Christmas notes: morning

I start the day by making bread, which feels happily necessary and symbolic. This is my favourite sort of bread: simple with a moist crumb, chewy crust and the distinct malty tang of sourdough.

This morning we’ll eat it with a plate of very buttery, softly scrambled eggs, some smoked salmon and champagne.

Basic sourdough – a good morning loaf

I give this loaf its final rise and bake in the early morning, having left the dough overnight. I poetically feel its routine follows my own, in its resting, rising and readiness, its coming to life.

I begin the night before by measuring out 12oz sourdough starter (at 1:1 ratio flour/water), 14oz strong white flour, 2oz rye flour, 8oz water, 1/2oz salt and, optionally, a sachet of fast-action yeast (this gives a more even crumb, which I sometimes want).

I keep back a handful of the flour. Everything is mixed and kneaded on a surface dusted with the reserved flour. I persist until the mixture is smooth, shiny and stretches elastically without breaking. The dough is shaped tightly into a ball by tucking it into itself and placed in a large floured bowl to prove overnight.

Day 2.

Up early, I knock back my dough and shape it into a ball by folding it tightly into itself in a circular motion, pulling the edges to the centre and pushing them firmly down and in. It should feel tight and self-supporting. I flour a bowl, roughly the shape of my imagined final loaf, and place the dough in seam-side up. It is now left to double in size – between one and two hours should do, obligingly giving me time to wake up, drink tea, drink coffee, read a bit.

Finally, I invert my risen dough onto a floured baking sheet and neaten and slash. A circle is simple and attractive.

The dough now needs to recover for fifteen mins while the oven heats to 240. A tray of boiling water in the bottom of the oven creates a good steamy atmosphere, which you need to achieve the characteristic crust.

Now for the baking: twenty minutes at 240 and another twenty at 200. I also give it a final five minutes upside down so the bottom of the loaf gets good exposure.

I leave to cool on a rack for as long as I conceivably can.

It’s usually still warm by the time I cut off the first crust. I eat it with very cold, very good butter.


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