Country Hearth Loaves
Here is a recipe from my new book, Baking Bread with Children. This is one of my family’s favourites, chewy light sourdough loaves full of flavour. This is the way bread was meant to be with crispy crust, airy crumb and plenty of tangy flavour. We enjoy it toasted for breakfast with a selection of cheeses or butter and blackberry preserves. Even our one year old daughter, with only five teeth, enjoys gnawing on the crusts.
Ingredients for 2 loaves
600g Strong Bread flour 1 ¼ lb (5 cups)
250g Coarse whole meal or rye flour ½ lb (2 cups)
500 ml water (room temperature) 2 cups
250 ml sourdough starter 1 cup
15 ml sea salt 1 Tbsp
1. In the evening mix sourdough starter with 500 ml water and 400 grams flour. Stir vigorously and let sit overnight in a cool place.
2. The next morning (8 to 12 hours later), the starter should be bubbly, tangy smelling and ready to go. Stir in 250g of flour.
3. Remove 250 ml (1 cup) of this dough to use as starter for your next baking. Put this in a glass or ceramic jar in the refrigerator, where it should last for up to two weeks. Knead in more flour if you want it to last longer.
4. Add salt. Stir in as much of the rest of the flour, as it takes to make the dough firm When it becomes too difficult to stir, pour the dough onto floured surface and knead with energy for a good 10 minutes until the dough is uniform and elastic with strong gluten fibres. Add enough flour that the dough does not stick to the counter or your hands.
5. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes. Here is the perfect interval to tell a story or sing a song.
6. Divide in 2 loaves and shape into rounds by stretching and folding the dough. Surface tension helps the loaves to rise up rather than spread. Seal all seems on the underside of the loaves and coat the entire loaf with flour, especially on the underside to prevent sticking. This flour helps to a form a good skin and helps the loaves to rise upwards. Place loaves on a floured baking sheet and let rise in a warm place for 2 to 3 hours until doubled.
7. Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4. Slit the tops of the loaves with a sharp knife to allow for expansion. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown and the undersides give a hollow, wooden sound when tapped with a finger.
8. Cool on wire rack before slicing as this completes the baking process.
Variations: Add a little of all the seven grains. Use up to 250g (2 cups) rolled grains, grain flour, sprouted and/or cooked grains in step #1. If moist grains are added, then more flour may be kneaded in to attain the same elastic but not sticky consistency.
One grandmother I spoke with can still remember the reverential way her mother would cut two slits crosswise into the top of each loaf before she put it in the oven:
“Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be. This was a religious experience pure and simple.”