A Barcelona food blog
Barcelona may be awash with bakeries but this doesn’t necessarily mean we’re drowning in amazing quality bread. As at home, many bakers are just finishing off part-baked, factory produced, frozen bread. Therefore, from time to time I like to jump on the back of the current trend of home-made breadmaking and rustle up some of my own. I’ve read many times about making sourdough bread from a ‘starter’ but being someone who learns much better from being demonstrated a technique rather than reading about it I’ve always shied away from having a go. However, after recently watching an episode of River Cottage Bites where it was clearly shown step-by-step I decided to take the plunge and see what I could produce.
So firstly, what is a sourdough loaf? In a nutshell it’s bread that’s been made without adding a manufactured yeast to it. This yeast is instead produced by ‘a starter’, amazingly just a mixture of flour and water and some love and attention.
**Before you read further and feel put off by what seems a lot of processes I must say this has to be the least time-consuming bread I’ve ever made. From an initial 30 seconds work daily, the actual working of the starter, sponge, final dough making and proving will take no more than about 20 minutes**
To begin, take a clean but not sterile jar and add a couple of tablespoonfuls of flour. The show suggests half and half strong white bread flour and spelt flour but I just used strong white flour (harina de fuerza if you’re in Spain, not easy to get as most supermarkets only seem to stock plain or cornflour). Add to the flour a tablespoonful of warm but not hot water. Mix together so you have a paste about the thickness of emulsion paint, if it’s more like a dough add more water but not too much as from initial attempts all that happens is the flour and water separate.
Now, here’s the bit that requires a bit of memory. Every day you need to remove a tablespoonful of the mixture and add back a tablespoonful of fresh flour and another of warm water and mix again. Continue like this for 7 days and you will eventually have a frothing pot of life. It’s very important that you follow this procedure every day, if you miss a day your starter will die and you will have to go back to the beginning. Once you have this pot of wonder, if you continue ‘to feed’ it every day in the same manner you will have this to use indefinitely (I have read about bakers who’ve had the same starters going for decades). So, put it somewhere you’ll see it every day and just give it 30 seconds of attention.
From here you can now start to build the loaf. This part of the process is known as ‘bulking up’ and involves adding some of the starter to a larger quantity of flour and warm water (I will give quantities at the end of this article). No salt is added at this stage as it’ll inhibit further yeast growth. Once it’s all combined and a bit of air has been beaten into it, just cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave over night. You’ll wake up to an even bigger frothing pot of life, this is known as ‘the sponge’.Now it’s time to make the final dough, with more flour in another bowl we add the sponge, some more lukewarm water and sea salt which is brought together into a wettish dough and then kneaded for 5 – 10 minutes before being shaped, dusted with flour and then left to double in size, which takes about an hour.
I made use of the spring sunshine on my terrace to give it the cosy warmth it needs to work its magic. Once the dough has risen it is turned out onto a hot baking sheet and triangular slashes are cut into the top which will open the loaf up when it goes in the oven.A hot oven of about 220°c is needed to bake this and the loaf will take on a very dark crust after baking for about 25 minutes, this is normal and the bread is not burning. In fact mine could’ve probably done with a few minutes longer as I wasn’t too sure just how dark it should go and maybe erred on the side of caution. And the final result, a chewy, flavoursome, slightly sour loaf (as the name suggests) and amazingly born of nothing more than flour, water and salt. Nature really is truly amazing. As I said earlier in the introduction, this really is a great bread to make if you are busy or working. As the sponge is left overnight it gets to work whilst your in bed and if you don’t have time to deal with it first thing in the morning you can leave it until later in the day. Mine was brewing almost 24 hours before I got round to bulking it up. The bulking up and kneading takes 10 minutes and then it just sits in the warmth for an hour whilst you do something else. Much, much simpler than the restrictive dough-making and 2 hour proving I’ve done in the past.
Ingredients in full:
2 tbsps of strong white bread flour (or half and half strong white flour and spelt flour)
about 1tbsp warm water
100g wholemeal flour
100g strong bread flour
2tblsps of the starter
200ml warm water
This will produce 400g of sponge.
200g wholemeal flour
200g strong white bread flour
2ooml lukewarm water
400g of the sponge
20g sea salt