Long First Rise
It does develop the sourdough flavour, but it also increases the overall time and there is another alternative (see sponge method later). If you want to try the long first rise, make the dough and knead it as usual. Then put it in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave it to prove in a cool place for six to eight hours (or overnight). At the end of this time is should be roughly doubled in size. Knock the dough back, shape the loaf and carry on as usual.
Long Second Rise
Make the dough, knead and prove as for the basic method (or long first rise). When it has roughly doubled in size, tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, knock it back and knead it briefly. Work the dough into the required shape, cover with a sheet of lightly oiled cling film and leave in a cool place for six to eight hours, until doubled in size, then bake as normal.
This low-effort approach to kneading was developed by baking legend Dan Lepard and takes a bit longer (although most of the additional time is spent waiting so you can do other things). Mix the dough as usual (but leave out the salt) and leave it to sit in the mixing bowl for 30 minutes. Then add a teaspoonful of salt, mix the ingredients again for just 15 seconds and leave it for 15 minutes. Then mix again for 15 seconds and leave it for another 15 minutes. Finally mix again for 15 seconds and then leave the dough to prove (first rise) as for the basic method.
The basic reason for knocking back the proven dough is to remove large bubbles and get a more even crumb. But one of the delights of sourdough bread is an uneven crumb so simply don’t bother with a second rise.
Stretch and Fold
This method combines kneading with a single rise. Make the dough as for the basic method but, instead of stretching and rolling, gently stretch the dough into a 20cm to 30cm square. Now fold one side in about one third of the way. Then fold the other side in to overlap the first and form a long rectangle. Then fold in the two ends of the rectangle a third of the way to create a square. The aim is to trap air, so be gentle.
Turn the dough over, smooth it into a rough ball and put it back in the bowl. Cover with cling film and leave it in a warm place for 20 minutes. Then repeat this stretching, folding and resting process twice more. After the third rest, gently form the dough into your final loaf shape then leave it for a final 40 to 60 minutes (until doubled in size) before baking as normal.
Sponge refers to a preparatory mix of half of the flour with all of the water and starter. Prepare the sponge in a mixing bowl, cover with cling film and leave to prove in a cool place for six to eight hours. Then add the remaining flour and salt and continue as usual. This is effectively a long first raise.
One of the problems with using the long second proof is the danger of the dough rising too much and then collapsing back on itself (a very sad sight). It is a particular problem in warmer climates but this method overcomes that risk. It is similar to a long second proof but, by putting the dough in the fridge overnight (or all day), it slows the rise down. Then bring the dough out of the fridge and allow it to come up to room temperature for an hour or so to finish rising and bake as normal. Alternatively take the dough straight out of the fridge and follow the bake from cold method (below).
Bake from Cold
Instead of pre-heating the oven, bake from cold. Once the dough is nearly doubled in size but not fully risen (which reduces the rise time by about an hour) put it into a cold oven and bake as usual but add the time it takes the oven to get up to heat to the bake time. In my oven, which is an electric fan oven, this only takes five minutes, but all ovens vary so time it exactly the first time and then simply add the time to the baking time.
Having worked my way through each of the methods and combinations of them I have found the one combination that works every time and produces great bread. This is the combination that works for me:
Sponge Method (I leave it to prove overnight in the kitchen).
Single Rise in a warm place (I use the oven with the light on).
Bake from Cold (which reduces the single rise time to around two and a half hours).