Deliciously chewy and tangy, with enormous air holes and a fine savoury crust, this is one of my favourite breads. The large holes are due to a wetter than usual dough, so you will find it a little trickier than usual to handle. The shaped loaves will be rather saggy and would certainly benefit from the support of a rucked-up linen cloth or, better still, proving baskets. In any case, this sourdough will rise dramatically in the oven and will always end up looking glorious, if occasionally perhaps a little misshapen.
- Yield: 3 Loaves
- 650 ml warm water
- 500 g strong white bread flour
- A ladleful of sourdough starter
- 600 g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
- 25 g salt
- A handful of rye flour
- Before you go to bed, make the sponge. Mix the water, flour and starter together in a bowl. Cover and leave in a fairly warm place overnight.
- The next morning, to knead the dough by hand: mix the flour and salt into the sponge. Bring it together and squidge in the oil if using. The dough should be soft and sticky just kneadable, but rather wetter than a normal dough. You will need some extra flour for your hands, the dough and the worktop. It will be quite messy to begin with. Every now and then, clean your hands and scrape the worktop. Use more flour when you need to, but be sparing with it you don’t want to make the dough stiff, or you won’t get the big air holes.
- Or, to use a food mixer fit the dough hook and add the sponge, flour and salt. Mix on low speed until combined, then add the oil and knead for about 10 minutes.
- When your dough is smooth and satiny, shape it into a nice tight round and place in a bowl. Cover and leave somewhere warm for about an hour.
- Now lightly flour the dough, tip it out on to the work surface and press it out flat with your fingertips. Shape into a round again, put it back in its bowl, cover and leave in a warm place for another hour. Do this twice more. You will see and feel the dough becoming smoother, shinier and more airy.
- After these 4 hours of rising and deflating, the dough will feel soft and puffy, like an angel’s pillow. Sink your hands in and deflate it once more. Divide into two or three and shape into loaves. Coat with the rye flour and transfer to well-floured wooden boards, linen cloths, tea towels or proving baskets.
- Lay a plastic bag over the whole batch, to stop it drying out, and leave to prove for 2–3 hours or until doubled in size; you will probably notice big air holes developing near the surface. Unlike with other breads, you should err on the side of over-proving; the loaves may end up a little misshapen, but the air holes will be bigger.
- When the loaves are almost ready, switch the oven to 250°C/Gas Mark 10 or its highest setting, put a baking stone or a heavy baking tray inside, and place a roasting tin on the bottom shelf. Put the kettle on. Have a water spray bottle, a serrated knife and an oven cloth ready, as well as a peel or rimless baking sheet, if you are using a baking stone. Clear the area around the oven.
- When the loaves are ready, either transfer them to the hot tray (removed from the oven), or one at a time to the peel. Slash the tops with the serrated knife. Spray the bread all over with water. Put the tray into the oven, or slide each loaf on to the baking stone, pour some boiling water into the roasting tin and close the door as quickly as you can.
- Turn the heat down after about 10 minutes to 200°C/Gas Mark 6 if the crust is still very pale; 180°C/Gas Mark 4 if the crust is noticeably browning; or 170°C/Gas Mark 3 if the crust seems to be browning quickly. Bake until the loaves are well browned and crusty, and feel hollow when you tap them: in total allow 30–40 minutes for small loaves; 40–50 minutes for large loaves. If in doubt, bake for a few minutes longer. Leave to cool on a wire rack.