How To Make Sourdough In An Aga Range Cooker
Christine is a member of the Blake & Bull community. Alongside baking for rural weddings, lambing, farming, walking her beloved dogs and running a warm household, she has been having a go at baking sourdough! We love Christine, she is one of earth's good people. Her much loved ‘Daily Bread’ recipe has been such a success, we gifted her one of ourCast Iron Baking Cloches to see how she got on with it!
Christine has tried different recipes, flours, temperatures, starter receptacles, on-line tutorials, and books to come up with this set of tips.
Why Tips and not a recipe? -Your water temp (room temp) is going to be different from other bakers. Your starter is going to be a different temp than other bakers too. And, lets face it, your Aga range cooker is definitely going to be a different temp than other bakers! So, the time that you need to rest & rise the dough will be different, the time that you need to bake will be different & the amount that you need to feed your starter will be too! Hopefully the time that you take to eat it, devoured with butter straight from the roasting oven, will be pretty much the same!
Here we go! Christine’s Sourdough Journey
“Moving frommaking bread by handto sourdough was not as straightforward as I thought. Both may be bread that can be sliced and toasted, and both use yeast as raising agents. But this was my first mistake - one of many I hasten to add - trying to compare the making of sourdough with a traditional loaf.”Christine
You will need -
- A banneton basket
- A bread cloth ( a large soft t-towel, not washed in fabric conditioner or anything that will infuse bread with scent)
- A jar / tall plastic container and elastic band
- A soft scraper
- Flour for dusting
- A measuring jug
- A Cast Iron Baking Cloche
- A Peel
- A few free hours
Lets start with your starter!
Christine’s notes -
“Sourdough uses a ‘starter’ to replace the bought yeast in an ordinary loaf. If I understand it correctly, the flour and water become colonised with natural yeasts from both within flour and air. It takes several days to make and start fermenting. A starter can last indefinitely, providing it is fed and watered at regular intervals, and improves with time. Making a starter is fun - I watched expectantly every day for bubbles, and of the starter rising and falling in the jar. Did it smell vinegary yet? All these were signs that the starter was ‘active’.” Christine
Top tips -
Use a tall plastic container that fits in your fridge (easier to scrape with flat sides and to see the rise and fall )
Use a rubber band to mark the start point (after feeding) so that you can happily see where it has risen to
Recipe - use equal quantities of flour and water.
Process- Use 25g organic rye flour and 25g water, stirred and left for 24hrs, then repeated daily for 4 days without any discarding of dough, which gives a more manageable 200g starter. Christine uses 100g of starter a week for a single loaf. Keep in the fridge once the starter is active after the feeding period until you are ready to bake.
Water Type - if your water is heavily chlorinated, it helps to let it stand overnight to allow the chlorine to dissipate. If you are having problems getting the starter to start bubbling, try changing from tap water to bottled water until the starter is established.
Flour type - At first, Christine used strong white flour to make her starter. Rye flour can add value to your starter due to its high nutritional content, when Christine added it “it became so active that it bubbled up and over the sides of the jar like a volcano by the next morning!”
Feeding - The starter needs to befed daily until established andkept at a fairly constant warm temperature during this time, but not hot - kitchen will be perfect with the Aga range cooker on! Once established, it can be kept in the fridge until the day before it is required - it will then need some dough discarding before feeding with fresh water and flour.
How do you know if your sourdough starter is ready?- Feed it the day before you need it, removing, and replacing with the same quantity of fresh. Mark your new line with a rubber band on your jar/container. If your starter is nice and bubbly and a small teaspoon full floats in a glass of water, then you are ready to bake!
Containers - Christine found a glass jar awkward and messy.
“Removing starter with a spatula makes a mess of the neck and I eventually took off the lid and covered it with a cloth. But further searches have suggested a jam jar with a plastic screw lid - so excluding the air does not seem to be a problem. As I am now making sourdough bread once a week, and therefore keeping the starter in fridge between times, I find a tall plastic container most useful as the base does not take up much shelf space in the fridge. A small volume of starter can be seen to rise and fall in a tall, slim container and the wide neck is easier to keep clean.When I first added the rye flour, I covered the large jam jar I was then using with a lace doily. Big mistake! The cloth stuck to the jar and starter was solidified down the outside of the jar like a volcanic reaction - took some soaking to get off!”Christine
Christine’s Ultimate formula -Making the bread with the ‘Stretch and Fold’ Method
Loaf Recipe 72% hydration
- 100g of starter
- 310ml of water
- 450g of white flour
- 8g salt
The hydration of the dough tells us how moist and soft the finished loaf is likely to be and how to handle it. Bread that uses bought yeast can be made more moist by adding more liquid and /or fat, but provided it is well kneaded to develop the gluten, the bread will rise.
