3 sourdough recipes with a twist – from tomato and olive to a chocolate loaf

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Mastered the art of plain sourdough? Upgrade proceedings with these inventive recipes, courtesy of Roly Allen’s new cookbook How To Raise A Loaf And Fall In Love With Sourdough

Aside from loo roll, pasta and disinfectant, the prized items on everyone’s shopping list during lockdown have been flour and yeast. This hardly needs an explanation: baking is the uncontested housebound hobby of the moment.

And over the last nine weeks, sourdough bread has been so ubiquitous across Instagram that it’s become a bit of a lockdown cliché. “During this apocalyptic spring, the best thing since sliced bread turns out not to be sliced bread,” declared The New York Times in April. “The most coveted isolation loaves seem to be sourdough, a knobbly, rugged variety that requires patience, handmade fermentations and something like affection.”

Baker Roly Allen thinks he knows why sourdough has proved so popular during the pandemic. The process of baking the bread has a positive effect on mental wellbeing, he believes: “It’s simple enough for anyone to master, but it does demand time, and the way this forces you not to rush, and to let go of the impulse to control, is good for your head.”

In his timely new book How To Raise A Loaf And Fall In Love With Sourdough (£12.99, Laurence King), Allen shares 15 recipes for sourdough. He also includes a recipe for a simple sourdough starter that takes just five days to develop and uses only yoghurt, water, flour and raisins – no marathon activation period or yeast required.

Once you’ve mastered the art of the starter, you can try your hand at sourdough loaves that are much more inventive than the plain versions you’re probably familiar with. “Plain white sourdough is only the beginning of the story: it welcomes all kinds of tasty additions, including olives, nuts, seeds, grains, cheese, fruit and berries,” says Allen.

With that in mind, we’ve got three of Allen’s creative twists on traditional sourdough to share below. From a beautifully pink beetroot-speckled loaf to a fragrant sundried tomato and black olive sourdough and a rich chocolatey variation that goes perfectly with ice cream, these original recipes will definitely enliven your lockdown baking. Spread thickly with a pat of butter and you’ll never look back…

  • Sourdough starter recipe

    Sourdough bread recipes: Roly Allen's sourdough starter

    Roly says: “Always use organic ingredients if you can: they will not have been exposed to the powerful pesticides that strip away the natural bacteria and yeasts which you need to enrich your starter.”

    Ingredients

    • 1 tbsp (15ml) organic natural yoghurt
    • water
    • 300g strong white bread flour
    • 10 raisins

    Method

    Day one

    Take a clean jam jar or preserving jar, at least 500ml in capacity. Mix the yoghurt and 50ml of water in the jar, then add 25g of the flour and mix that in. Finally, add the raisins. Put the lid loosely on top of the jar (not sealing it) and leave it in a warm place.

    Tip: Set a daily alarm on your mobile phone so you remember to check in with the starter at about the same time each day.

    Day two

    Open the jar and give it a good sniff to see if you can detect any scent of alcohol vapour being given off by the yeast. No worries if not, but if you do have these smells, you’re already on your way. Whether or not you can smell anything, add 50ml of water and another 25g of flour, stir, cover loosely, and put the jar back into its warm place.

    Day three

    All being well, you will today see tiny, pinhole-sized bubbles on the surface of the mixture and smell something — sour, sweet, volatile — that will confirm that your starter is springing into life. Don’t worry if you don’t, though, especially if the room is on the cool side. Add 100ml of water and 50g of flour and stir well. Cover loosely and return the jar to its warm place.

    Day four

    By now you should see and smell clear evidence of fermentation in the mix. It may be full of bubbles — a good sign — and you may get a sour odour (not unpleasant — similar to the smell of natural yoghurt) when you sniff. You may even get a slight whiff of alcohol. 

    In any case, the raisins will have done their job of introducing the wild yeasts to the mixture, so it’s time to get them out. Add 100ml of water, stir, and strain the runny mixture through a sieve and into a jug. Tip the mix back into its jar, add 100g of flour, stir, cover loosely and return to the warm place.

    Day five

    By this point it should be clear that your mixture is completely alive, with plenty of foamy bubbles. It’s full of healthy, active yeasts and a rich mixture of lactobacteria, but it needs thickening up in order to become manageable. If you want to use it today, add about 50g of flour, mix thoroughly and leave it for a couple of hours before you bake. 

    Otherwise, discard about three-quarters of the mixture, add 100ml of water and 100g of flour to what’s left, and stir well to make a thick paste. About eight hours later you should have about 300g of vigorous starter — more than enough for your first loaf. 

    If you don’t want to bake today, don’t worry — just park the starter in your fridge until you do.

  • Speckled beetroot sourdough recipe

    Sourdough bread recipes: Roly Allen's speckled beetroot sourdough

    Roly says: “With a distinctive appearance and earthy aroma, this is a real show-stopper, and a perfect, hearty accompaniment to soups or stews. Beetroots are a rich source of antioxidants, and also give the dough an unforgettable pink colour, which fades in the oven, leaving speckles in a classic open crumb.”

    Ingredients

    • 200g starter
    • 10ml (2 tsp) olive oil
    • 180ml warm water
    • 340g strong white bread flour
    • 7.5g (1½ tsp) fine salt
    • 150g fresh beetroot, peeled and coarsely grated
    • rice flour or semolina, for dusting

    Method

    In a large mixing bowl, whisk the starter, olive oil and warm water together until the starter has dissolved.

