This recipe is very loosely based on a recipe from Bourke Street Bakery in Australia. I rarely use sourdough recipes unchanged, if only because French flour is nothing like flour used in most other countries; “strong” flour basically doesn’t exist here.
It’s a delicious bread; the spices and sultanas mean it doesn’t need anything other than butter. Superb still warm from the oven; it will make great toast, and if it hangs around long enough to go stale I can imagine excellent bread and butter pudding. It was pretty quick too; I started it at lunchtime and took the baked loaves out of the oven at about half past nine (yes, that is quick by sourdough standards).
You’ll need to decide on your own flour combination; I used French organic T65 (bise, almost but not quite white) flour, with a touch of wholemeal spelt flour (I virtually always use some spelt in my loaves as it has a lovely nutty flavour). Use mixed spices of your choice; I always use 4-épices for recipes calling for mixed spice because I like its warm, peppery flavour. The quantities below are reduced from the original; they made two smallish round loaves.
270 g sourdough starter, well-fed and lively
445 g white bread flour
65 g wholewheat flour (I used spelt)
300 g water
15 g salt
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
200 g sultanas
You can use a stand mixer and dough hook, or mix/knead by hand. Sticky doughs like this are easier with a mixer!
Mix together the water, starter, and flours just until well blended. Cover and leave to stand for 20-30 minutes (autolysing). Then add the salt. If using a mixer, mix on slow speed for 3 minutes, then increase the speed for a further 3-4 minutes until the dough is nice and stretchy and passes the “windowpane test” (when stretched gently it should become a near-transparent membrane rather than tearing). If kneading, prepare for messy hands. Use a dough scraper to help you. At this point add the fruit and spices and mix just until the fruit is well distributed.
Turn the dough into an oiled bowl, put into a plastic bag, and leave at room temperature for 2-3 hours, till doubled in size. After the first hour, turn it out and do one stretch and fold before returning it to the bowl to continue proving.
When proved, cut the dough into two equal pieces and shape them into rounds. Leave to rest for 10-15 minutes covered with a cloth. Then shape according to taste; I made my usual boules, but you could make bâtards or even tin loaves. Put the shaped loaves into your chosen proofing containers (bannetons, bowls lined with floured teacloths, tins). Put them into plastic bags and either leave to rise for another two hours or so, or refrigerate overnight.
Baking: if refrigerated, give the dough an hour to return to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 225C. I use lidded cast-iron casseroles to bake my loaves; if doing this put them into the oven to pre-heat. Otherwise you’ll need to put a roasting tin in the bottom of the oven and pour boiling water into it when you put the loaves in.
Slash the tops of the loaves and bake them for 35-40 minutes till done. I bake them for 25 minutes with the lid on the casserole, then take it off and reduce the heat slightly for the last 10-15 minutes. Because of the fruit, they will burn easily, so if not using casseroles you might need to cover the tops with foil for the last 10 minutes or so. Turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool.