1. The recipe for those who have a sourdough starter stashed away in the fridge – any wheat starter will do, at about 100% hydration so fairly sloppy. If you need to make it up first, here’s the recipe for the San Francisco starter, and this is the pineapple juice starter – which I used, as it was sitting in the fridge.
2. Refresh the starter, if you need to, on the day you make the sponge, but at least 8 hours earlier. Possible timing guidelines:
- Day 1 midday – refresh starter
- Day 1 night – make the sponge
- Day 2 morning – make the main dough and bake
3. For the sponge, mix all the sponge ingredients in a large bowl with a hand whisk. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place for 4-5 hours or overnight, but do get up rather early. It should get seriously bubbling.
4. Transfer the sponge to a standing mixer bowl (or use a hand-held mixer) with a paddle attachment. Add half the flour and beat for a couple of minutes on low speed, then for further 8-10 minutes on medium speed. Add the rest of the flour and the salt and beat with a dough hook attachment, or knead by hand, until the dough is stretchy, elastic and smooth and doesn’t stick to your hands or the sides of the bowl.
5. Tip it out onto a large tray and dust with flour. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place for an hour. After that time turn it out onto a floured surface, pat out gently to deflate it, fold it in half and then in three in the opposite direction. Return it to the tray, dust with more flour and keep warm for another hour.
6. Repeat the deflating and folding twice more, on the hour. Each time it will more and more impressively resemble a well-plumped up pillow! After the final rise turn it out onto the floured surface and flatten or roll out into a rectangle about 14 x 8 inch. If the dough keeps shrinking when you roll it out, leave it for 10 minutes to relax and then continue.
7. Using a pizza wheel or a dough scraper cut the dough lengthwise in two, then widthwise into 10 rectangular rolls. Lift them gently onto baking sheets lined with parchment, spaced about 2 inch apart. Cover the trays with a damp cloth and leave to prove for 45 minutes in a warm place.
8. Preheat a baking stone or another heavy baking sheet in an oven set to 220C/450F/gas 8. Place another baking dish at the bottom of the oven, or prepare a spray bottle.
9. Transfer the rolls with the parchment onto the preheated stone or sheet, throw a very wet cloth onto the bottom tray or spray the inside of the oven with water and close it immediately. Bake the bread rolls for 10 – 15 minutes until lightly golden – like the bridge…