Bar Beach Sourdough
In pursuit of really living here, I’ve been cooperating with our neighbourhood microbes to make sourdough bread. Keeping the starter going is a bit like having a slow-moving pet that doesn’t need to eat that often, but still has the potential to be warm and pleasant, on baking day anyway. Newcastle has some beautiful bakeries and great breads at the farmers’ market, but there is nothing quite as satisfying as a loaf fresh from the oven.
I recently shared my starter with a few new food friends. This post documents the rest of my bread cycle for them, and for anyone who is thinking of giving sourdough a try. I’ve arrived at this method after reading no-knead bread recipe popularized by the NY Times in 2006 (baking in a cast-iron pot), reading Sandor Katz’s empowering cultured-food manifesto Wild Fermentation, and through occasional bread baking for the past few years. The more I work with live-cultured foods, the more I’m learning how flexible and friendly the process can be. I don’t normally measure much, but below are the precise details that worked for the loaf above.
This variant uses spelt and rye (easier for the gluten intolerant among us, especially when fermented as sourdough) instead of standard wheat, and uses sourdough starter in lieu of commercial yeast. Each loaf takes only a few minutes of work, but a few days to complete. With small children, I find this actually takes less time than going out to buy bread.
Starter process for one loaf of rye sourdough:
If you don’t have a starter, you can grow one in a matter of days: mix a little rye flour and filtered water in a large jar, and then add a few spoonfuls of each once a day until you have a bubbly jarful–probably about a week-long process, shorter in warm climates, longer in cold rooms. Some people add dried fruit or juice to help the process/diversify flavour, but rye grain has enough naturally occurring wild yeast attached to it to work on its own.
If you receive even a few spoonfuls of working starter, you can use it to grow your own: mix the starter with 1 1/2 cups of rye flour with 2/3 of a cup of filtered water. Cover with a cloth to allow air to circulate without letting in any curious insects. Several hours later, it should be bubbly and good to go.
Once your starter has grown to fill the jar, it is ready to use. It can also be covered and kept in the fridge for a few weeks before needing to be fed again. I use starter straight from the fridge when making a loaf, but let the jar sit out overnight to let the newly fed starter grow again before storing it for the next baking.
ingredients to make one large loaf:
approximately 2 cups of starter (leave a bit in the bottom/on the sides of the jar to start the next batch)
2 cups of rye flour
2 1/2 cups filtered water
2 1/3 cups spelt flour
1 tsp salt
splash of olive oil
equipment: large bowl, cast iron pot with lid, kitchen towel
Day 1– mix 2 cups of starter, 2 cups rye flour, and 2 1/2 cups of water in the bowl. It will be runny. Cover with a towel overnight.
Day 2–add spelt flour and salt, stir/knead just long enough for the ingredients to be uniformly mixed and gathered into a ball. Oil it and the bowl. Cover with a towel and wait until it is ready to bake–this can be as soon as it doubles in size, or for bigger crumb and tangier bread, hold off until the next day.
Preheat your oven to 450 F or 200+ C or thereabouts. Preheat your cast iron pot at the same time.
Carefully flip the dough into the hot pot–it will sizzle and look something like this:
Cover the pot and bake for approximately 20 minutes with the lid on–this allows the loaf to steam itself for the first segment of baking. Then remove the lid and bake for another 15 minutes or so to allow the crust to brown. When done, the loaf should spring back when touched. Upon removing the loaf from the oven, flip it out of the pan to cool, and try to wait a few minutes before eating if you want the bread to slice nicely.