Sunday, March 24, 2013

Crusty Sourdough Bread 101

Sourdough bread isn't so difficult, really. It just takes a little more time and planning. This time I remembered to take pictures.

My starter lives in a 500ml mason jar in the back of the fridge.
But when I make a new starter, I use :

1 cup white bread flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
and enough water to turn it all into a thick batter.

I mix this all together right there in the jar and leave it on the counter for about 24 hours or until its nice and foamy like this…

Then I put a loose lid on and place it in the back of the fridge until I need it for making bread.

When it's time to make a loaf, I pour out about 2/3 cup of the starter into a mixing bowl. I then replace the starter by adding flour and water in the jar again to bring it back to the batter consistency it was before, mixing it all together with a wooden spoon. This new flour and water is fresh 'food' for the leftover yeasty starter in the bottom of the jar. Once the starter is replenished, leave the jar out on the counter overnight or until it gets foamy again.

To the starter in the mixing bowl I add:

3 cups of bread flour (I use a combination of wholewheat, spelt and white and add 1 Tablespoon of gluten flour per cup of any non-white flour. This keeps the finished loaf from being too dense.)
2 teaspoons salt
1 generous teaspoon honey or other sweetener like molasses or sugar.
Mix this all together with enough water to form a smooth, kneadable dough. Knead for 5-10 minutes until it's soft and smooth and holds together nicely. It's okay if it's tacky but it should not be dry or crumbly. Add water or flour incrementally as needed to keep it smooth and elastic.

Place kneaded dough into greased bowl and set aside to rise overnight or up to 24 hours. The upper photo is the dough still early in its rising.

This photo is dough after about 18 hours. Notice the big bubbles; that means the starter has been working nicely.

A big Rubbermaid bowl with a snap on lid works great for rising dough. 

Gather the shaggy, bubbly dough up and roll it together on the counter to form a tight ball like this. You might need to flour your hands and the counter a little as it will probably still be somewhat sticky. If you work quickly, however, you could do this without extra flour. Sticky is still okay and good, for now.

Proofing the dough gets it ready for baking and to do this I generously flour a clean dishtowel (linen works best, but a not-too-fuzzy cotton one works okay too) like this.

Then transfer the ball of dough onto the floured towel and generously flour the dough as well. This is the time when you do not want anything to stick at all.

Wrap the floured towel over the floured dough . . .

. . . and gently lift the whole package into something round, like a basket or bowl. This keeps its shape under control. Leave it like this in a quiet spot for a good hour or so. If the room is very warm it might rise more quickly than in a cold room.

As soon as I've set the dough set aside, I turn the oven on to 450 and put my cast iron pot in to heat up with the oven.

After an hour, the dough is noticeably bigger but still holds its shape when unwrapped and gently poked. I've just taken the pot out of the oven so it is extremely hot.

If the dough proofs for too long it will collapse when touched and will need to be reshaped and proofed again, probably for less time, maybe 40 minutes instead of 60.

I like to wipe a small bit of grape seed oil all over the inside of the pot.

Gently unwrap the dough and score the top with a sharp knife to allow for a controlled expansion while baking.

Quickly but gently lift the dough from the towel and straight into the pot. Since I have to use both hands for this, it helps to have someone else there to pull the towel away as I lift. The dough is very soft and pillowy and won't hold up to much handling. Once the dough is nicely nestled in the bottom of the pot, I put the lid back on and place the whole thing back in the oven to bake at 450 for 20 min. After 20 minutes I take the lid off and turn the temp down to about 400 for another 15-20 minutes. When it's done, it should look . . .

. . . something like this.

 And pop out of the pot for cooling like this.

And after at least 30 minutes of cooling, should slice up like this.

There are so many possible variations when making bread, it's hard to say exactly what will work and what won't. So much of it is a matter of taste along with some trial and error. I tend to go more by feel and consistency when making bread, than exact amounts and times. A good vigorous sourdough starter is much more forgiving than the instant packaged yeasts, although I still use packaged yeasts for loaves I need quickly in a couple of hours. But if I have more time, a good, basic, rustic loaf of sourdough bread just can't be beat.


Connie said...

That looks delicious! I love the smell of bread baking. I think it is one of the best aromas around.

Trish said...

Thanks! Yes, there's nothing quite like the smell of fresh baking bread.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This looks so yummy. I love that cast iron pot you have.

Heidi’sbooks said...

Oh boy. I need to get a cast iron pot--pronto.

Trish said...

I love my cast iron pot! Nothing cooks quite as thoroughly.

Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic said...

Thanks for sharing. I'm intimidated at the thought of making my own bread.

Trish said...

It's fun! You should give it a try :)