Good Food cheat's sourdough is really fake 'sourdough' as it has yeast in it. But it's such a delicious bread made with minimum hassle that it deserves the title of 'next best thing'.
Sourdough isn't quick or easy
I am no stranger to sourdough bread. I have been growing it, feeding it, kneading, baking and eating it for about fifteen years now so by now it's almost like I've raised a teenager of my capabilities.
I love sourdough and appreciate its benefits to general health and especially the intolerance friendliness: sourdough is usually better digestible at people with mild gluten intolerances.
It can't be beaten on flavour, it has a great texture and of course that crackling golden crust is to die for. But I completely understand that it might be daunting.
Sourdough is a fussy customer. All the feeding, mollycoddling and keeping the right temperature and still sometimes it refuses to bubble because it doesn't like the water from your tap, for instance.
I am a fan, but not a fanatic of sourdough. I don't subscribe to the snobbery over wild yeast and disdain towards bakers' yeast. After all the latter is produced from the former too, in a concentrated form. People who scoff at bakers' yeast still buy cream in the shops instead of skimming their own from milk.
Accomplished bakers not keen on sourdough
So I appreciate that home bakers will happily and successfully shape baguettes and rolls out off yeasted dough but baulk at jars of sourdough starter that need to be stored in the fridge. And if you can get a result not miles away from the real McCoy but applying a safe and comfortable method and a relatively easy recipe - this is it.
It is NOT sourdough. It is bread leavened on a small amount of yeast but using the long period of fermentation to develop the flavours, slightly sour, resembling proper sourdough. The outcome is unfailingly good every time.
How to make fake sourdough
It is a little more elaborate and prolonged in time than your average no-knead. There is the starter dough, mixed with a proportion of wheat flour, some rye flour and water, plus a little yeast. Whether you prefer to use fresh or dry yeast, is entirely up to you. That mixture sits for 24 hours at room temperature, undisturbed.
A day later, it is refreshed with a substantial quantity of fresh flour, more water, salt and a little yeast again. From then on, the normal bread-making proceedings: kneading until smooth and supple, raising in bulk, then shaping a round loaf for the final rise.
How to bake the cheat sourdough
The most foolproof baking technique ever is so called Dutch oven or a heavy cast iron casserole. The difference between the two is small: a classic Dutch oven has a lid that may also serve as a dish, only shallower. Dough is placed in the preheated shallow part and covered with the deep one like a big hat. That has the advantage of ensuring the bottom is flatter than the risen dome.
But a standard casserole, with a knobbed lid works very well too. The only trick there is that the dough has to be dropped from the proving basket into the deep casserole which will also be roaring hot. But it's perfectly possible to do well and even if the loaf lands a bit askew, you can shake the dish gently to help it find its central spot.
If you have no such dish, you can use a preheated pizza stone and spray the oven with water when the bread goes in (a plant spray bottle is ideal). That is obviously not necessary with a Dutch oven as the closed dish keeps the humidity in.
And if all else fails, use a heavy baking tray instead of a stone. The result will be much more pleasing than a Hovis sliced all the same.
I came across the recipe in the Good Food magazine and must have baked dozens of cheat's loaves since the first time. It isn't sourdough - but it's the next best thing.