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.