Sourdough: From Scratch features recipes and top tips on everything you need to know to make your own sourdough from scratch. For home bakers, sourdough is the true test of every aspiring bread-maker. Fickle, delicate, every loaf is unique. And there are a LOT of pitfalls to be avoided. It’s much more than simply a food: sourdough is a science. So who better than Dr. James Morton, baking pedant and fermentation fanatic, to explain the basics for both the uninitiated and more experienced bakers?
James talks the home cook through everything from starters, flours and hydration, to kneading, shaping, rising, slashing and baking, explaining how to achieve the perfect crust and crumb. With a foolproof recipe for the perfect loaf, clear step-by-step instructions, troubleshooting tips, and explanations of what works and why, From Scratch: Sourdough is the accessible handbook that bakers everywhere have been waiting for.
To those who feel that the principle of this recipe is an abomination, I implore you to try it.
Integrale means wholemeal. My version of this Italian flatbread is made with good British flour and a decent portion of wholewheat or rye flour—for ease, we’ll use whichever makes up your starter. While the focaccia is indeed an ancient bread, the idea that it must only be made with white flour is modern—flours have never been as refined as they are today, and we are hopefully beginning to revolt against this.
This is a recipe for you to play with. The dough is soft and forgiving, and you can incorporate loads of things into it: nuts, chopped olives, onions, garlic or sundried tomatoes all work well. The high oil content helps give it a crumb structure that is rather eccentric and uneven, as it interrupts your gluten—that’s why we add it after the mixing. Further oil doused over the top is essential.
Some would say use cheap oil for inside and expensive oil on top. Instead, just use the best oil, all the time. Buy it in bulk if you can, directly from the producers in France, Italy, Spain or Greece. Each country has its own varieties and terroirs, and each will make a different focaccia—this is also part of the fun.
For 1 large focaccia:
150g rye or wholemeal (wholewheat) sourdough starter
425g strong white flour
8g table salt
350g tepid-warm water (see method)
100g good-quality extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for oiling and drizzling
2–3 tsp good-quality sea salt flakes
herbs or toppings as you see fit – I like a handful of olives, a few tomatoes on the vine, a sliced red onion or a sprig or two of rosemary
Ideally, take your starter out of the fridge at least 8–14 hours before you want to bake. If it hasn’t been fed recently, give it a feed when you take it out. You can use it straight from the fridge, but your first prove will take quite a bit longer.
In a large bowl, weigh your flour. Add the table salt, then mix this in using your fingers. Add in your sourdough starter. Mix some warm and cool water in a jug to 25oC (77oF), then weigh out 350g and pour this into your bowl. Mix everything roughly until you have a very wet dough.
Let the dough rest for about 20–30 minutes—even allowing for a short autolyse of 10 minutes makes a difference. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel or a plate to stop the dough drying out during this time.
Knead your dough—for this dough (which is very wet), stretching and folding intermittently works very well (see page 55), but I’d still give it a little bit of working before adding the oil. The slap and fold method (see pages 50–51) also works well. Give it 5 minutes of mixing, and as soon as it feels smooth, add your oil. Mix this until completely combined and you’ve got a very soft, shiny dough.
Wrap your bowl in a couple of large tea towels to keep it warm and stop the dough drying out. Leave in a relatively warm place for about 4 hours. Alternatively, you could retard this prove overnight in a cool place, covering the dough with a plastic bag. I would do a stretch and fold following this, if so, then leave it in a warm place for 1 hour before shaping.
This dough should appear large and slightly terrifying, with loads of big bubbles. If it isn’t, leave it a little longer. Once it is, oil a roasting tin and then add a little oil on top of your proven dough. Your hands should be very oily, too. Use your hands or a dough scraper to scrape your dough out of the bowl and into the tin. If it sticks, don’t worry—you can lift it off with your scraper and then add more oil.
Flatten your dough slightly, being careful to maintain its delicate air bubbles. Fold your dough in half, and then fold your new, longer dough in half again. I think of this like folding an A4 (US letter) piece of paper twice so that you’ve got a smaller piece of paper. Add more oil if it’s sticking, and gently push your dough out into the corners of a 30 x 40cm (12 x 16in) roasting tin.
Stick your tin inside a plastic bag and leave to prove for 2–3 more hours at room temperature. Alternatively, you can retard this prove overnight or for up to 24 hours until your bread is ready to bake. You want it to grow further by about half.
Preheat your oven to 250oC (480oF)/230oC (450oF) fan/Gas 9 at least 30–40 minutes before you expect to bake your bread. If you have a stone, place it in the oven to heat up. Just before it’s ready to bake, remove the focaccia from the plastic bag and poke indentations using oiled fingers in the dough, giving the focaccia its characteristic holes. Top with some flaked sea salt, at least, and any olives, vegetables or herbs you like. Drench the whole thing with generous drizzles of oil.
Place in the oven and add steam using your chosen method – for example, adding some water into a cast-iron pan that’s sitting in the bottom of the oven. Turn the oven down to 220oC (430oF)/200oC (400oF) fan/Gas 7. Bake for 20 minutes, and then vent the oven by opening the door and allowing the steam to escape. Bake for another 15–20 minutes, or until a good golden brown.
Leave to cool for at least 15 minutes. Then add more oil on top. Slice and serve hot if you like, but it does also keep extremely well. Just add more oil when you serve it.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Hardie Grant Books.