March 13, 2009
Step-by-step sourdough bread

bread_052[1].jpgA couple of years ago, I wrote a long story in The Bee about making sourdough bread. I got so much response, both from people who make their own bread and those who want to try, that I thought I would go step-by-step through the process on "Appetizers."

I generally bake two loaves a week and it takes two days to go from beginning to end. Time and temperature -- and experience -- are important. It's also necessary to make sourdough part of your lifestyle, as it takes a good bit of planning. There's not a lot of busy work. But there's a lot of paying attention.

For best results, you'll need a digital scale and a few other things I'll explain later. The beauty of sourdough, though, is that it is made only with water, flour and salt, along with the magical bacteria from the air.

Let's begin with the sourdough starter, which is dormant in the fridge most of the week. I take it out and feed it, usually equal amounts of starter, water and flour. I usually do 300 grams each.


That sits for a couple of hours, depending on the room temperature, until it is nice and bubbling. The volume will have increased quite a bit. This is the leavening power that will later be applied to the actual dough.
It doesn't look like much at this point: bread2.jpg

When the starter is nice and bubbly and strong, I take 12 ounces of it and put it in a mixing bowl. The remainder of the starter is mixed (or fed) with more flour and later returned to the fridge where it awaits another baking day.

The 12 ounces is mixed with 2 pounds 2 ounces of flour (bread flour or all purpose) and 18 ounces of water. I mix it with my stand mixer at first. Here, I'm adding the salt (I use sea salt): bread6.jpg<

Then knead it by hand. In time, you'll be able to feel the dough's strength building. It will get smoother and stronger as you knead until you can sense it's ready for the first of two rises. bread7.jpg

Now you have four pounds of raw dough shaped in a ball. It rises on the counter (in a covered bowl) for about 3 hours until it is double in size. bread8.jpg

Then comes the so-called "punching down," which is more of a gentle stretch and light pressing with fingers or knuckles. Then the dough is folded like a letter and carefully shaped into two balls or boules.


It is covered and refrigerated overnight, where the dough retards and builds flavor. It can stay in the fridge for 8 or more hours. I take out the dough three hours before I'm ready to bake. The dough will warm and rise a little. Then I will score it with a razor. I use a couple of different patterns I like.
bread16.jpg I use a couple of special techniques to get what I would call a professional bakery-caliber crust. First, I use a thick pizza stone, which I preheat. I put the dough on the stone, then cover the dough with a large clay lid. This mimics the effect of a hearth oven, drawing out moisture from the raw dough and trapping it. This gives the finished loaf a crisp, blistered crust that you just can't get by spraying mist in the oven or by using a pan of water on the floor of the oven.
Here's the finished product. I would rate this loaf a 9 out of 10. Many of my loaves are a 7 and only a few are a 10.

You want the interior temperature to be around 210 degrees.bread18,jpg.jpg
Every once in awhile, nothing goes right and you bake an absolute disaster -- a 3. A 3 out of 10 may look terrible, but it still smells great and tastes pretty good, too.

This is what the crumb looks like -- tender, with lots of large holes. bread_052[1].jpg
You will want to wait until the bread cools -- I know, that's really hard -- but if you eat hot bread, your stomach will be tied in knots.

As for storage, a bread box or a paper-type bag is best in order to maintain a nice crust. Don't refrigerate bread and try not to put it in a plastic bag. If you still have bread after a couple of days, it makes incredible French toast and excellent croutons.

Thanks for taking a look. Feel free to email me your questions. I will do another post soon on the best equipment to use for making sourdough bread. There are a few things that can save you a lot of time and frustration.

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