Sourdough Bread

 

Hold onto your aprons, we’re about to get frisky in the kitchen. 

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The Recipe

If you want the full, long story, keep scrolling down.  There are lots of pretty pictures.  If you're a no-nonsense, cut-to-the chase kind of person, this section is for you.  The recipe I use is adapted from this one of the Firehouse Bakery in Ireland.

 

Ingredients

  • 500g King-Arthur All-Purpose white flour
  • 5g salt
  • 325g water
  • 150g sourdough starter (composed of 25% all purpose flour, 25% whole wheat flour, 50% water)

 

Essential Equipment

  • Digital scale
  • Bread scraper
  • Razor blade or super sharp knife
  • Dutch oven

 

1. Combine ingredients

Weigh all four ingredients into a large mixing bowl and mix with your hands and bread scraper into a shaggy dough.  Dump onto the counter.

 

2. Knead

The shaggy dough will start to feel more wet and sticky the more you knead.  This is good, don’t add any additional flour.  If your hands get too doughy, you can scrape the excess off your hands with the bread scraper, or simply wash your hands and begin kneading again with wet hands.  Knead the dough with the palm of your hand until the dough tells you it’s ready (about 10 minutes).  The dough will cling to itself more than it clings to your hands by this point, and it should pass the “windowpane test.”  

 

3. Proof

Let Rise for three hours in a bowl, covered loosely with a towel to keep off dust.

 

4. Shape the dough and ferment

Empty the dough onto a counter.  Pinch the sides, stretch, and fold into the center to begin creating surface tension.  Do this four times from the north, west, south, and east.  Turn the dough over seam-side down, and begin to shape into a round loaf.  Suggested methods are dragging the bottom along the counter or spinning the dough in place.  After 2-5 min of shaping, place a towel over a bowl and liberally flour.  Place dough seam-side up into the bowl, flour the top, cover with the ends of the towel, and place in the fridge for 8-24 hours depending on how sour you want your bread.

 

5. Bake

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Place dough seam-side down in Dutch Oven and score the top with a razor blade.  Go to pinterest if you’re feeling crafty.  Bake covered for 25 minutes. Then reduce heat to 425 degrees and bake for 25 minutes more.  To preserve moisture and freshness, let cool before cutting open.

 

 

The Long Recipe:  How I Fell in Love with Sourdough

I started baking sourdough on a whim.  While I can’t remember what it was that made me want to start in the first place, I remember vividly the first time I felt the sticky dough between my fingers as I kneaded into the dough like clay on a potter’s wheel.  There was a certain zen that washed over as both my hands beat and stretched the dough.  It was the same feeling I get after the second or third or fourth hour working on a painting, where I feel detached from any worries in my regular life, where the only thing that matters is what is in my hands and how I mold it. It was that feeling that hooked me. 

This is a summary of everything I’ve learned so far – all the things that I’ve found to matter and the things that turned out not to matter so much.

 

Ingredients

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The simple beauty of bread is that you really need three things – flour, water, and a pinch of salt.  Then you just need a lot of time.  You start by making a natural yeast called a sourdough starter.  You combine 50% flour, 50% water, and let it sit at room temperature to ferment for a week.  Then as you add more flour and water daily to it to, the natural yeast in the air find your food and begin to grow and multiply.  In a sense, you're “feeding” a living colony of yeast, so if you always leave a bit of starter in the jar, you can technically keep your pet alive for years and years. 

  Jorge the sourdough starter.  He’s only a few months old.

Jorge the sourdough starter.  He’s only a few months old.

  A well fed an happy starter will have lots of bubbles!

A well fed an happy starter will have lots of bubbles!

 

One trick about sourdough starters is to feed them with a whole wheat / white flour mix.  The yeast take longer to munch on the whole wheat flour, so you don’t have to feed it as often.  My recipe is to feed Jorge 50g white flour, 50g wheat flour, and 100g water once a week. 

