Thu, 15 October, 2020
Rustic sourdough bread in the shape of a crown, French pain couronne, is a ring-shaped feast of chewy and not too sour crumb encased in the crunchiest crust.
I got bored of round or oblong loaves. Sticks or square sandwich bricks are ten a penny too. Something new – how about a loaf with a hole in the middle? Ring-shaped, couronne, crown, a giant bagel – that’s more appealing.
What kind of sourdough is this?
The dough is not the classic sourdough baguette which you can check out elsewhere on my pages. It is my favourite: the San Francisco style sourdough, all-wheat, fed with milk and yoghurt and an odd raisin. When it works, it’s awesome, pure pleasure to knead, shape and eat. But it’s fickle and sometimes it doesn’t play ball, refusing to keep the structure or rise.
The secret of good San Francisco sourdough
The secret is in the flour. I’ve tried it recently with white unbleached flour which would appear to be suited for sourdoughs of all kinds – it didn’t like it. I next used white stoneground flour, gorgeous and only slightly coarse – my dough went into a sulk and literally fell apart, with no gluten development whatsoever.
But fear not, it’s not a fancy, rare or heritage flour that’s required, to the contrary: regular strong bread flour will suffice. I buy my flour directly from Shipton Mill usually but any supermarket brand in the bread baking section that says ‘strong’, ‘white’ and ‘bread’ will suit very well.
Prove in the fridge or not?
The timing is also quite specific with my San Francisco dough: unlike most sourdoughs that benefit from overnight nap in the fridge, in bulk or as a shaped loaf, this one wants to go and be done with all on one day. Not impossible to retard it in the fridge at one stage or another, but for best results dedicate the morning to be on hand for it.
How to make San Francisco-style sourdough
The sponge is made the night before and it bubbles away in the kitchen through the night. In the morning it gets reinforced with fresh flour and then it needs to have the living daylights beaten out of it. If you don’t have a standing mixer I guess you can use a handheld one with standard whisks but to be truthful, I haven’t tried. After a long beating it’s fed with more flour and then it starts to behave like bread, kneaded with a dough hook or by hand if you have the stamina.
The best bit is the folding, three times upon the hour. It’s like playing with a living thing: the dough swells and rolls, balloons and billows, with a smooth surface and the nicest ambient temperature to touch. It’s almost a shame to shape it – but shape into a couronne it you must.
How to shape a couronne loaf
To do that you can either form a boule and stick your fingers in the middle; then work them outwards to make the hole large. Or you can shape a log and join it like a snake eating its tail, seamlessly or tied together with a knot as a feature. If the dough feels very springy, place an oiled bowl in the hole to stop it from closing while the dough is proving.
And then the baking: heat up a pizza stone or the heaviest baking tray you have, spray the oven with water and in forty minutes or so a gorgeous golden crown shaped bread emerges. And it will be worth every minute of the effort.
couronneServings: makes 1 loafTime: 18 hours
- For the levain:
- 50g lively wheat starter
- 25g whole milk
- 25g plain yoghurt
- 50g strong white bread flour
- 2-3 organic raisins
- For the sponge:
- 200g strong white flour
- 250ml warm water
- 150g levain
- For the dough:
- 200g strong white flour
- ½ tbsp fine salt
- For the glaze:
- salt crystals
Example of timings:
morning day 1: feed the starter for the levain
evening day 1: mix the sponge
early morning day 2: mix the dough
through morning day 2: stretch and fold
afternoon day 2: bake
1. Measure out 50g of any wheat starter you have on the go into a 1000ml container with a lid. Bring it, the milk and yoghurt to room temperature. Mix the liquids into the starter, add the flour and raisins and beat vigorously to aerate it. Cover and keep in a warm place for 12 hours or until it significantly expands and is full of bubbles.
2. Mix the sponge ingredients in a large bowl with a hand whisk. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in ambient temperature for 7-8 hours. It should get seriously bubbling.
3. 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.
4. Tip it out onto a 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.
5. Repeat the deflating and folding twice more, on the hour. By 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.
6. Prepare a rimless baking tray lined with parchment.
7. Shape the dough into a long rope, about 40cm. Join the ends twisting them together or forming a rough knot. Place it on the parchment; if the dough feels springy, place an oiled bowl in the hole to stop it closing while the couronne is proving.
8. Put the tray in a plastic bag inflated a bit so it doesn’t touch the dough (just blow into it and tie the end!) and leave in a warm place for 40 minutes to an hour. During that time preheat the oven to 240C/475F/maximum gas with a baking stone or a heavy baking tray on the middle shelf.
9. Remove the bowl and slash the top of the loaf in several places. Brush it with milk and sprinkle with salt crystals. Slide the couronne with the parchment off the baking tray onto the stone. Spray the oven with water and bake for 10 minutes.
10. Lower the heat to 180C/350F/gas 4, yank the parchment from under the loaf and bake for further 30 minutes. Remove onto a wire rack and leave to cool.