Simple sourdough recipe
Ten years ago, Nick and Bella Ivins left behind the city to restore the five-acre Walnuts Farm in Sussex. Their book, The New Homesteader is a beautifully photographed guide to establishing your own homestead and self-sustaining lifestyle, with sections on kitchen gardens, making the most of your outdoor space, keeping livestock and managing the farmhouse
Simple pleasures are some of the finest. But that simplicity does not mean that they are without refinement or depth. Good bread falls into this category, and a slice of homemade bread is something to savour. With just a smearing of salted artisan butter, it makes the finest of meals.
We keep to a regular routine of bread making and find that a loaf made every other day is more than adequate. In the refrigerator we store our ‘starter’ dough, originally gifted to us by a Californian bread-fanatic friend, and which we have kept alive for several years now.
The starter contains natural yeasts from the air captured in a floury environment and is kept alive by periodic refreshments of water and flour. It gives off a wonderful ripe, yeasty aroma that adds to the sensual pleasure of bread making.
Using a wooden spoon, we combine bread flour, salt and the starter dough in Nick’s mother’s mixing bowl, then knead gently. We leave the dough to rise on the Rayburn, covered with a damp cloth, while we head off to other tasks.
Inevitably we arrive back at the kitchen with less-than-perfect timing, but the dough is generally kind to us and allows us to ‘knock it back’. It retains enough energy to rise again, this time formed into a ball and placed in a straw hat (our version of the baker’s proving basket).
Once risen a second time, we tip it onto a baking tray and place in the oven to bake. The results vary, depending upon our diligence, the consistency of the dough and even the atmospheric conditions. But whether perfectly risen with air holes to rival a Swiss cheese, or of a more ‘biscuity’ shape and texture, the results never fail to stand head and shoulders above the commercial bagged equivalent.
A quick sourdough starter:
This is an easy sourdough starter that cheats a little to get the starter going, rather than waiting to capture naturally occurring yeasts from the environment.
15g active dried yeast
200g strong white bread flour
50g rye flour
300ml warm water
Add the dried yeast to the strong white bread flour and rye flour. Mix with the warm water, and leave for at least 24 hours in a warm (but not hot) place to develop.
300g strong white bread flour
75g rye flour
1 teaspoon salt
250g starter mix
200ml warm water
Makes one loaf
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl until a sticky and ragged dough forms. Either gently knead on a board or continue with the spoon in the bowl until the dough is smooth, elastic and bouncy.
Leave in a lightly oiled bowl to rise for about two hours. Knock back and leave to rise for another 10 minutes. Shape into a round and place in a proving basket for one and a half hours.
Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/Gas 7. Turn the dough onto a baking sheet and slash the top with a very sharp knife to break the surface and allow an even rise.
Bake in the preheated oven for about one hour, or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the base. You will get to know your oven and preferred timing after baking a loaf or two.
While you're waiting, replenish the starter with flour and water and return it to the refrigerator for next time.
The New Homesteader: How to create a self-sufficient home farm, grow your own produce and raise livestock by Bella Ivins and Nick Ivins (Ryland Peters & Small, £19.99) is out now.