Vegetarian recipe ideas
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Start by putting the levain into a large mixing bowl and then pour in the warm water. Mix well with your fingers to distribute the levain, then add the flours and mix really well with your hands. You will learn most about the different stages of your bread by getting your hands on the dough. Even professional bakers who mix dough in 50kg dough mixers, reach in and touch, stretch and feel the dough. Open up your fingers and use your hands like whisks to really mix the flour, levain and water together well. Leave this to rest for between 20 minutes and 1 hour, covering the bowl with a clean tea towel. This stage is called the autolyse and comes from the Greek for ‘self-digestion’. This is why sourdough doesn’t have to be kneaded, as the gluten structure forms itself here, doing all of the hard work. If you’re particularly short on time, even a 15-minute rest will make a difference.
Tip in the salt (adding it after the autolyse ensures the dough develops better elasticity) and, with wet hands, mix the dough really well. Breaking the gluten bonds now will allow them to reform even stronger.
The next step is called the bulk fermentation. Leave the dough covered with the tea towel and, every 45 minutes, ‘stretch and fold’ the dough. Wet your hands, take one side of the dough, stretch it up (being careful not to tear the dough) and fold it over on top of itself. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat, doing this six to eight times. The dough will ‘tighten’ and become less slack. Repeat this every 45 minutes for 3-4 hours (so 4-5 times in total). Every time the dough is turned it should have more air bubbles and also, toward the end, feel noticeably lighter.
Next is the bench rest. This is when the dough can be encouraged into a regular shape, creating tension so that it has the strength to stay ‘bread shaped’ when baked, as opposed to flattening into a pancake. Flour a clean worksurface really well and tip out the dough. Using a dough scraper, fold the dough up and over on itself, similar to the stretch and fold method but just folding this time. Do this 4-6 times, and again the dough will tighten and hold its shape better. Add more flour to the worksurface if the bread is sticking.
The dough should be relatively round now, so leave it to rest for 10-15 minutes – expect it to flatten a little.