Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Hagbech White Bread

Firstly a word about sourdough; this is a term applied to bread produced using wild yeast and although the name would suggest the bread has a sour taste, in many cases the bread has a fuller, more complex flavour rather than a sour one.  Many would argue sourdough products have more health benefits. Recent studies have suggested people with a mild intolerance of gluten, find bread produced using wild yeast easier to digest. The bread also has far better keeping qualities and doesn't become stale, the flavour develops and the crumb becomes firmer over a day or two but this leads to it being used in different ways, toast, croutons etc.

One of the key things that baking with wild yeast adds to bread baking is time and although the production of a loaf can take over a day or two, the actual time needed working with the dough is very little. The dough sits for a number of hours while the wild yeast feeds on the sugars in the flour creating carbon dioxide which creates the lightness of a loaf, developing the gluten, which traps the carbon dioxide and most of all developing flavour.

 I keep my starter in the fridge (there are many ways to make a starter and many of these are available on the internet). I bake once or twice a week, taking out 100g at a time,when the starter itself needs topping up I mix in equal parts strong white bread flour and water and I leave the jar out for a few hours to enable the starter to begin growing before putting it back into the fridge, where growth is substantially slowed down.

This recipe makes 3,  650g (approx) loaves.

Activating the starter
100g of starter
100g of Strong white flour
100g of water.

For the ferment
All of the activated starter
100g of Strong white flour
50g of rye flour
50g of strong whole wheat flour
200g of water

For the main dough
All of the ferment
900g of Strong white flour
600g of water (approx)
21g of salt

Activating the starter; take 100g of  refrigerated starter and place it in a bowl with 100g of strong white flour and 100g water, mix to form a thick batter, leave to ferment for an hour or so at room temperature.

Fig 1
When bubbles begin to appear on the surface of the mix stir in 50g of rye flour, 50g of strong whole wheat flour, another 100g of strong white flour and 200g of water, leave for at least 8 hours or overnight. The growth of yeast depends a great deal on temperature, after baking using a starter a few times you will get good at spotting what stage your ferment is at, the ferment will need to be fed, adding more flour, in this case adding the bulk of the flour for the main dough, at the point where the surface is a mass of bubbles and has a few "valleys" (see fig 1) where the mix is bubbling up and caving in on itself. 

Fig 2

Fig 3

For the main dough
To the active ferment add  900g of Strong White flour and 600g of water, I add a little less water to begin with but I usually need all of it and sometimes a little more, I prefer a very soft dough, but if you're new to baking bread in this way a slightly firmer dough will be easier to handle. Leave this for at least 8 hours or overnight. Giving the main dough an opportunity to ferment without the addition of salt helps the wild yeast develop well. Add the salt and knead for a few minutes to fully incorporate.
Leave the dough covered, to rise for an hour, tip the dough out onto a floured surface and stretch the dough out as far as you can and fold it back up, this develops and strengthens the gluten. Repeat the stretching and folding process another two times at one hourly intervals. The dough initially will be very soft (see fig 2) but after three sessions of stretching and folding the dough will have tightened up considerably (see fig 3)

Fig 4

 Finally divide into 3 and shape into long loaves by flattening out each third and rolling up to form a sausage shape, close up by pinching a seam, place them on a piece of linen dusted with flour, seam side up and tuck the linen up between each loaf to separate (see fig 4) cover (I fold over the ends of my piece of linen) and leave to rise for two hours before baking. Transfer each loaf onto a heated pizza stone or baking sheet seam side down and bake at 220 degrees C for 30 to 40 minutes. I do this one loaf at a time, when the loaf has been in the oven for 15 minutes I slip it off the pizza stone and onto another shelf so that the pizza stone becomes available for the next loaf. I also slash the top of the loaf with a razor blade (see fig 5). When I first put the loaves into the oven to bake, I throw a small cup full of water onto a tray that I keep on the floor of the oven, this creates instant steam which helps with the creation of a good crust on the bread during baking. This step is optional.

Fig 5


  • Of course you can use this amount of dough to make whatever shape loaves you wish, 3 long loaves suits me, I freeze 2. 
  • This is essentially white bread, but I find the addition of the whole grain flours gives the wild yeast a boost, it's perfectly possible to make it using entirely white flour, you can also increase the ratio of whole grain flour to suit your own taste.
  • This bread is much simpler to produce than at first appears, the dough is forgiving, the times can suit the baker to a large extent, you can speed things up by placing the dough to rise in a warmer place or slow it down in a cooler one.
  • The finished loaf will benefit from spending a little more time trying to shape it well, there are excellent videos available on the internet showing how to shape loaves, the aim is to tighten the outer skin so that when you slash it just before baking it "bursts" open.
  • Many recipes suggest beating down the risen dough, I find it far better to try to conserve the trapped carbon dioxide that the yeast has been busy creating and handling the dough more gently to form the shape you need. 
  • After baking bread of any sort for a while you get better at handling the dough and understanding the different stages in its production.


  1. This bread is just the best one! I have the opportunity to enjoy it once a month... Looking forward to having the next Hagbech White Bread. Love

  2. Hi there
    Have got as far as adding ingredients for the ferment and have left it in the fridge overnight. This may be a mistake! Have had it out for the morning in a cold house and the mixture is very, very thick. I have moved it to the conservatory and it has grown but I can't say it looks like your figure 1!! So not sure when to add the main ingredients.

    Thanks for lovely coffee and cake last Thursday.It was a real tonic for me. Jan