In praise of Sourdough (bread and pizza)

Bread, and in particular, sourdough bread has become incredibly popular. Chewy with more flavour and great toasted, fresh or as a pizza base, it is the artisan staple of the day. It isn’t to everyone’s taste (my mother for one detests it), however, Gail’s can charge a princely sum of £11 for their large French Dark sourdough (2kg).  Fantastic as it is, sourdough can be made at home. Following a visit to Lake by Yoo, where we were entertained by Channel 4’s Fabulous Baker Brothers, I am now the owner of the Hobb’s House Bakery 60 year old Sourdough Starter. You can buy it online here. It comes with instructions, but is very simple to use. Keep it in the fridge and it will survive for practically ever. I have had mine over a year and it is absolutely fine. However, if you want to bake a loaf or make pizza, you have to plan a little (or actually a lot) in advance.

Making Bread…

1.5kg of Strong White Flour

Water (1.5 pints approx..)

30g Sea Salt

Sourdough Starter

You have to start at least a day in advance. The minimum is 12 hours for the starter to start, 8 hours to prove the dough, 4 hours for a second prove. First you have feed the starter, add 50g of flour to 50 g of water and mix well. Leave out at room temperature for 12 hours.

Make the dough. Add the salt to the flour. Mix. Add the starter. Mix. Add 1 pint of water, mix and it will be too dry. This is the slightly tricky bit as different flours need different amounts of water. Add approximately another half pint, but do so whilst kneading the dough.  I find it best when it is a bit too wet and a bit too sticky. Knead it for 10-15 minutes and it absorbs the water and becomes manageable. Then place in a bowl and either oil it lightly or cover with a sprinkling of flour and put a tea towel over the top. Leave for at least 8 hours at room temperature. None of this can be rushed or accelerated. This isn’t pure yeast, it needs to grow and only time will do that.

Now you can do one of these two…

Baking Bread

If you are baking bread, knock back the dough. Knead it, shape it, put it onto the baking tray and flour it again, cover and leave to prove for 4 hours. After that time heat the oven as hot as it will go (220C fan for me). Score the bread deeply with a stanley knife. Place in the oven for 35-45 minutes. Check after 35 minutes by tapping it and listening to hear if it sounds hollow (properly hollow, not just a bit). If hollow take it out and let is cool for 15 minutes before having it hot. Or let it cool completely.

Making Pizza Dough

If you are making pizza, knock back the dough. Knead it, cut it into 12 equal pieces, shape it into individual balls, put it onto the baking tray and flour it again, cover and leave to prove for 2 hours. Now it is ready to stretch and turn into pizzas.

Prep and Cooking Pizza

Sauce ingredients

1 tin chopped Italian tomatoes

2 tbl tomato puree

1 tbl fresh oregano

At this point you need to make your sauce. I use a tin of chopped Italian tomatoes, add 2 tbl of tomato puree, 1 tbl of fresh oregano and that is it. Then get out the cheese and the toppings. I am loving putting N’duja on pizza, but just follow the classics without too much and you can’t go wrong.!

Ideally you need to buy a wood fired pizza oven as these can get up to 450C and cook pizza as a restaurant would.  If you don’t have one, I find the best kitchen method is to heat a frying pan to hot, place the pizza on it, cook the base and then put it onto a baking sheet under the grill to cook the top. My oven just isn’t hot enough to make great pizza. Hence the wood fired one in the garden!

Flatten it a bit with the palm of your hand. Stretch it evenly until it is two widths of your fists. Then place it on 2 fists together and stretch out from the middle, turning it as you go. You should be able to evenly pull it very then and with good crust at the edges. If this is too much, use a rolling pin, but you won’t get great crusts. Then put it onto a floured pizza paddle, add a little tomato sauce spreading with the back of a spoon. Add buffalo motzarella. Add oregano. Cook.

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