I overheard a young bloke in the supermarket the other day explaining to his girlfriend that one particular brand of something or other was better ‘because it was higher in protein’. Most of us who have struggled to bake a sourdough loaf that looks and tastes like the ones that go for £3.50 at the local ‘artisan’ bakery, have turned instinctively to higher protein flours. Protein is the ingredient that turns into gluten and gluten is the stringy substance that gives the loaf texture; holds it all together. If you’ve ever tried to make bread with ‘soft’ (low protein) cake flour you’ll have seen the result is far from satisfactory – it tastes like cake – drrr.
Industrial bakers like high protein flours because, as someone in the industry once said, ‘it’s the cheapest way of making water stand up’. But most industrial bread is densely textured and fine grained. The enviable artisan sourdough of our dreams has a much more open texture whilst still maintaining strength and texture. The answer is so simple it’s almost unbelievable. The best way to get a loaf like the ones at the bakery is to substitute about 20% of the total high protein flour with soft ‘cake’ flour. I can’t give exact figures because it will depend on the particular bread flour you have, but trust me I’ve experimented for years and this does the trick. When you see sourdough loaves advertised as containing ‘three flours’ it’s probably nothing more secret or complicated than the mixture of high and low protein flour in the main mix with the small amount of rye flour in the starter. What the soft flour does is to weaken the gluten to the exact point where it will allow the big bubbles to develop.
I’ve totally given up on the idea of 100% wholemeal sourdough. Maybe I’m thick, but every time I’ve tried it, (dozens), it’s come out like a doorstop. If you believe that eating nice food is a foody distraction, and if you can afford to get your snapped off teeth crowned regularly that won’t be a problem. I remember the ‘Grant Loaf’ from the 60’s and 70’s. It was certainly a bit of a statement then, although modern bakers seem to be claiming to have invented it. They’re not trying to do it with soft wholemeal flour, though.
This loaf takes about 24 hours from start to finish and the best advice is to leave it alone as much as possible. Of all those hours, I don’t suppose the actual amount of kitchen time amounts to more than an hour, and that includes baking. It’s made with organic flour, tap water, seasalt and a tablespoon of olive oil and the levain was started years ago with a little bit of rye flour and whatever it was that blew in through the window. The biggest downside is that it tastes so good we eat a lot more of it than we should. There is a slight glimmer of hope, though. It seems that white sourdough bread has a similar GI (glycaemic index) to wholemeal, i.e. it doesn’t make your blood sugar skyrocket. Naturally the homemade jam on it does but hey! …