Sourdough is a Fickle Bitch, Part Deux
Part 2. Making the dough and baking.
Feed the Starter. The morning before I plan to make bread, I pull my starter out of the fridge and feed it a couple spoons of flour and about the same amount of water, and leave it on the counter for about 8 hours to come to life, then before I go to bed I give it another snack to digest during the night. Make sure the starter is active and bubbly before starting the bread, or you might just make a brick. I use weights for my measurements, so you’ll need an electronic scale with a gram scale. Here’s my mix:
- Water: 600g about 78 degrees
- Starter: 360g
- Flour: 1020g
- Salt: 26g
I highly recommend starting your bread early in the morning as it can become a full days project for a good loaf, well, four. I’ve had many baking session while the family was asleep, simply because the bread was being stubborn in rising to its potential because I started too late in the day.
Get Ready. Dress comfortable.
Autolyse. Mix the ingredients, minus the salt, for about a minute until the ingredients combine, then give it a rest for another 30 minutes. (This is a great time to make a vanilla latte and some oatmeal with pecans, raisins and cinnamon.) This process is called autolyse where the ingredients sort of combine, the water is absorbed, and the gluten begins to develop. (The other process is called breakfast for obvious reasons.) If you’re gluten intolerant, just leave out the starter and the flour … drink and enjoy.
Mix the Dough. After you’ve finished breakfast, add the salt (kosher salts bring extra luck), and mix the dough on a low setting for 3-4 minutes. You’ll notice the gluten development and the dough is looking smooth with good elasticity.
Rest. Take out the dough hook if you’re using a mechanical mixer, or set down the wooden spoon if you’re using a digital mixer. I cover the bowl with a disposable shower cap, they work great and are quite attractive. At this point all you have to do is let the natural fermentation do its thing while you go about your day. I usually let it sit for 3-5 hours, depending on the activity level of the starter and the ambient temperature. It’s about 9am, for those keeping track of the time.
Form the Dough & Let Rise. About mid afternoon, my bowl of dough was showing signs of activity and was ready to divide into rounds. Just throw a handful of flour on the counter, work the dough out of the bowl, and roll it onto a ball. Sprinkle with flour, and cut into four similar sized pieces.
I like to knead more flour into the balls, as this gives the dough something more to digest and turn into gasses, which form air pockets. I put two balls on each baking sheet, if you’re using the home sized versions, sprinkled with corn meal. Sprinkle some flour on your balls and cover with plastic wrap, loosely, allowing room for expansions during the day.
At this point, it’s about 3pm. One note on raising time: with sourdough, the longer the ferment, the more sour the dough becomes, in my experience. About every hour, I lift the plastic wrap to ensure it isn’t sticking, then loosly drape it back over the balls.
Preheat Oven. Later in the evening, about 8pm, I make a couple of slash marks with a very sharp knife to give the baked bread some design. When marking your bread, be gentle in your slashing so you don’t flatten it. About 9:30pm I set the oven to 500 degrees, then go sit in the hot tub on the back patio for about 45 minutes with my wife while things heat up.
Bake. When the dough looks nice and puffy with a good rise, gently slide the dough into the oven. I’ve had a few times when the dough looked perfect and, trying to be too gentle, I’ve hit the side of the oven and deflated the dough. I baked it anyway, hoping it would rise again, it didn’t. If you have a steam injection oven, you’re one lucky soul. I use a spray bottle and hold the door open about an inch, and give about a dozen mists of water, about three times during the first five minutes of baking. The humidity adds to the chewy texture of the crust. Bake for 20 minutes in a conventional oven, turning once for even baking and crust color.
Cool and Slather with Butter. After baking, place the loaves on a cooling sheet. I only bake one pan at a time, since the top rack is the preferred position in my oven. Try to let the loaves cool for about 30 minutes before slicing into them … I dare you. About the time I pulled out the second pan, I was cutting into the first batch and smearing liberally with salted cream butter and watching the end of Jay Leno while my lovely wife was sound asleep. By the time Jimmy Fallon hit the tube, I was on my second piece, probably scattering crumbs in the bed. For some strange reason this batch of bread turned out pretty tasty and fluffy. I’ve followed the exact same procedure and had absolute flops. I guess I got lucky this time.
Share. The next morning, I put the remaining three loaves into paper bags and give them to friends and neighbors.
I think there’s good karma in giving away fresh baked bread.
The fun is in the baking and I love the challenge, although sometimes it infuriates me. I don’t think I’ve had two batches turn out the same yet, and that’s why I love baking sourdough.
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Vaughn Montgomery lives in scenic Southern Utah, loves the great outdoors, making foods and brews, and hanging out with friends. He is currently retired from the restaurant businesses enjoys cooking and experimenting with ingredients, just for the fun of it. He graciously agreed to share his method on making a great loaf of sourdough bread (from starter to finish).