Making a French Dark Sourdough
440g strong wholemeal flour
50g strong white flour
21⁄2 tsp fine sea salt
350ml ice-cold water
150g sourdough starter
Whole tray of ice cubes
Makes: 2 small (500g) loaves
Combine the flours in a stand mixer bowl with the salt. Add the ice-cold water and knead slowly with the dough hook for 10 minutes. Now add the starter and continue to knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and knead for another 6 minutes. The dough should be fairly firm and still cool to the touch.
Take the dough out of the bowl, place it on a clean, lightly floured surface, and knead (see p.27 for more on kneading technique) it with the heel of your hand for a few minutes.
Let the dough rest: return it to the mixer bowl, cover the bowl with damp, clean tea towel and let it rest at room temperature for 11⁄2 hours. Knock
it back with your hand to let out all the air that will have built up inside, cover the bowl with the cloth and rest it again for another 11⁄2 hours before punching the air out of it again.
To shape your loaves, cut the dough in half on a floured surface. Shape each piece in turn, pressing it down with your fingers to form a rough, plump disc. Pull the edges into the centre of the disc, piece by piece, then turn the dough over. You should have created a tight, neat ball of dough with a tense surface. Repeat with the second portion of dough.
Rest the dough again. Line a baking sheet with non-stick baking paper and dust it generously with flour. Carefully place the loaves onto this, spaced well apart to allow room for them to rise. Dust a little more flour and place a sheet of baking paper on top. Place the whole thing in a plastic bag roomy enough to cover them loosely. Inflate the bag so that it won’t come into contact with the dough.
Place on the warmest shelf in the fridge (usually at the top), and leave to rest for 8–10 hours, or overnight. Slow, cold fermentation is crucial to developing the full flavour and fragrance of a well-made loaf.
When fermented, remove from the fridge and place them – still wrapped – on the worktop, well away from any draughts. This next stage is all about gentle warmth and bringing the dough up to room temperature (around 20°C). Depending on how hot your kitchen is, this could take an hour, or more. Once it reaches room temperature the dough will become active and you should check in on it every 30 minutes to see how it’s doing until doubled in bulk. Poke the dough with your finger: it should feel like a slightly deflated balloon, but should spring back easily.
Preheat the oven to its highest setting, then place a baking stone or baking tray on the middle shelf to heat up. Place a small baking tin on the oven floor to act as a water vessel and let this heat up as well.
Uncover the loaves and let them breathe while the oven is heating. When ready to bake, take a razor-sharp knife, angle it at 45° to the dough and score four long incisions around 1cm deep in a square on the top of the loaf. As well as helping to create a beautiful loaf, these cuts serve a useful purpose: they allow the bread to expand evenly as it bakes.
To bake the bread, carefully pull the oven rack with the hot baking sheet or stone halfway out of the oven. Working as quickly as you can, gently slide the loaves onto the hot surface, spaced apart but close to the centre, and push the rack back into the oven. Tip all the ice cubes into the tin at the bottom of the oven and close the oven as swiftly as possible. The cloud of steam that develops inside the oven stops the crust from seizing up as the dough hits the heat, allowing the bread to expand and develop. It will also help to give you a crisp, shiny crust. After 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 200°C/gas mark 6 for a further 30 minutes.
When the bread is fully baked, turn off the oven, open the oven door slightly and leave the bread in the oven for a further 5 minutes to let off some steam – quite literally. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. This cooling down period is a crucial part of the baking process, and can’t be rushed, no matter how impatient you are to taste your bread. Leave the bread for at least an hour before you slice it and dig in.