15 February 2012

Sourdough Friendship Cake

I'm not really into cake, but I am in to trying out new stuff in the kitchen so when my sister-in-law offered me some 'Herman the German' friendship cake - essentially a sourdough starter - I jumped at the chance to try it out. This is the culinary equivalent of the chain letter but whether you've read the articles talking of people being completely obsessed with their starter I want to try a few things out, give a bit to anyone who wanted and put the rest in the bin.

First things first I hate the name Herman so ours was called Siegfried. Having been dismissive enough of those who got obsessed with their starter I was soon quite attached to Siegfried. It sort of sits on your worktop in its bowl bubbling away and needing to be stirred every day and fed every four. I really wanted to make bread with my starter but because it's fed with sugar I wasn't sure how it was going to turn out. My friend Florence found a really easy recipe on this wonderful website - pinchmysalt.com. So I'm reproducing it here but I really recommend going there for any of your bread needs, this recipe is so fantastically yummy I've filled the freezer with sourdough.

Basic Sourdough Bread

Makes two loaves

1 cup sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups warm, filtered water
5-6 cups unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt

Now this does take time but you don't need to hover over it the whole time so you can fit it in around other things you are doing. The initial bit you make with the sourdough is called a 'sponge' but it's not really a sponge. It's just like a super-fed bit of starter.

For the Sponge:
1. Pour the cup of starter into a large mixing bowl, add the warm water and 3 cups of flour. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon then cover with clingfilm and put it aside to work. You don't have to put it anywhere particularly warm (I left mine on the kitchen table). This period can be very flexible, but allow at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours. A longer period (at lower temperature) will result in a more sour flavor.

The Sponge

For the dough:
1. After the sponge has bubbled and expanded, remover the clingfilm and sieve in one cup of flour and the salt. Stir this in and then add more flour, a little at a time, until the dough comes together.

2. Turn it out onto a floured board and knead it for 3 to 4 minutes. Give the dough a rest while you clean out and grease your bowl with a bit of vegetable or olive oil.

3. Continue kneading for another 3 or 4 minutes, adding extra flour as needed until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add only enough extra flour to keep the dough from sticking. Place the dough in the bowl, turn it once to grease the top, cover and let it rise until doubled. This can take 1 to 2 hours.

Shaping and Baking:
1. Turn the dough out and divide in half.

2. Shape each half into a loaf and place on a lightly greased, cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet. Cover, and let it rise until doubled - again this can take up to two hours.

3. Pre-heat the oven to 220C/450F.

4. Remove the cover and slash the tops, bake in the pre-heated oven for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown. Turn the heat off, crack the door and leave for another 5 minutes.

5. Remove the loaves to a cooling rack and let them cool completely before slicing.


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