What I wanted was a recipe that used a sourdough starter, zakwas – in Polish, for a wheat flour loaf that was a “classic” shape.
I wanted a loaf that looked right, tasted good and had a lovely crispy or chewy crust.
Every book or article that I read had loads of advice much of it contradictory.
I tried different methods with different degrees of success and several complete failures! Sometimes I knew what had gone wrong sometimes I just did not know.
I was getting the taste most of the time but getting the shape without an exploding crust was more difficult.
I kept wondering how my grandmother and others in generations past had made this type of bread with ease without the aid of books, articles and videos found on the internet.
The best advice came from two sources – the book – all you knead is Breadby Jane Mason and several YouTube videos by Tomek Lach – these are in Polish.
I am now writing up the results of many months of baking trials.
Timing given in the book are often not enough – depends on many factors.
I have found that leaving the refreshed starter or the dough for hours longer – even overnight, works.
My latest loaf tastes wonderful, the crust is lovely, the shape is nearly right.
I am hoping that next time it will be spot on!
Sourdough starter – zakwas
To make this you put 50g of rye flour and 50ml of water into a large glass preserving jar on day 1 and stir, cover and leave for 24 hours.
On days 2, 3, and 4 you repeat this.
On Day 5 it is ready to use.
Or you can keep it in the fridge – topping up once a week with a couple of spoons of flour and water.
Day 1 – refreshing the starter
3 tablespoons of starter
60g of wheat flour
3 tablespoons of water
Mix the ingredients together to make a thick paste.
Add more water if needed.
Place into a bowl and cover – shower caps are good for this.
Leave for around 12 hours at least – often I have make this in the morning and then leave it at room temperature or in the fridge overnight.
Day 2 – making the dough
Mixture from day 1
300g of strong wheat flour
200ml of water (may need more)
1¼ teaspoons of salt
Mix all the ingredients together to form a soft dough.
More water may be needed – a wetter dough may be harder to work but better in the long run.
Place on a floured board.
Knead for 10 minutes (set a timer).
Try not to add much extra flour.
Form into a ball and place in a bowl.
Cover and allow to rest for 1 hour.
Pretend the dough is a clock face-pull a piece of dough out at noon, stretch and fold it back.
Repeat going around the clock face.
Cover it again and leave to rest for 1 hour.
Repeat this resting – pulling – resting twice more.
That is 4 rest and 3 pulls in all.
To shape the dough put it gently on to just a very lightly floured surface.
Try to use as little extra flour as possible.
Stretch and fold the dough to get a round ball shape.
Tucking the dough into the the base of the roll with your fingers.
Place in a proofing basket
I have found it is better to place a cotton or linen floured napkin over the surface.
This makes it easier to turn out the risen dough.
I now have a special circular piece of cotton specially for this.
It is best to wash this without the use of fabric conditioner or perfumed detergent.
Place into a large plastic bag or use a shower cap to cover.
Allow to rise until it has grown in size by 1½ times.
This can take 2-3 hours or even longer – depends on the heat in the kitchen.
Pre-heat the oven to GM 8 – 230°C.
Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with greaseproof paper and sprinkling on semolina or flour.
Gently tip out the risen dough onto the sheet.
Cut three long slashes in the top with a sharp knife.
Bake for 10 minutes then turn the heat down to GM6 – 200°C.
Bake for another 20 minutes.
Check the base sounds hollow.
Leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
Different wheat flours
You can alter the type and proportions of wheat flour and can use whole-wheat or wholemeal flour.
I am trying different versions out and have made a loaf with 60g of whole-wheat in the refreshed starter and 150g whole-wheat and 150g strong flour for the dough. It was a little heavier but tasted super.