, covered tightly, at room temperature till it has increased in size by half, then let ferment in the fridge overnight, or for up to 2 days. 
Let the dough come to room temperature. The dough should have doubled by now. 
Tightly shape into a ball, place seam side up in a well-floured banneton. 
Let rise till doubled, 1 1/2-2hours, depending on the temperature of your dough and the surrounding air. Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
Bake for 15 minutes, then lower temperature to 200 degrees Celsius and bake another 20 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing. 

*The cake flour helps to ensure that the bread is soft and light! If you don't have cake flour, replace with an equal amount of plain flour. 

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