Homemade sour dough bread

Making bread is fun. And rewarding. and it makes the house smell sooooo good! And what better way to make bread than to make it with your very own pasta madre (which is sough dour starter to you and me!) in a wood fired oven?

I spent a large part of January 2014 learning about making bread in a wood fired oven in the south of Italy. I was WOOFing at a family run farm and every week we would make two batches of bread, between 50 and 60 kilos in total.

Bread fresh out of the oven
Bread fresh out of the oven

Ciro, the baker, grows the wheat himself and then has it ground at a local mill. He uses wholewheat flour mixed with a little white flour as the base but makes different types of bread as well: olive, walnut, bread stuffed with cheese and aubergines, and a sweet bread flavoured with powdered carob (which he grinds himself!), raisins and almonds. Basically what I realised is that you really can put anything you want inside. He also adds turmeric and mixed seeds (pumpkin, sunflower etc).

The wood fired oven is incredible and there is clearly a practical science behind it.

The wood fired oven after a few hours
The wood fired oven after a few hours

No wood fired oven is the same so it’s a case of trial and error to start with. It takes 7 hours to make the bread using this method, from start to finish (mixing and kneading the dough, leaving it to rise, getting the oven hot, removing the coals, cooking the bread). It is a mix of quick and slow burning wood which brings the oven to the right temperature (210 °C) and this is critical for the cooking of the bread. Too hot and it will cook too much on the outside, and possibly collapse, too cold and it won’t cook properly.photo_5 (2)

So here’s the recipe which I was given from start to finish, making your own sough dour starter.

It takes 3 days to prpare the starter, but once you have it, theoretically you will never need to make another! While you are preparing it, it must be kept in a warm, humid place (or wrapped in a damp cloth and covered), and then it can be kept in the fridge.

Day 1: 100g flour, 70 ml warm water
Day 2: 100g flour, 60 ml warm water
Day 3: 100g flour, 50 ml warm water

On day 1 mix the flour and water, then on days 2 and 3 simply add to the first batch. On day 4 you are ready to start making bread. To maintain the pasta madre you simply take out 250g BEFORE adding salt when you are making a new batch bread. Then keep it in the fridge.

1kg flour
25 – 30g salt
640ml warm water
250g pasta madrephoto_5

Mix the flour, water and pasta madre together by hand (don’t add salt yet). Once it is all combined, take out 250g for the next pasta madre and put it in the fridge, or a cool place. Then add the salt, knead for approx 10 minutes or until the bread is elastic. Place on a floured baking tray, or bread tin if you are using, and cover with a damp tea towel. Leave to rise for at least 2 hours, but ideally between 4 – 5 hours.

The dough is placed in baskets, wrapped in floured tea towels and left to rise for 4 hours
The dough is placed in baskets, wrapped in floured tea towels and left to rise for 4 hours

To Bake…
Preheat oven to 210 °C.
Place the bread in the oven (for a crusty loaf place a tray of water in the base of the oven)
After 30 minutes turn oven down to 200 °C
It should take between 50 – 60 minutes to cook, depending on the oven.
The bread is ready when it sounds hollow if you knock the bottom.

To make different types of bread follow these guidelines (they’re not exact so just experiment):

Olive / Sundried Tomato Bread: add a good splash of olive oil and a handful of pitted olives / sundried tomatoes to the dough when you add the salt

Walnut Bread: add a handful of crushed walnuts to the dough after adding the salt

Sweet Bread: add a handful of dark sugar (and ground carob if you can find it!) to the dough when you add the salt. Knead until well combined. Stretch the dough and lay flat. Add a generous handful of almonds and raisins and using the fingertips and knuckles work the dried fruit and nuts into the dough.

Sweet bread, flavored with powdered carob, almonds and raisins
Sweet bread, flavored with powdered carob, almonds and raisins
The dough is rolled out before the ingredients are added
The dough is rolled out before the ingredients are added

Stuffed Bread: take the basic bread dough and, after kneading, roll out with a rolling pin. rub turmeric into the surface and then place your filling of choice on top. You can basically add anything you want but my suggestions would be: cheddar cheese and aubergine, sundried tomatoes and goats cheese, cooked scarolla / spinach. Then roll the dough, folding in the ends so that the fillimng doeasn’t explode out of the sides. Place in a bread tin and leave to rise as normal.

Stuffed loaves ready to be baked
Stuffed loaves ready to be baked
And here's the outcome
And here’s the outcome

Allow to cool before serving. Meanwhile enjoy the aroma of fresh baked bread!

Check out the photo for a simple step by step guide to bread making with your very own pasta madre (this is actually something I saw after I was given the recipe, so the amounts are a little different. But I really liked the picture and thought it would be nice to share it!)

How to make homemade bread with pasta madre
How to make homemade bread with pasta madre

And if you want to, serve it with this homemade orange marmalade:photo_10

This is a recipe which I first tried in Spain, which comes from my good friend Guzman Sanchez. Or rather, his aunt Marisa. It’s incredibly simple and delicious. We made it at the farm when we weren’t making bread, and like pretty much every recipe i’ve ever encountered, I’ve put my own spin on it, adding star anice and reducing the quantity of sugar. The outcome of the original recipe is more of a jam than a marmalade – quite a runny consistency. It’s easy enough to get round this though by simply cooking for longer!

Orange marmalade
Orange marmalade cooking on the stove

1kg Oranges
2 Carrots
2 Lemons
750g sugar
1 whole star anice

1) Peel the oranges and lemons and preserve half of the peel (or all of the peel if you like chunky marmalade). Chop into small chunks, or blitz with a hand blender all of the fruit (make sure you remove the white part after peeling).
2) Remove all of the white pith from the orange and lemon peel and chop into thin pieces.
3) Peel and grate the carrots and add to the citrus puree.
4) Add the sugar and star anice.
5) Bring to the boil and then simmer until the consistency is thick (at least an hour for a runny jam consistency, and up to four hours for a thicker marmalade).
6) Place in sterilised jars and spread on your homemade bread for breakfast 🙂

5 thoughts on “Homemade sour dough bread

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