Sourdough from 'Bont' - 'Surdoes Bont'.

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This is my Surdoes Bont - Sourdough from Bontuchel. It's become my 'go-to' recipe. I've arrived at this after years of experimentation, a considerable early failure rate but also some very pleasant surprises. 

Perhaps I should explain where the name comes from.  I live in a small village in North Wales that takes its name from a bridge at the end of the lane. This is the bont. Surdoes is Welsh for sourdough. So Surdoes Bont.  But, if you weren't Welsh and you were looking for it in a list, you could be looking beyond the limits of your patience. So, I've listed it under 'Sourdough from Bontuchel. 

I wanted to devise a recipe that was manageable, consistent and yet, offered the room and opportunity for a little 'tweaking', if so desired. It needed to produce consistently good bread that could accompany a plate of cold meat or cheese. It should be equally good with soup as it would be with pâte. It should make excellent toast. And, should you want to (and I can't find any reason on Earth why you should), it should be delicious with crushed avocado and a poached egg...

I've been trialling various approaches to sourdough. Boules, ovals, different hydrations, ways of baking, techniques, flours, temperatures, etc. 

I've come to the conclusion that, whilst you can experiment with high hydrations and take chances, as a 'go-to' recipe, it's safer to work around the 75% hydration mark. No lower than 70%, which is very manageable if you want to slash your dough artistically, and no higher than 75% if you want a dough that is still manageable and, more importantly,  carries with it a reasonably consistent degree of success. 

Then we come to the issue of alveoli, the air sacs that form in sourdough. There has been much written about the merits of large and evenly-spaced alveoli - with 'cristal' bread at one end and probably what most home bakers produce at the other. There's also a difference between an 'open crumb', which is relatively easy to achieve and 'impressive alveoli' which requires a good deal of work and attention. 

I'm happy with a reasonably open and even crumb. If the bread is evenly baked, with a good crust and a decent oven spring, then I'm happy. 

And finally, rye starter is mature enough to help produce a reasonably tangy loaf. That's fine. Not too sharp and not too bland. Overnight proofing also helps to develop a depth of flavour. OK, I could leave it longer...but then, we're beginning to defeat the object of a 'go-to' recipe. 

So, let's get started....

INGREDIENTS (this is for a standard sourdough loaf. Obviously, you can scale it up or down as you wish)

400 gms of strong white bread flour (For this bake, I'm using Waitrose Duchy Organic White Bread Flour - 13.4% protein. It's not crucial which flour you use, you'll have your favourite (s)...just choose one with a high protein level - preferably over 12.5%) 

100 gms of spelt flour (Today, I'm using Doves Farm organic spelt) 

10 gms of sea salt flakes (My current salt is grey sea salt from the Guerande in Normandy - I've ground it a little to help absorption. Again, any salt as long as it's not iodised)

100 gms of active sourdough starter (ratio 1:1 filtered water / rye flour)

365 mls filtered water at room temperature (own-brand bottled still water is also very good. Even with pure Welsh water, I still filter)

Because this is a specific loaf, the ingredients are specific as well. However, you can make the loaf using 500 gms of flour of your own choice. 

365 mls of water gives me a hydration level of 75%. I am aware that this is not as high as some artisan loaves, but it's still 'manageable'. 

I always feed my starter in the evening before I go to bed. I decant 100 gms from the 'mother-lode' which I keep in the fridge and feed it with 100 gms of rye flour and 100 mls of chilled filtered water. I use chilled water because it slows the fermentation process down sufficiently enough that the starter is ready for me at 8 a.m. the following morning when I start to mix. What's left after baking refreshes the 'mother-lode' back in the fridge.

The photographs show two mixes - I'm making two separate batches. Of course, you could make one large batch and split the dough at the shaping stage. 


Stage 1 : Mix and Autolyse

Rye starter at 1:1:1

Add 100 gms active starter to 365 mls of filtered water at room temperature. Mix thoroughly and then leave uncovered on the work surface for 40 minutes. 

Only a rough mixing together is needed at this stage

Then add 10 gms of sea salt. Dimple it in and then mix thoroughly. I use what's referred to as the Rubaud method. It's simulates the way a dough hook mixes. If you're not familiar with the this...

Finish the mix with a rudimentary stretch and fold to start off the next process. 

Leave covered for thirty minutes. 

I now need to consider how long the bulk fermentation stage is likely to take. 

I tend to complete the stretch and fold stage at kitchen temperature (18⁰C for 1.5 hours) and then transfer the dough in a bulk fermenting container to the airing cupboard where the temperature is around 23⁰C. 

