Dark Ale Sourdough

Two dark ale sourdough loaves
Two dark ale sourdough loaves

Some people rate a perfect sourdough based not only on the flavour but on the irregularity of the crumb – a holey, open-crumbed texture with a well risen and crispy scored edge is the holy grail, achieved by using a high hydration dough, a fierce heat and often judicious use of steam. I can take or leave the big holey dough thing; sometimes a dense and flavourful crumb – like a rye bread or a wholemeal loaf – is just as good. But, every now and again, I like to experiment and try to find that “perfect” sourdough.

ale_crumb
The crumb is springy and full of large, uneven holes.

This recipe was born of a simple idea: I like beer, I like bread, and I’ve never (despite seeing many recipes) combined the two. So I took a pretty standard formula for two loaves – 800g of bread flour with 70% liquid, and swapped out 330ml of the water with a bottle of dark ale. The results were even better than I expected.

This sourdough loaf has the open holes and irregular crumb, the dark and crisp crust, and a fantastic flavour (so good that one loaf barely lasted out the day). The dark ale gave it lift, colour, and flavour, without being overpowering. The best part – slicing some of it up and turning it into the best Welsh rarebit ever… more on that later this week.

Sourdough_ale_crust
Well risen and with a crisp and delicious crust

Dark Ale Sourdough – makes two boules

Firm starter

  • 115g white sourdough starter @ 130% hydration
  • 130g white bread flour
  • 55g water

Dough

  • 240g firm starter
  • 800g strong white flour
  • 230ml warm water
  • 330ml dark ale
  • 16g salt
  1. Two days before baking, make the firm starter. Combine the ingredients, knead for a few minutes, and allow to rise at room temperature for four hours. Refrigerate overnight.
  2. The next morning, remove the firm starter one hour prior to making the dough, and break into a dozen pieces.
  3. Combine the remaining ingredients and knead briefly. Autolyse for 20 minutes. Bulk ferment for 4 hours, with a stretch/fold every half an hour for the first 2.
  4. Divide and shape the loaves into two boules. Rest on the counter for 20 minutes, then quickly and gently reshape and place into well floured bannetons. Proof for 2 hours, then place into plastic bags and retard in the refrigerator overnight.
  5. The day of baking, preheat the oven to max with a lidded cast iron pot (Dutch oven) on the middle shelf. Bake one loaf at a time for 30 minutes with the lid on, then 15 minutes with the lid off and temperature reduced to 230˚C.
  6. Remove to a wire rack and rest for at least an hour before slicing.
dark_ale_boules
Dark ale sourdough loaves shaped into boules
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The best rye sourdough recipe

This recipe is practically foolproof – a 100% rye bread, made with a rye sourdough starter, and baked to a dense, dark, and chewy loaf that tastes delicious.

rye-crumb
The crust is cracked and dark, despite the low oven temperature. The crumb is dense, moist, and chewy

This simple recipe came about as a result of my oven breaking. I’ve made rye breads before, but needed a straightforward loaf that I could bake at a reasonably low temperature, as my oven has recently taken a dive and now only reaches 180-200˚C.

rye-proofing
Two rye loaves proofing in floured bannetons

It doesn’t get much simper than this – three ingredients, no kneading, and excellent results.

100% rye sourdough

  1. Refresh the rye starter for a couple of days prior to baking. This loaf will not rise much, but the starter will add complexity to the finished flavour.
  2. Combine all of the ingredients and mix thoroughly to combine. Divide in two, shape into rough rounds and place into bannetons floured with rye flour. This bread does not require kneading, or a bulk ferment. Proof the loaves at room temperature for 4-6 hours, or proof for 4 hours then refrigerate overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 200˚C with a lidded cast iron pot (“Dutch Oven“) on the middle shelf. Bake loaves one at a time for 45 minutes with the lid on, then reduce the temperature to 180˚C and bake for 15 minutes with the lid off.
  4. Cool on a wire rack for two hours before slicing. Slice thinly.
rye-loaves
The two finished rye loaves
pugile_and_rye

Pugilese – a ciabatta style bread with a sourdough starter

As I mentioned in my previous post, my oven – a long suffering little gas thing – has finally started to give up. The maximum temperature varies, but recently hasn’t topped 200˚C on the middle shelf. This means it isn’t much good at the moment for baking dark sourdough loaves with blistered crusts like porridge sourdough or fig and raisin sourdough.

cracked_crust
This dark multigrain loaf was baked in a very hot oven… This won’t work for me right now

Still, I’ve resisted biting the bullet and heading down to the shops for bread, and instead have been working on some recipes that will get good results at medium temperatures. Rye bread, for example, works very well at a low temperature. It’s hardly an “every day” bread, however, so have also been experimenting with how to make a ciabatta style loaf at home in my dying oven.

The pugilese - "ciabatta" style loaf - proofing in a banneton
The pugilese – “ciabatta” style loaf – proofing in a banneton

I’ve made ciabatta before, using whey as part of the liquid. That post also includes instructions on the stretching and folding of the dough, which is very elastic and can be difficult to manage. The word “ciabatta” refers to the shape – a slipper. These loaves are slightly different. Leavened with a mix of sourdough starter and a little instant yeast, these round ciabatta style loaves are more like “Pugilese”, another Italian bread from the Puglia region. The major difference is the round shape, which needs a well floured banneton due to the slackness of the dough.

pugile_and_rye
Two rye loaves and a pugilese – some of the breads to come out of my “broken” oven

Pugilese – makes 2 small loaves

Firm Starter

Dough

  • 300g firm starter
  • 285g white bread flour
  • 11g salt
  • 3g instant yeast
  • 255g lukewarm water
  1. To make the firm starter, refresh a sourdough starter with white flour to 130% hydration (130g water for every 100g flour). On the day before baking, combine the firm starter ingredients. Knead for a few minutes to combine, then place into a lightly oiled bowl. Allow to rise for 4 hours, then refrigerate overnight.
  2. The day of baking, remove the firm starter from the refrigerator an hour prior to making the bread, and cut up into about a dozen small pieces.
  3. Combine the firm starter with the remaining dough ingredients. The dough will be very wet and “slack”. Autolyse for 20 minutes. Stretch and fold the dough a dozen times, then bulk ferment for four hours. Perform stretch/folds several times during the first two hours of the bulk ferment.
  4. Flour a work surface, two lined bannetons, and your hands. Divide the dough into two equal portions. Try to work quickly but gently, so that the air in the dough is not squeezed out. Shape the dough into rounds and place into the well floured bannetons. Dust the tops with flour and cover loosely with cling film or a tea towel.
  5. Proof for 1 – 1.5 hours. Preheat the oven to 200˚C with a lidded cast iron pot (“Dutch Oven“) on the middle shelf.
  6. Bake the loaves one at a time in the cast iron pot, for 30 minutes with the lid on, then 15 minutes with the lid off.
  7. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for one hour before slicing.
pugilese_and_oil
The best way to enjoy this kind of loaf – with a dish of good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar
pugilese
One of the finished “Pugilese” loaves