A higher hydration with sourdough bread is likely to mean that the loaf will not hold its shape when turned out of the proving basket/dish. Unless the gluten has been well developed and that the dough is shaped well to provide structure to the loaf.
"Starting with a lower hydration is advisable!" Christine
Formula / dough hydration in steps!(the maths)
Add all water quantities together - there is 50ml in your starter and 310 ml to go in your dough = 360
Add all dry quantities together - there is 50g in your starter and 450g of ‘new’ flour = 500
360 / 500 = 0.72
Multiply this by 100 to give you your hydration figure of 72%
Combine this with the ‘Stretch and fold’ method to get the best sourdough!
Christine's notes - “Different flours absorb different amounts of waterand so wholemeal flour will usually require a little more water. Having made a few decent(ish) white sourdough loaves, I thought I’d use 1/2 white and 1/2 wholemeal flour with a little extra water. The bonus was the loaf is edible, but it’s not pretty!!...
...From the picture you can see that the loaf has spread - the lump on the left is an air bubble. My next attempt required a littlelesswater and more structure.” Christine
As the dough is wetter than a conventional loaf, the dough is sticky and spreads when put onto a work surface. Some bits of equipment make is easier to handle, and to get it from first mix through to putting it into the oven.
- Firstly, a thin spatula or a small flexible dough scraperhelps keep control of the dough. This can be used to get the dough going and to coax the dough out of the bowl onto the work surface
- A bowl glass, plastic or china - no bother
- Wet hands & a mister spray - It sounds strange, but having wet hands and a wet work surface also prevents the dough from sticking whilst being worked in the ‘stretch and fold’ method. After having worked the dough, spray the inside of the dough bowl ready to receive the dough ready for its rest.
- Your basket, floured or lined- After the final stage of shaping, the dough needs to be put into something that will help mould its shape upwards, something with steep sides. A word of caution on using a banneton, if it doesn’t have a lining, use a thin tea-towel well floured to line the basket until you are practised at making sourdough loaves. “I diligently followed the recipe and basket preparation for my first loaf, but it well and truly stuck. Getting the dough out of the basket to bake was very tricky, and the basket took a while to clean out!”Christine
- Before going into a very hot oven, the crust will need ‘releasing’ by being cut along its length. Something very sharp is really required. Invest in a grignette - basically a razor blade in a holder
- A trivet on which to rest your cloche (pictured above & below)
“I am now the proud owner of Blake and Bull’sSpun Iron Baking Cloche and wouldn’t use anything else for a conventional loaf now. I’ve also baked sourdough in it, and an oblong banneton loaf just fits in! A bakers wooden peel is the traditional way of getting the loaf into the hot oven, but Blake & Bull’sBaking and Pizza Peel would be ideal. I have used a sheet of baking parchment, but you have to be quick!”Christine
“There is certainly plenty of advice out there for the new sourdough maker, but the approach varies considerably! My first attempt, following an experienced baker’s instruction, was to knead the dough in the traditional method and then bake later that same day. I did not have the skill in the kneading or for pre-shaping the wet dough, and my first attempt ended in the bin! I have tried kneading a sourdough loaf since, with another recipe that allowed the loaf to rest in the fridge overnight, but could still not achieve a decent loaf.”Christine
Stretch and fold Sourdough
Stretch and fold (alternative to traditional kneading) is simple but takes some hours. First, the ingredients are roughly mixed together before being allowed to rest. Then the dough is gently stretched and folded - either in the bowl or on the work surface - before being left to rest for a couple of hours at a time. This is repeated a number of times over several hours.
Some Hours… -
Your water temp (room temp) is going to be different from other bakers. Your starter is going to be a different temp than other bakers too. And, lets face it, your Aga range cooker is definitely going to be a different temp than other bakers. So, the time that you need to rest & rise the dough will be different. As a loose rule, 2 hours between stretch and folds will allow the bread to rise. The bake after the final rest & rise will be approx 20-25 mins.
