So, I am a complete beginner when it comes to sourdough bread making but my first two attempts have been somewhat of a success, so I guess I will pass on the knowledge I have learnt and the mistakes I have made along the way.
Firstly, YouTube is amazing for information. I think I must have watched over three hours of different sourdough tutorials on how to prepare your starter, the best processes and methods to yield the best bread and mistakes that many novice bread makers have made before.
I used bakers percentages both times I made sourdough. This is the ratio of flour to hydration to starter to salt. Take 1kg of flour to make two loaves of sourdough, this 1kg is going to be your 100%. Depending on the experience you have with bread making and handling dough you will want to start out with a slightly lower percent of hydration as naturally sourdough is a very wet dough. So it can be quite intimidating folding it if you are not familiar with the texture.
For my first loaf I did 73% hydration, which is quite low, but I wanted to make sure I could fold it properly. That means adding 730g of tepid/room temperature water to your flour mix.
Then for the starter you want to add 15%, so use 150g of the starter in this mix. Lastly 20% of salt which would be 20g fine sea salt, I used Himalayan.
Feel free to half this quantity but use the same proportions if you only want to make one loaf - I also did this on my first time.
When it comes to flour, you can use a blend of what ever you like. I would advise to use bread flour in the mix somewhere as it is needed to develop the gluten properly. For my first loaf I did a simple 300g white flour and 200g organic whole wheat bread flour. I actually preferred the bake of my first loaf to my second (I made two this time and used 500g wheat flour, 300g organic whole wheat flour and 200g spelt flour).
12 HOURS. SERVES 1-10
500g wheat flour
300g organic wholewheat flour
200g spelt flour
20g Himalayan salt
Prepare your starter. The morning you want to use the starter take it out of the fridge, discard all but 120g of it (do not throw this delicious fermented dough away, whack it in a pan with some oil, spices, salt, spring onions and you've got a delicious flat bread), then add 120g of flour (I used whole wheat bread flour) and 120g of water to the jar. Give this a good mix, clean down the sides of the far so you can see the beautiful rise of the starter and mark where the top of the starter is at that point. Leave for 3-5 hours to double or triple in size. I opened the lid two or three times to let out the excess gas.
About 45 minutes before you are ready to use your starter it is time to autolyse the dough. By combining the flour and the water you are allowing the flour to become properly hydrated. This activates enzymes in the flour that stimulate the proteins to start gluten development. So mix the quantities of flour and water listed above in a large mixing bowl just until the dough comes together - do not mix any further, cover and leave at room temperature.
After 45 minutes it is time to add the starter and salt. There are a few characteristics that you want your starter to have to ensure it is ready to use. Firstly, it should have at least doubled in size. Secondly, it should smell tangy. Thirdly it should have a slight dome shape to its surface and be bubbly throughout. As a test if you are unsure if your starter is ready to use or not, take a teaspoon of the mixture and gently drop it into water, if it floats it is ready.
Add 150g of the starter and 20g of salt to your autolysed dough. Time to start the stretch and fold process. Using one hand to hold the bowl and the other to grab the dough, start at 12 o clock and stretch the dough up and fold it to 6 o clock. Turn the bowl and stretch 3 o clock and fold it over to 9 o clock. Basically you are just turning the bowl quarter turns and stretching and folding the top of the dough to the bottom. Continue to do this for 2 minutes. Cover and let rest. Set an alarm for 30 minutes.
You will need to do this process x4 times. The consistency of the dough will change throughout this time, becoming easier to handle and considerably more stretchy. After the 4th stretch and fold it is time for the bulk ferment.
Depending on the time you started you may want to bulk ferment over night. If so cover the dough and place it in the fridge for the night and continue with step 7 the next morning. To bulk ferment straight away just leave the dough covered in the bowl. Make sure it is in a warmish place, away from draughts and varying temperatures and leave to ferment for 4-6 hours.
Once the bulk ferment is complete, transfer the dough to a lightly floured counter top, half the dough and shape. To do this I shape the dough into a circle so it is easy to gauge where the middle is, sprinkle flour down the centre so the knife doesn't stick when halving and cut in two. With each piece of dough, stretch it out slightly into a long rectangle, with the shorter end facing you. Do not add any more flour at this stage. Starting nearest you with the longer opposite sides, take small sections and fold each side over to the other side, over lapping them slightly. Then from the side that is closest to you again, start rolling it up towards the opposite end of the dough. Tuck in the sides as you roll up. Place seem side down on the countertop and leave rest for a further 30 minutes.
Now it is time for the final shape and prove. Similarly as before, stretch out the dough in a rectangle with the short end facing you. Fold over each side on top of the other working up the sides of the rectangle, then finally starting from the end nearest to you roll the dough up towards the opposite end. This is where you want to create as much surface tension as possible, so pull the dough as you roll to ensure a tight surface area.
Flour the proving baskets if you have them. I don't have proper proving baskets yet so I found the best thing to do is lightly flour baking paper, transfer the dough seam side up to the baking parchment and place into a large mixing bowl. Cover and leave for a further 4-6 hours or over night if it is too late.
Finally, you are nearly ready to make the bread. Preheat the oven to 550F/280C, place your dutch oven in the oven at this stage so it can get up to temperature also. While the oven is heating take the bread out of the bowls and transfer seam side down to baking paper. Sprinkle/sieve lightly with flour, rice flour works best as it has a higher burning temperature (this step is not necessary, it just makes the score marks more obvious and gives a lovely contrast of crusty bread to white flour). Using a knife make 1/4 inch slashes into the dough where you want the slits to appear. Dust off any excess flour, this will just burn.
When the oven is hot enough, use the parchment paper to place the dough into the dutch oven. Put the lid on a cook for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn the oven temperature down to 500F/260C, remove the lid and cook for a further 20. Check after 10/15 minutes, the bread will definitely be cooked, you just want to cook it enough so that the crust is lovely and brown.
One more tip: when the bread is ready, turn off the oven leaving the bread in there and leave the oven door slightly a jar. This ensures that you get a lovely crusty crust! Take out after 20 minutes. Remove from the dutch oven. Leave cool on a wire rack before slicing into it, as tempting as it may be.
Store in an airtight container or wrapped in tin foil. I find it goes hard quickly so the loaves can be easily wrapped up, frozen and eaten at a later date.