French Dark Sourdough

Its the holidays! Or actually, almost the end of it. Initially I planned to do a whole bunch of stuff- from taking long walks in the reservoirs and nature reserves tucked away in a quiet part of Singapore to saving and replanting my dead basil plant and clearing away some junk in my room and turning them into something useful. Okay so I guess I've done none of the above but I did venture into the world of fondant and sugar decorations and made sourdough loaves. Sometimes I feel that baking hearty artisan loaves and making sugar decorations are two different worlds- different dimensions of baking. But now I feel that they're so interlinked. Both are hand crafted, with gentle care but also needing strength and structure. I still prefer the rewards of bread baking though- the smell, the sight and the taste of it. There's nothing more exciting than peering into the oven the first couple of minutes of baking to watch my loaf poof up, or to see the mass of flour and water sitting in the fridge come to life, full of bubbles after a feed or two. Its amazing to see what nature can do, and often I wonder why I don't do this often enough.

This loaf is slightly different from those I've made previously- its a lot lower hydration, considering the high amount of wholewheat in this recipe- but this makes it easier to shape especially for beginners venturing into the world of sourdough baking- which is fascinating every step of the way, albeit a little frustrating at times. I've also fed my sourdough starter twice, out the fridge, letting it sit for about 4-5 hours until it gets nice and bubbly and about doubles to triples in volume. I think this helped to built a lot more air into the loaf (some large bubbles there) and also a better structure. Oh and the ice cold water this recipe calls for really helps too- I did a little research on why my sourdough sort of slumped every time I take it out from  my banneton, and I found that a cooler dough temperature helps in maximum gluten formation and helps to build in more structure into your dough. And also a tight shaping and a preshape, which I do for all my loaves now. In hot hot Singapore, the dough temperature does get quite high, so the cool water helps to both 1) build good structure and 2) extends the fermentation process for better flavour.

Because of the low hydration, the crumb for this one isn't super open, but the taste is spot on!! I love wholegrain loaves and this one hits the spot, with a lovely chewy crumb and almost sweet from the wholewheat flour. I baked this slightly differently too- I used a wide cast iron pan with a tray of ice cubes below to create steam, and this formed a thinner but also chewy crisp crust on the loaf, which was wonderful. This loaf is great for sandwiches- I made a pesto chicken with honey-mustard slaw sandwich which was great, (especially over an episode of Great British Bake Off), warm and toasty with sauce dripping over my fingers. Happy days, y'all.

French Dark Sourdough
Adapted from Gails' Artisan Bakery Cookbook
Makes a small 500g loaf

190g strong wholewheat flour
50g bread flour
1 1/4 tsp salt
180ml ice cold water
75g sourdough starter
Tray of ice cubes

Combine flours and water, autolyse 20 minutes or even a few hours. Using a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, knead for 5-10min still smooth. Add in salt and sourdough starter, knead for about 10 minutes till smooth and elastic.
Let rise for about 1 1/2 hours, give a quick stretch and fold, then rise another 1 1/2 hours.
On a floured surface, preshape loaf, rest 20minutes. Final shape, place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic, let rise 8-10 hours in the fridge, or overnight.
The next day, remove the dough from the fridge and let come to room temperature, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile preheat your oven to the highest possible setting (mine is 230 celsius) with your baking stone + a small tray below for ice cubes.
Slash the dough then slip the parchment + dough onto the baking stone. Tip a tray of ice cubes into the small tray.
Bake for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 200 degrees celsius and bake for another 30 minutes.
Cool completely before slicing.

*I made a couple of changes to the original recipe, altering the proportions of flour and water, and the method slightly.

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