“ I got a good stretch of the dough before folding it back on itself (on a work surface, dampened), then rotating the dough to pull out the next section of dough to be stretched. This is repeated all around the ball of dough. The dough is then returned, tuck side down, into the bowl. This holds the tucks in place and means it is dome side up ready for scraping out onto the work surface for the next stretch and fold.”Christine
- After your initial resting of approx. two hours, lightly mist your work surface and tip out your risen dough with the assistance of a scraper, ensuring the dome/top of the dough hits the work surface first. Do not drop it from a great height - bubbles are precious!
- Work around the dough, in equal portions. Gently pull and stretch the dough out away from the main dough body and fold it back into the middle, gently pushing it back into the centre
- When you have stretched all sides of the dough away from the main body and back into the centre, coax the dough into a round shape again to return to the ‘resting bowl’, crease/fold side down.
- Remember, do not apply too much pressure, treat it like a baby, bubbles are precious!
Pre-shape -This stage allows the loaf to form tension on its upper surface. Pulling the dough in on itself and under.
After 3 stretches over 4-6 hours - the dough dome is dusted with flour and is turned onto a lightly floured surface ready for apre-shape- putting some tension into the dome of the loaf.By tipping onto a floured (very important!)surface, you end up with a bottom, non-stick side, and a sticky top side. By gently folding the loaf in on itself - keeping the lovely air bubbles - you end up with a floured surface all around both top and bottom.
Pre-Shape - Gently flatten your dough on a lightly floured surfaceto roughly double the width of your basket, then gently working from one end, turn it in on itself. Much like a doughy swiss roll!
The loaf is flipped over with the seam upwards in the proving basket this time, and left to rest for an additional 2 hours.
When you are ready to bake -gently tip it out onto your dusted peel, score the top confidently across the top, and bake. The score allows the loaf to expand, and ‘breathe’.
Use the peel to shimmy your loaf onto your pre-heated cloche plate, and pop your dome on top. This will create steam and a lovely crust!
Christine’s notes - “The final stage is the shaping, again on a floured surface, before putting into a dish or banneton and left in the fridge for several hours. Some recipes suggested putting the loaf inside a plastic bag, but I found it unnecessary and simply draped the tea towel used to line the banneton over the top. Or you can just leave the top open with no ill effects - it develops a slight ‘skin’, but does not dry out. Expert bakers say a sourdough loaf can be left in the fridge for anything from overnight to days - I’m too impatient to wait days!” Christine
“I can now say that I can make a reasonable loaf which my husband (very conservative tastes) really likes - bonus for my efforts. But learning more about the process I would advise anyone starting out to check the hydration of the recipe and keep to something between 65 - 72% hydration to start. Getting tension on the dough is definitely a skill and it is very disappointing to tip out your loaf ready for baking for it to just spread out before you can get it into the oven! It has definitely been a journey, but worth the effort. It doesn’t taste like this from the supermarket!”Christine
Christine's review for our cast iron baking cloche! (I can honestly say having spent the last year chatting with Christine that she only gives praise when it is due, and rightly so, so we are well chuffed with this!) -
"Beautiful bread - This was a present (from Blake & Bull), and I was a little dubious as to how I was going to handle a large, hot dish from the oven; where was I going to put the bell when I'd removed it; where was it going to live in my kitchen?! This is a beautiful bit of kit and the bread that comes out of it is amazing - I wouldn't be without now! With a little organisation, it is very easy to manage. I preheat the tray and bell in the oven for 20-30 minutes. The bread must go onto the hot tray - don't put in cold. I Have used a piece of baking parchment to transfer proved loaf put think this is removing oil from the tray - need to progress to a peel. With the large Blake & Bull trivet at the ready, I take out the cloche and remove the bell. I have found I can easily balance the tray and bell, slightly overlapping one another, on the trivet They overhang the sides a little but are safe. Alternatively, The bell can sit on an old Aga 'chef pad'. Cook the bread for 15mins and then remove the bell to finish cooking. Beautiful crust, base of loaf is nicely browned, and bread moist and soft. Loaf lasts well. Currently working on sourdough with the cloche and wondering what else I can do with it. No more trying to fill a hot roasting pan with boiling water in front of a hot oven - that has got to be safer! I didn't find washing necessary - a simple wipe with a damp cloth to remove any four. It looks beautiful on the dresser. Not as heavy as my shallow Le Creuset pan & lid."