I've added 20% of starter. My average kitchen / airing cupboard temperature is roughly 21⁰C. Therefore, I'd expect my bulk fermentation to take more or less five and a half hours, give or take 15 minutes. 

Stage 2 : Stretch and fold

Now start three sets of 'stretch and fold' Again, if you're not familiar with this technique, watch this....

I do my three sets of 'stretch and fold' at 30 minute intervals. 

Ah! But what about lamination? Coil folding? The window pane test?

This recipe, this 'go-to' recipe, lies somewhere between Michiel Leijnse's 'Mix, Wait, Bake' and Jim Lahey's 'No-Knead' techniques at one end and 'Full Proof Baking' at the other (all available on YouTube).

Yes, there are times when I will laminate and coil fold....usually when I have a lot of time and patience. There's a wonderful 18th century word 'faff' (originally meaning to stammer or stutter or 'flap in the wind'). Nowadays, 'faffing about' is 'fussing' or 'dithering' for the sake of it. I put the 'window pane test' in the category of 'faffing', I'm afraid. 

Yes, there will also be times when I mix, leave well alone and then bake. It's very tempting to use this technique as my 'go-to'. It really does consistently produce marvellously reliable results.

Stage 3 : Bulk Fermentation

Proper bulk fermentation containers are ridiculously expensive. I discovered that a popular Swedish-based superstore sells food-grade containers with straight sides and I use elastic bands the postman leaves as markers.  This way, I can mark the container when the dough is put into it and monitor the growth as it develops and ferments. 

I once made an aliquot jar....never used it!

So, two and a half hours into the day, the dough is now in the bulk fermentation containers, covered with disposable shower caps and resting in the airing cupboard where the temperature is 22⁰C. 

Stage 4 : Preshaping and Shaping

By now there is a visible change to the dough. The volume has increased by 100%. It's been nearly six hours since I added the salt and the whole process started. 

Although pre-shaping and shaping are referred to as two separate actions, in reality, you can't shape without pre-shaping. 

Tip the dough out onto a floured board. I always use rice flour - it's the Teflon© of flours - nothing ever sticks to it. The underneath (the dough that touches the board) will be the top of the loaf - so, already it will be developing surface tension. 

I tuck the edges into the middle to form a loose boule and then flip it over. Then I gently draw the boule down the worktop so helping to develop further surface tension. 

Let it rest for 10 minutes. 

Then repeat the process. 

Stage 5 : Proofing

Gently lift the boule into a well-floured banneton. Pull the raw edges towards the middle and 'stitch' them by pressing the edges together with your fingers. Dust the edges with more flour to stop anything sticking to the edges of the banneton. 

Cover with a disposable shower cap and place it in a refrigerator overnight. 

My 'fridge is set at 3⁰C. This bake went in at 3.30 p.m. and it'll remain there until about 8 a.m. tomorrow (16.5 hours). You can leave it longer if you wish but I'd never leave it less than 8 hours. 

Stage 6 : Bake

Pre-heat your Dutch oven(s) to 240⁰C. 

Remember, you don't need Dutch Ovens. You can use enamel roasters, Pyrex casseroles, borosilicate chicken roasters......whatever is to hand. 

I use a silicone sling to help lower the dough into the pot. Most of my 'tools' are homemade. My slings are made from silicone baking sheets, iBake silicone paper and Teflon© coated grill mats - all cut to shape. In addition, I have a homemade plywood peel (10mm plywood). 

Cover the banneton (there is no need to bring it back to room temperature) with the sling and the peel and gently invert. Remove the wicker banneton and gently even out any remaining rice flour. 

Slash as desired...and with confidence. I often wet my blade with water or spray it with cooking spray to stop it snagging. It's pretty obvious that sourdough scoring is not one of my strong points! I excuse my inadequacy by the use of the word 'rustic'! 

Place a handful of small ice cubes in the bottom of the hot pot. Lower the loaf into the pot, replace the lid and close the oven door. 

Lower the heat to 230⁰C for 20 minutes. 

Remove the lid and continue to bake at 230⁰C for a further 25 minutes until the loaf is golden brown and hollow when tapped on the underside. 

I always test the internal temperature of the bread....99⁰C is ideal. 

Cool on a rack for at least two hours....preferably longer. The crumb requires time to set. 

So there we have 'go-to' recipe for consistently reliable sourdough.

Surdoes Bont - Sourdough from the small village of Bontuchel in North Wales. 

Happy baking....or, as we say in Wales....Pob hwyl gyda'r pobi!

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