Sourdough

I have been home from Maryland for 12 days now, and it is time to make bread. I don’t think I mentioned that while I was gone our refrigerator died. Thermostat quit working, and everything inside had to be tossed, including my lovely starter. This was very sad because no starter, no bread. A good starter takes at least 10 days to make, 14 is better. I use a 125% hydration starter, which means I measure equal parts water and flour, mix it up in a bowl and let it sit for 24 hours. I call it 125% hydration because water is more dense than flour, so I am actually putting more water into it than flour, even at the same ratios. And this recipe works for me, I’m not going to change it now! After the initial 24 hours, you need to feed your starter every 12 hours, first remove 1/2 cup starter then adding adding 1/4 cup each water and flour. The wild yeast in your kitchen is what grows in this little science project, and continuous feeding for about 14 days gives it that wonderful fermented sour smell. It gets a greasy looking watery skim on top; you know you’re doing it right when this happens! After 14 days, put it in a loose fitting jar and feed it every week or so. If you’re going to bake bread, take some out the night before baking and feed it, it will be ready to go in the morning!

Bubbly wild yeast starter.

Wild yeast starter.


So here is my recipe. I use grams because water is more dense than flour, this way it comes out right.

Chequamegongirl’s Sourdough Bread

440g AP Unbleached Flour
125g Whole Wheat
30g Rye Flour
125g Starter
350g Water
10g Salt

If you have an stand mixer, that works great. If not, you will need to knead by hand.
So, put all ingredients EXCEPT salt into your stand mixer and mix until all is incorporated, 1-2 minutes. If you are doing this by hand, stir it up until you need to use your hands and dive in! Just knead the dough in the bowl. Next, we let it sit for about 30-40 minutes, no need to be exact. This process is called autolyse, and allows the flour to absorb the water so the gluten strands can begin development. You will shorten your kneading time in half if you complete this step. Just cover your bowl with plastic wrap and walk away, do something else for 30 minutes!

Dough after autolyse.

Dough after autolyse.


After your dough has had it’s rest, add salt and knead dough for 5 minutes with the dough hook, or knead by hand. Sourdough bread is much wetter than yeast breads, and it will stick to your fingers and countertop. Try not to let this bother you too much; wash your hands and rinse with cold water. This will help with the stickiness. Use as little flour on your kneading surface as possible. Knead until the dough passes the windowpane test. Go here for an excellent picture of this, we are looking for a medium-developed gluten: http://www.wildyeastblog.com/2007/07/07/gluten/
Dough is kneaded and ready for preferment.

Dough is kneaded and ready for fermentation.


Notice the difference in the dough between autolyse and after kneading. The dough is stronger and more opaque looking. Now put the dough back in a ceramic or glass bowl (just not metal) and cover with a damp towel, a lid or plastic wrap. I use a plastic tupperware-type bowl with a cover. This stage is called fermentation, and unlike making regular bread, the dough doesn’t rise much, it ferments. It builds on that wonderful sourness we love. Set a timer for 50 minutes, the next step is to fold, or stretch the dough. You will stretch your bread two times in 50 minute intervals. Here’s how you do it:
Scoop your dough out of the bowl and hold it on one end, allowing it to hang and gently stretch using gravity, don’t pull. Pick up the bottom end and invert the dough, continuing the stretch. Fold the dough in thirds back into the bowl. Scoop it up again and let the dough gently stretch again in the same manner but in the opposite (shorter) direction. This stretch will be considerably less because the gluten strands are fighting back, and have toughened since that first stretch.
First stretch, after being inverted.

First stretch, after being inverted.


Second stretch, notice length compared to first stretch.

Second stretch, notice length compared to first stretch.


When you have completed you two stretching sessions, put the dough back in the bowl for another 50 minutes. The total fermentation process takes about 2.5 hours. You’re almost done! This is when I go outside to fire up the brick oven. If you don’t have a brick oven, use your kitchen range. A baking stone is preferable, but if you don’t have one, use a dutch oven.
When the 50 minutes is up, take your dough out of the bowl and cut it into two equal portions using a sharp knife or bench knife. Let it sit for 5 minutes, sourdough needs a rest after you do anything with it. Next shape into batards or boules and place seam up in a basket or bowl lined with a cloth napkin, sprinkled with a little flour. Throw a towel over them and let them sit for 1.5 to 2 hours.
Boules for final proofing.

Boules for final proofing.


30 minutes before cooking your bread, set the oven to 500 F degrees and put the dutch oven or baking stone in the oven. When you are ready to bake, lower the oven temperature to 450 F. Quickly put some cornmeal into the dutch oven and add the dough (gently!). Make slash marks with a serrated knife if you like. Add steam to the oven by misting water into the oven or throwing a couple ice cubes onto the oven floor. If you’re using a baking stone, put your bread dough on a peel with some cornmeal so it will easily slip off. Make slash marks with a serrated knife. Slide the batard into the oven from the peel. Mist with water as with the dutch oven method. You can only bake one loaf at a time using this and the dutch oven method. After 15 minutes, check the bread to see if it needs to be turned, and lower the oven temperature to 425F degrees. It should be done in another 10-15 minutes. Here is a picture of the bread baking in the brick oven.
Oops, not enough steam?

Oops, not enough steam?


A few remarks: I have read that when the loaf erupts in this manner, it’s because it didn’t proof long enough. I did allow the dough to proof for 2.5 hours, but the temperature in the house today was 69-70 degrees, which may require another hour to proof (it should be 75 degrees). Or maybe I didn’t have enough steam in the oven, and the crust set up before yeast had finished blooming. Then the dough erupts out of the crust. Oh well, still tastes great!
Finished product.

Finished product.


I think it turned out pretty good. Next bread recipe will be one that spends more time in the fridge, fermenting slowly. Happy Eating!

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