Recently I’ve been playing around with temperatures and cooking methods, trying to broaden my understanding of sourdough in particular. Following methods outlined in the Larousse Book of Bread I have experimented with the effect of different temperatures of the water and the room that the dough proofs in. I have also been playing around with the amount of starter, and the effect on the time, quality, and taste of the finished breads.
For this fig and raisin sourdough, I decided to make two batches that were equal in everything except for the amount of starter. The finished breads came out noticeably different.
Using the baker’s percentage formula, where the total weight of flour is 100%, I worked out two recipes with the same weight and amount of each ingredient. Putting the total weight at 2288g would result in two loaves from each batch at just under 1kg each. One recipe has a rye starter, and the other has a starter that began as rye, and was refreshed with all purpose flour. The rye starter loaves have extra all purpose flour and water in the final mix. This means that the first recipe has around 40% starter, and the second around 4%. I expected that this would have a fairly dramatic effect on the outcome of the loaves; a higher amount of starter should – in theory – have a number of effects.
Firstly, the higher the amount of starter, the more ‘wild yeast’ is present. This means that the dough will rise more quickly, and that the final dough will be more dense and chewy in texture. In the second recipe, using less starter will both increase the rising time and will result in a more complex flavour from the additional lactic and acetic acids released through fermentation. I decided, rather than retarding either loaf overnight in the fridge, that I would let each batch rise at room temperature. The first took a 4 hour bulk ferment, and a 2 hour proof. The second took 16 hours for the bulk ferment, and 6 hours for the proof. Both were handled in the same way – a couple of stretch/folds during the bulk ferment, and then shaped into bannetons. The only difference here was the shape of the loaves – boules for the first recipe, bâtards for the second.
The most important thing, of course, is the outcome. In my opinion, the second loaves were the superior. The extra-long fermentation produced a loaf that was complex in flavour and had a dark, cracked crust when baked. The taste was, in fact, a little overpowering, and so I will increase the amount of starter the next time I bake to a compromise, leaning towards the lesser end of the scale. The first recipe result was also good, with a softer texture, and more delicate flavour, but the gelatinised, shiny crumb and the thick crust of the second takes the prize, and is the recipe that I give here.
Fig and raisin sourdough – makes 2 large bâtards
- 1175g organic all-purpose (plain) flour
- 845g water at room temperature
- 50g rye starter @ 100% hydration
- 200g figs, sliced
- 200g sultanas
- 18g salt
- For two days before making the bread (e.g. on Thursday), refresh the starter with equal parts rye flour and water.
- The day before baking (e.g. Saturday), combine all of the ingredients except the salt and fruits in a large mixing bowl. Autolyse for 30 minutes.
- Add the salt and fruits, and knead in the bowl until combined. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel. Bulk ferment until risen, giving a couple of stretch/folds during that time. For me, this was an overnight bulk ferment that took 16 hours – I started at 7pm on Saturday, and was ready for the next stage at 11am on Sunday.
- After the bulk ferment, divide the dough into two equal portions and shape into balls. Rest for 20 minutes. Shape for bâtards and place into well floured bannetons. Proof until risen – 6 hours for me, so the loaves were ready for the oven at 5pm.
- Preheat oven to max, with an empty baking pan on the bottom of the oven. Turn out the loaves onto a floured baking tray and score. Tip a cup of water into the preheated baking tray to create steam, and place loaves into the oven. Bake at max for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 230˚C. Bake for an extra 30 minutes, turning half way through.
- Remove to a wire rack and leave until cooled before slicing.