Side hobbies – Sourdough

Sometimes our side hobbies need side hobbies. Over the past two years I’ve ventured into bread making. It started when my partner discovered he could eat breads when he traveled outside the country but had issues when eating most breads here in the US. Long story short we found that he could tolerate wheat products made from organic, non-gmo flour (he does not have Celiac disease, by the way).

As we are in the midst of the Coronavirus social distancing I thought I would put together a post on my sourdough recipe. Once you have your starter going all you need is flour, water and a little salt. Other than those ingredients you just need a few other supplies. I’m going to dive right into what you need. This recipe makes two loaves.

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Supplies

  • 2 bannetons (I like the oval ones rather than the round – Amazon)
  • kitchen scale (Amazon)
  • bench scraper (nice but not required)
  • organic bread flour (obviously you can use regular bread flour but you’re going to all this trouble so I encourage you to use organic)
  • bottled water (DO NOT use tap water. The chlorine will kill your starter)
  • Salt
  • razor blade
  • pizza stone
  • metal pan or cast iron skillet

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Here’s the actual ingredients list for my recipe. It was adapted from AmyintheKitchen.com only because I only wanted to use regular flour and her loaves were a bit big. But please check her site out. It’s a great resource.

Sourdough Recipe

Ingredients

  • 805g bread flour
  • 460g bottle water + 40g bottled water (after autolyse step)
  • 245g starter
  • 16 g salt

Note: all measurements are in grams because measuring flour by weight is more accurate. When I’m feeding the starter I use volume measurements because I don’t need to be as exact.

You can see the ingredients list is pretty small, which is nice. Amy in the Kitchen provides very robust directions so I would encourage you to visit her site to fill in when my instructions are too brief.

Before we get into the exact steps I want to provide the rough outline. I usually plan to bake on a Sunday but you can adjust accordingly based on when you want to bake your bread.

  1. Friday, early afternoon (e.g. 1pm) – feed starter (1/4cup starter + 1/3 cup water + 1/2 cup all purpose flour).
  2. Friday night, late (e.g. 10pm) – grow starter (one jar gets 60g starter and the other jar gets 120g starter) – at this stage I add equal parts water and flour, by weight, to each jar.
  3. Saturday morning – start making bread.
  4. Sunday morning – bake bread.

Now that we know the big picture timeline, here’s the exact steps for making the bread. This picks up on Saturday morning (step 3) from the outline above. You can put the 60g jar in the refrigerator. You’ll only need the 120g jar for the recipe. It should weigh in around 360g (remember the equal parts starter, water  and flour?).

Recipe

  1. Mix 805g bread flour, 460g water and 245g starter in a large mixing bowl. Mix with a spatula and then with your hands to get all the ingredients to come together. This is the most time consuming step. Keep working it together. It will eventually all be incorporated but it will be very dry and shaggy. This is normal.
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  2. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside (in a warm place) for 1 hour. This is the autolyse step.
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  3. Uncover and sprinkle 16g of sea salt on the dough. Pour the remaining 40g of water on top. Work this with your hands until all the salt is incorporated and there is no residual water. At this point it will feel wet and slimy. This too is normal.
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  4. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes.
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  5. Perform a stretch and fold of the dough (See Amy in the Kitchen for a better explanation). Cover and wait 30 minutes. Repeat this 3 more times for a total of 4 stretch and folds. After each stretch and fold the dough will feel more and more smooth and elastic.
    If you get distracted and 45 or 60 minutes passes between a stretch and fold don’t worry. It’s very forgiving.
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  6. After the last stretch and fold (2 hours after you finished step 3) cover and set aside for about 3-5 more hours. This timing is pretty flexible. It should have bubbled up nicely. If it hasn’t I’d suggest finding a warmer spot or maybe just give it more time.
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  7. Remove the dough onto the counter. Be delicate so as not to knock out too much air. Divide the dough into two equal parts.
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  8. Using a scraper cut and gently form the dough into two round balls. You don’t need to make them too tight at this point. Cover and let rest for about 30 minutes.
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  9. One at a time, dust the top with flour. Using the bench scraper flip the dough ball over. Fold the top down. Fold the bottom up. Fold the left in. Fold the right in. Flip the ball back over so the seam side is down. You can find lots of videos on how to do this step. Here’s one that is a little more elaborate – Joshua Weissman video.
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  10. In order to get a tight skin on the top pull the dough towards you on your work surface using cupped hands. Rotate the dough ball and repeat a few more times.
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  11. Prepare the banneton by coating the inside generously with flour.
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  12. Flip the dough ball and gently place it in the banneton with the seam side up.
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  13. Sprinkle flour on the seam side of the dough ball and cover with plastic wrap. I like to wrap the entire banneton, dough ball and plastic wrap with a clean towel.
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  14. Put in the refrigerator over night. (repeat steps 9-13 with the other dough ball)
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  15. The next morning preheat the over to 450-460 degrees F. (I set my oven to 455). Put a cast iron pan (or metal baking pan) on the lower rack. I also keep my pizza stone in the oven and bake the loaf right on the stone.
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  16. Flip out the loaf out onto a lightly dusted bread pizza peel (or something you can use to transfer it to the oven).
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  17. Using a razor blade or lame score the bread. This takes some practice but with each loaf you’ll become more confident so get creative.
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  18. Transfer the loaf to you oven.
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  19. Pour about 1 cup of hot water into the cast iron pan.
    Apparently professional bread ovens inject steam into the oven. Since most of us don’t have ovens like this pouring water into the hot pan generates the steam to let the bread rise and develop a nice chewy crust.
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  20. Close the oven and bake for about 30-35 minutes.
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  21. Remove and let the loaf cool completely before cutting. And repeat steps 15-21 with the other loaf.
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I tell everyone else that each step does not take long but the entire process takes long. Basically, you need to start the full process 2 days before you want the loaf of bread.

