I love beer. And I love bread. When I can put both together it makes me ecstatic (honestly, I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to my bread). Recently I had the chance to try Central City’s Limited Edition Sour Brown, it’s a barrel aged sour ale. I am typically not a fan of soul ales, but am always willing to try a new beer and give it my honest thoughts. Let me warn you, this is a brown ale that is aged in merlot barrels, followed by more aging in oak barrels. If you are not ready for this flavour combo, you will be turned away at the first sip. Once my tasting friend and I figured that out, we were more open to the definite red wine flavour, and she could distinguish the oak flavour at the end of the sip. When we figured out this was not a beer for us to enjoy a glass of, I immediately turned to how I could use it in bread; sourdough is the perfect medium to highlight this beer.
Earlier this year my Mum passed along a sourdough starter she had. I have spent a few months perfecting my technique, but now have a bread with a dense crumb, chewy golden crust, and a sour aroma that rivals any San Francisco Sourdough I’ve ever tried. Beer can be substituted into any bread for the liquid ingredient, just get it up to room temp, or slightly warmer than your finger if you dip it in.
Here are a couple tips before I give you the ingredient list and method to make a delicious sourdough bread:
- If you are making your own starter, be PATIENT with it. Mine is made of equal weights flour and skim milk. The lower the milk fat content, the sourer the resulting flavour.
- Maintaining your starter is important and can be complicated. I won’t take up too much space here talking about it, so Google ‘sourdough starter care’ and look for one with good reviews.
- Heat your oven 25˚C over your baking temp, and preheat it at least one hour before you want to bake your loaf.
- Steam/moisture is important for making that crust and keeping the crumb moist, so add a handful of ice cubes as you put the bread in, or bake in a Dutch oven
- When I tell you how long to let the dough sit, don’t take shortcuts – your bread and the senses you eat with will thank you.
Central City Sour-Dough Bread
150g Sourdough starter
250g Central City Sour Brown slightly warmed
25g olive oil
500g bread flour (I add 2 Tbsp wheat gluten to all-purpose flour and this works)
10g fine salt
fine cornmeal for dusting
8-24hrs in advance, whisk room temp starter, beer, and oil together in a medium stainless steel bowl. Add 1/3 of the flour at a time and mix well with a wooden spoon. The dough should be smooth and not stick to your hands. If it is sticky, add more flour, half a handful at a time. If it is too dry and the flour won’t mix in completely, add 5g at a time.
Let it sit for 30 min, covered with plastic wrap and a dishtowel. Mix the salt with 10g warm water to help it dissolve. Punch a shallow divot into the dough and pour the saltwater into it. This is going to be hard to describe, if you know how to knead bread, just do that until you can’t feel the grains of salt anymore. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, pinch one side of the dough, pull it over the salt and press it into the dryer dough on the far side of the divot. Still with me? Repeat this motion on all four opposing sides of the dough. Now, pick up the ball of dough in both hands, keep your thumbs on the top, and all 8 fingers on the underside. Using your thumbs and heel of your hands to press down and your fingers to pull up, start massaging the salt into the dough. Here you are going to build up some gluten which is going to create the texture of the crumb (the soft stuff inside the crust) and the strength of the crust. Keep doing this motion until you can’t feel the grains of salt anymore; it may form into a large bagel shape during this step, that is fine, just squish the entire mass together in your hands until it become a ball again.
If you have any stress in your life, this is the therapeutic stage of bread making – as someone who struggles with anxiety, this is often my therapy at the end of a hard day.
Once the salt is all mixed into the dough, place it back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a towel and put it away for at least 8 hours. For me, I start my bread the afternoon/evening before I want to bake it, and put it in a dark room overnight, ready to bake it in the morning. It should grow with the natural yeast in the starter and air (yes, there’s yeast in the air).
Two hours before you want to bake the bread, lightly dust your counter with flour, pull the dough out and shape it – I’ll explain how to do that. This is another favourite step for me (really, I just love the feel of the soft dough in my hands any way I can get it). With your fingertips, press the dough flat on the flour dusted counter top. Grab the edge furthest from your body and fold the flattened dough in half, pressing the entire surface together with your fingertips. Give the bread a 90˚ turn and repeat this last move. Now flip the dough so that the one seam is on the countertop. Cup your hands around the raw dough and while pressing down with your thumb and forefingers, roll the dough from side to side in a round motion. You need the dough to stick to the counter a bit here, so if you have too much flour you will need to brush it away. Roll the dough in a circular motion until it forms a smooth round ball.
Dust the bottom of a large Dutch oven with the cornmeal. Place the round ball in the middle and place the lid on.
One hour before baking, preheat your oven to 450˚. When ready to bake, use a sharp knife to slash the top of the dough 1/4 inch deep. Place the bread in the oven, lid on, and turn the temp down to 400˚. After 20 min, remove the lid and bake for another 40 min or until the crust is the colour you want. Remove, cool, and enjoy!