    In another bowl, mix the flour with the salt. Add this to the wet mixture and mix well with your hand, then add the grated beetroot and mix until the beetroot is evenly distributed. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave to rest for 30 minutes.

    Wet your hands, then pull, fold and rotate the dough 8-10 times, so that it forms a ball. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.

    Repeat step 3 twice so that you’ve worked the dough three times and it has rested for an hour in total.

    Dust a proving basket liberally with rice flour or semolina. Wet your fingers, work them around the bottom of the ball of dough and gently transfer it to the proving basket, keeping the seam upwards.

    Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove. Depending on the temperature and the activity of the yeast, it may take three to six hours to gain about 50 per cent in size.

    When the loaf has proved, preheat the oven to 230°C (210°C fan)/gas mark 8, with a heavy baking tray or baking stone on the middle shelf, and add a source of steam. Turn the loaf out of the proving basket onto the heated surface, cut it twice across the top with a sharp blade or scissors, then place it in the oven.

    Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 210°C (190°C fan)/gas mark 6 and bake for another 40 minutes, or until the loaf is done and sounds hollow on the base when tapped with a fingertip.

    Leave to cool on a wire rack before eating.

  • Sundried tomato and black olive sourdough recipe

    Sourdough bread recipes: Roly Allen's sundried tomato and black olive sourdough

    Roly says: “Fragrant, colourful and packed with Mediterranean aromas, this bread begs to be ripped up and dipped into olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or paired with a strong hard cheese such as pecorino or manchego. You don’t need fresh olives from the deli counter: pitted black olives in brine will do just fine.”

    Ingredients

    • 150g starter
    • 40ml (2½ tbsp) olive oil
    • 300ml warm water
    • 100g pitted black olives, chopped
    • 100g sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
    • 500g strong white bread flour
    • 7.5g (1½ tsp) fine salt
    • large pinch of dried oregano
    • rice flour or semolina, for dusting

    Method

    In a large mixing bowl, whisk the starter, olive oil and warm water together. When the starter has dissolved, mix in the chopped olives and sun-dried tomatoes.

    In another large bowl, mix the flour with the salt and the dried oregano. Add this to the wet mixture and mix well with your hand until the ingredients are evenly distributed in the dough. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave to rest for 30 minutes.

    Wet your hands, then pull, fold and rotate the dough eight to ten times, so that it forms a ball. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.

    Repeat the step above twice so that you’ve worked the dough three times and it has rested for an hour in total.

    Dust a proving basket liberally with rice flour or semolina. Wet your fingers, work them around the bottom of the ball of dough, and gently transfer it to the proving basket, keeping the seam upwards.

    Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove. Depending on the temperature and the activity of the yeast, it may take three to six hours to gain about 50 per cent in size.

    When the loaf has proved, preheat the oven to 230°C (210°C fan)/gas mark 8, with a heavy baking tray or baking stone on the middle shelf, and add a source of steam. Turn the loaf out of the proving basket onto the heated surface, cut it twice across the top with a sharp blade or scissors, then place it in the oven.

    Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 210°C (190°C fan)/gas mark 6 and bake for another 40 minutes, or until the loaf is done and sounds hollow on the base when tapped with a fingertip. Leave to cool on a wire rack before eating. 

  • Chocolate sweet and sourdough recipe

    Sourdough bread recipes: Roly Allen's chocolate sweet and sourdough

    Roly says: “This rich chocolate treat is a healthier alternative to cake. Try lightly toasting a slice and serving it with a dollop of vanilla ice cream…”

    Ingredients

    • 150g starter
    • 200ml warm water
    • 350g strong white bread flour
    • 7.5g (1½ tsp) fine salt
    • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
    • 100g raisins
    • 50g milk or plain chocolate, grated or finely chopped
    • rice flour or semolina, for dusting

    Method

    In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the starter and warm water.

    In another large bowl, mix the flour with the salt, cocoa powder, raisins and chocolate. Add this to the wet mixture and mix well with your hand until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave to rest for 30 minutes.

    Wet your hands, then pull, fold and rotate the dough 8—10 times, so that it forms a ball. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave it to rest for 10 minutes. Repeat this step twice so that you’ve worked the dough three times and it has rested for an hour in total.

    Dust a proving basket with rice flour. Wet your fingers, work them around the bottom of the ball of dough and gently transfer it to the proving basket, keeping the seam upwards.

    Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove. Depending on the temperature, it may take around three hours to gain about 50 per cent in size.

    Preheat the oven to 230°C (210°C fan)/gas mark 8 and cut a piece of baking parchment about 35—40cm square. When the oven is ready, tip the loaf gently out of the proving basket and onto the centre of the baking parchment. Place the parchment and dough into a 1.8 litre casserole, then use scissors to make a couple of cuts, 2cm deep, into the top of the dough. Put the lid on the casserole.

    Place the casserole on the middle shelf of the oven. There is no need to add a source of steam.

    After 25 minutes, remove the lid of the casserole so the crust can brown. After another 20 minutes, remove the casserole from the oven, remove the loaf, and tap its base: if it sounds hollow, the loaf is done. If not, place it back in the casserole and back in the oven for another 5—10 minutes, then test again. Leave to cool on a wire rack before eating.

How to Raise a Loaf and Fall in Love with Sourdough by Roly Allen (£12.99, Laurence King) is out now

Images: Ida Riveros

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