Why don’t I have to kneed this bread? I’ve learned that there are basically two ways to develop the gluten and only one way to really develop the flavor. Gluten can be developed through energy or time. Some recipes will have you kneed the dough for 10-15 minutes or more! That can get really tiring. The benefit is that those recipes probably have you bake the bread the same day. However, my recipe uses time. As I said before each step is not hard but they are spread out. The benefit to this process is that you develop the gluten AND you develop flavor.

There are chemical processes going on in the bread that I do not understand well enough to explain. What I’ve taken away from my readings is that letting the dough sit and ferment really develops the flavor. So just take your time and save your energy. It will result in a more flavorful bread (and it will save your back).

I jumped right into the bread making but if you’re like me you have a ton of questions about the starter. Essentially the starter is your yeast. It provides the rising agent for your bread. Because it is natural it works much slower than the yeast you buy at the store. In addition, sourdough is fermented adding flavor and apparently aiding in digestion.

 

Starter

Now let’s get into the growing and maintaining the starter. I ordered a starter packet online. I followed the instructions on how to start with the packet and end up with a fully developed starter. Once you get to that point you need to keep your starter alive between bakes. Here’s what I do.

First, give your starter a name. It is like a new baby. It needs to be fed and changed and loved 😉

  1. I keep my starter in the refrigerator, in a mason jar, with a coffee filter over the top rather than the solid lid.
  2. Once week (I’ve gone as long as 10 days) I take the starter out and let it warm up for about 30 minutes.
  3. There is usually a thick dry skin on the top. I remove that and throw it out.
  4. Then I remove 1/4 cup of starter and transfer that to a clean mason jar. If you have excess share it with a friend.
  5. In that clean jar I add to the starter 1/3 cup of bottled water and 1/2 cup of flour. Many starter instructions will say equal parts water and double flour when using volume (rather than weighing). This is true but I add a little more water just to help it from drying out so much.
  6. Stir that up really well. It will be the consistency of thick pancake batter. Put the coffee filter lid on it and put it in a warm place for about 8 hours. The starter will bubble up nicely. At 8 hours it may drop a little too but that’s ok.
    Click here for a time-lapse video: starter time-lapse
  7. Now you can put it back in the refrigerator for another week. That’s it. You just fed your starter.

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The reason for these steps above is to keep your starter alive while not wasting flour. The microorganisms in the starter need flour and water to live. If you took all the starter and just added equal parts water and flour the volume would keep tripling. That’s useful when you want use some starter to bake but when you’re not baking that would get out of hand quickly.

Oh one last thing. When the starter dries it is like concrete. Make sure you put your jars and everything else in a bowl of warm water to sit if you’re not going to scrub them clean right away. You don’t want that stuff drying on the inside of your mason jar. Trust me.

Finally here are some useful links:

  • I Love Cooking instructions. I don’t follow these instructions any more but I did find his video helpful. Helpful because you can see how the dough looks at stages in the bread making process. He also has great baking tips especially if you want to use a dutch oven
  • When I’m taking photos or baking bread I’m an engineer. During one of my bakes I took notes during the process. You can find that information here.
  • Here is the site that got me started. It has links to the starter pack too. Traditional Sourdough.