It was love at first bite. Tearing through chewy crust to addictively tangy, firm crumbed bread, marbled with a smattering of glossy holes was an epiphany. More intense with somehow a more satisfyingly toothsome crust than any sourdough bread I’d tried previously, Hackney Wild was something special. I know there’s a possibility it’s not actually the best bread in the whole wide world, I’ve heard some teasing tales of Peckham’s Brickhouse loaf, but I’d have to try it to be convinced. A combination of age old ‘mother’, a trusted recipe, well trained, diligent staff and exclusive flora and forna to the area, means Hackney Wild is unique to it’s terroir and consequently a loaf made anywhere else to the same exacting recipe will never be *quite* the same.
My beautiful little loaves may not now technically be classed as ‘hackney wild’ as I’ve corrupted their unique habitat with my local one, but they’ll slowly but surely evolve and become purely of Beckenham terroir, whatever that might mean…
I’ve been knocking out one to two loaves of sourdough ever since learning how at the bread course I took at E5 Bakehouse, which I still insist is the best £95 I’ve ever spent. As promised, I’m blogging the recipes as I’m becoming comfortable with them and able to prove that they’re actually easily achievable at home, something, if I’m honest, I had my doubts about. If anything, my little loaves taste even better than anything I’ve ever purchased. I expect that sense of pride and pure satisfaction at creating something so alchemic casts a spell over my taste buds. Of course that’s not to mention the dedication and time that must influence and make even the most unattractive, lumpy and misshapen loaf taste like food fitting of the faeries. There’s something utterly addictive about the sorcery of combining such simple ingredients to astonishing results, each and every time I’m slightly dumb founded that the spell has worked. I’ve been making this basic sourdough every week since my course and every time it seems to taste better, there’s a complexity to the flavour that goes beyond the simple sour fermentation method that must be intrinsically drawn from the combination of all elements of the process; unique terroir, ingredients, method, blood, sweat, tears, hopes and dreams, time. No loaf made will ever be quite the same, and *this* is what I love.
When I remember to I’ve changed things up a bit by playing around with the ingredients for a spot of variety; fig and fennel seeds is a great combination for pairing with cheese, as is date and pecan, I upped the wholegrain/seeded flour to white ratio in both of these for a slightly darker loaf and consequently needed to up the cooking time as it created something far heavier and dense.
After a day or two when most loaves would be past their best, sourdough comes into it’s own, making the most incredible toast. I had an inexplicable and intense craving for a cherry and taleggio toasted sandwich this week. So, using the very last end slices from the weekend’s loaf, I made a dainty creation for lunch, combining slices of cheese with sliced cherries, which I then cooked in my panini press. The result was a complete and utter delight; cherry juice mingling saucily with ripe taleggio which then oozed through the meshwork of breadless holes, laquering the bottom of the sandwich in a gloriously crispy coating.
The recipe I’ve been using over and over is just the basic Hackney Wild one from the handout from the E5 course, and having used it a number of times now with varying degrees of attention to detail, I’m of the opinion it’s a fairly relaxed method. Having reduced and lengthened the process to fit around hours at home, ’cause let’s be honest, when I’m out of the house some days from 7ish till nearly midnight, it’s tricky to squeeze an almost four day, attention demanding process in there. However, don’t be put off by the long preparation, the actual work is minimal, there’s just lots of resting time needed followed by a set of kneading reps that need to be remembered.
Other notes to remember – the dough is supposed to be very sticky, if it’s completely unmanageable however, then add flour to your hands and incorporate it very gradually as it’s always easier to add than to take away.
Use a dough scraper – mine has become indispensible for scraping, scooping and getting that super sticky dough off fingers.
Water should be hand warm and should be adjusted to the weather – use cooler water when it’s hot to slow the process down and warmer when it’s cold to speed the process up a bit.
Always put your dough in the fridge inbetween each process.
This recipes relys on you already having a mother or starter, mine was given to me at the end of my course. You can, of course, start from scratch, there’s MUCH online and in print on the subject or you can beg, borrow or steal from someone you know who has some.
Although this looks like a monumentally long method – remember it’s just lots of very easy steps that need to be followed over a stretch of time. The actual method added up as a whole is really not that long.
This recipe makes one loaf
To make the leaven – this needs to be made roughly 2 days before you can make your dough
40g strong white flour
12g wholemeal flour (I used a seeded variety)
Break up the mother in a bowl with the water, squishing and mixing it until you get a fairly even porridge like consistency. Add the flours and mix until combined.
Leave this for 6ish hours and then make your second refreshment
105g leaven from your first refreshment
125g strong white flour
30g wholemeal flour (I used seeded)
Break up the leaven with the water as per the first refreshment then add flours and mix to combine. This will be quite dry – that’s fine.
After around 48 hours from your first refreshment, it’s time to start the actual dough.
290g leaven (this should leave 55g for your next batch of bread i.e. future refreshments)
240g strong white flour
45g strong wholemeal flour (again I used seeded)
9g fine sea salt
As before, break up the leaven in a large bowl with the water, then add the flours and mix thoroughly and leave for 20 minutes.
Sprinkle the salt over the surface then mix until it’s all combined and leave for 30 minutes.
Knead – this is a fairly precise but easy and quick method whereby you pull one edge of the dough out and fold it all the way across to the other side pushing it down as you do so. Rotate the ball of dough and pull across the next edge, folding acoss again and keep moving around until the dough tightens and you can no longer stretch the corners out, at this point work in smaller motions, using the heel of your hand to push the dough in smaller movements – always keeping the smooth base of the ball of dough in contact with your surface and folding into the open top. Leave for 30 minutes.
Knead in the same way 4 more times with 30 minutes rests in between, then flip the balll over so the kneaded ‘seam’ is flat to the table then rotate round and round to shape the dough into a bulbous round. Dust the top with flour then place head first into a floured banneton so the seam is face up again. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for 6-18 hours.
When you’re ready to bake, remove dough from the fridge and preheat oven to it’s highest temperature, tip it out onto a semolina or flour sprinkled baking tray covered with baking paper. Score a pattern in the top – your life and soul or something entirely superficial – don’t be shy, you need to cut fairly deep. Fill a deep baking tray with boiling water and place in the bottom of your oven then bake your sourdough at 220 degrees for 30 minutes on the shelf above. Remove the water filled baking tray after 30 minutes and bake for a further 10-15 minutes.
As tempting as it is to dive straight into your freshly baked bread, especialiy now the aroma will have permeated your home with the scent of domestic bliss. Hold tight. Have a snack and let the bread settle down. Listen to it shifting and crackling, as it relaxes and breathes, whispering sweet nothings, admire that thick, bubbly crust.
Not that I always listen to my own advice! You’ll notice in a few of my pictures that I’ve not given my bread long enough to cool down and as a result the crumb (get me using proper baker terms!) drags, not slicing neatly.