Thursday, 20 January 2011

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Sourdough Loaf Made Me Fat!

Okay, so I'm exaggerating a little, but ever since I've tried his recipe - I've been hooked. Simply the best bread ever. I've even forgiven Hugh for breaking my Magimix (with one of his recipes - he didn't actually come round and start smashing it up - just needed to point that out), because since that incident, I've been making bread by hand and it is so much better than the Magimix version - and with all that kneading, it's been getting rid of my bingo wings (stomach's still as fat though!).

A gorgeous sourdough loaf

So, after deciding I was going to give refined carbs a wide birth, along came this little beauty. I'll try it with wholemeal flour tomorrow and then I can feel a bit more righteous!

It takes a bit longer to make this loaf, but it's definitely worth it. I used the Cheaty Yeasty Sponge Loaf recipe from his Everyday book, but as we speak I'm growing my own starter (a fermenting batter that has grown its own yeast) to make all my future sourdough loafs. And I'm doing it mainly because it's a whole lot cheaper than buying some crappy shop-bought loaf with their high salt contents and lots of preservatives. I know how much salt is in my bread and I know that there are no nasties either. It's also cheaper than buying yeast and I can make sure I'm using high quality organic flour. What can I say? I'm a control freak who likes to know exactly what I'm giving my kids!

Here's Hugh's cheaty recipe:

The night before you are going to make the loaf, mix 250g strong flour with 5g fast acting yeast, then beat in 325ml warm water to form a thick batter. Cover with cling flim and leave to ferment overnight. The next morning add another 250g of flour and 10g fine sea salt, then knead. The dough will seem stickier than usual at first, but this is normal. Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead. Push the dough away from you to make a long stretch and fold it back. Keep going with the stretching and folding, giving a quarter turn every few stretches until it's silky and smooth. This should take about 10 minutes.

Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn it so it gets a light coating of oil. Cover with lightly oiled cling film, or put the bowl inside a plastic bag, and leave to rise, until it has more or less doubled in size and feels springy when you push your finger gently into it. Knock it back (deflate it) on a lightly floured surface.

You now need to prove the dough (i.e., give it a second rising). You are also going to be forming it into the shape it will be for baking. If you have a proper baker's proving basket, use this, first dusting it generously with flour. Alternatively, rig up your own proving basket by lining a medium-sized, fairly shallow-sided bowl with a clean tea towel, then dusting it with flour. Place your round of dough inside, cover again with oiled cling film or a clean plastic bag and leave to rise, in a warm place this time, until roughly doubled in size. This might be only an hour or it could be three or four. Then the dough is ready to bake.

Preheat the oven to 250°C/gas mark 9 (or at least 220°C/gas mark 7, if that's your top limit). Have ready, if possible, a clean gardener's spray bottle full of water - you'll be using this to create a steamy atmosphere in the oven, which helps the bread to rise and develop a good crust. (You can achieve the same effect with a roasting tin of boiling water placed on the bottom of the oven just before you put the loaf in - but the spray bottle is easier.)

About five minutes before you want to put the loaf in the oven, put a baking tray in the oven to heat up. Take the hot baking sheet from the oven, dust it with flour, and carefully transfer the risen dough to it by tipping it out of the proving basket/bowl, upside down, on to the sheet. Slash the top of the loaf a few times with a very sharp, serrated knife (or even a razor blade).

Put the loaf into the hot oven and give a few squirts from the spray bottle over and around it. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 200°C/gas mark 6, give the oven another spray, and bake for a further 25-30 minutes, or until the well-browned loaf vibrates and sounds hollow when you tap its base. Leave to cool completely, on a rack, before you plunge in with the bread knife.
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