 

The most important ingredient – the flour

I can’t stress this point enough.  The brand of flour makes a difference, and the brand you've got to use is King Arthur All-Purpose Flour.  The first loaf I made with King Arthur flour, I actually gasped when I cut into it.  Something about it encourages the gluten bonds to form more completely, and you end up with a gloriously chewy inside with air pockets the size of almonds.

  Do yourself a favor, and buy King Arthur All-Purpose Flour.

Do yourself a favor, and buy King Arthur All-Purpose Flour.

 

Step 1 – Combine the ingredients

Weigh out all the ingredients you need - and use a digital scale.  I tried to wing it with measuring cups and tablespoons the first time, and what came out of the oven was so dense that even my chinchillas wouldn't eat it.  And to be clear, chinchillas eat sticks.

Some recipes will tell you to mix your starter in water to evenly disperse it.  Some will tell you to combine all the ingredients and let it autolyze for 30 minutes.  Skip that junk – just combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix it up.

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  Then when you’ve got a somewhat shaggy dough, dump it on the counter and finish combining.

Then when you’ve got a somewhat shaggy dough, dump it on the counter and finish combining.

 

After a few minutes of mixing, there won’t be any flour left on the counter and the dough will start to get sticky.  THIS IS A GOOD THING.  Don’t add any extra flour - just rely your trusty bread scraper to keep it all in one place. 

 

Step 2 – Knead

In the words of baker Patrick Ryan,

You will get a lot of recipes suggesting the best technique, how best to knead.  To be honest,  the one piece of advice I give most people is to think about someone you don’t like and just go for it.

 

Most recipes will tell you to do this for 10-15 minutes, but it’s important here to consider the feel of the dough.  As the gluten bonds form inside the dough, you will start to notice the dough retaining its shape.  You’ll notice less and less dough sticking to your hands because the dough wants to stick to itself.  My ultimate guide is the windowpane test, where you hold up the dough and stretch a part of it thin like a windowpane.  Dough with enough gluten strength will hang and not tear.

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Upon passage of the windowpane test, throw that bad boy in the bowl and continue to step three…

 

Step 3 – Proof

Cover the bowl with a towel so no dust gets on the dough and let it rise at room temperature for three hours.  You can go do your grocery shopping here, write a poem, watch a few episodes of Queer Eye – it’s really up to your imagination.  I’ll typically start the bread at 6:00p when I get home, then come back to it at 9:00p to continue to step 4.

  After kneading

After kneading

  Three hours later...

Three hours later...

 

Step 4 – Shape and ferment

Dump your dough back onto an unfloored counter – it’s time to make your loaf.  Like kneading, there’s a million ways to do this.  I’ll typically cup my hands around the loaf and give it a few spins.  Dragging along the dry countertop creates tension on the surface of the dough and makes it stand up straighter.  This is a really wonderful video since I don’t have any of me shaping dough.

When I’m happy with my dough, I’ll line the inside of the same bowl with a towel and sprinkle liberally with flour.  I’ve never used proofing baskets (featured in the above video), but I hear they’re the bees’ knees.  I manage to get pretty good sourdough without them.

Sprinkle some more flour onto the loaf and wrap it up with the towel like a nice, neat package.  Now…we wait.

For a not-so-sour bread:  let it sit in the fridge overnight (8 hours) and bake it first thing in the morning.  Your family/roommates will thank you.

For a slightly sour bread:  let it sit in the fridge overnight + all of tomorrow (16 hours) and bake it when you come home from work.  Anyone who comes home after you will also thank you.

 

Step 5 – Bake

I’ve tried a few methods of baking here, and the Dutch oven is what I’ve found to be the most consistent.  Preheat the oven to 450, then put your dough into the cold pot.

Next to kneading, this part might be my FAVORITE PART OF MAKING SOURDOUGH:  scoring the design.  Use a razor blade or just a really really really sharp knife and make some ¼ inch cuts across the top. 

  I think this does something scientific related to releasing steam, who knows.  The main purpose here is to make a picture-perfect sourdough loaf.

I think this does something scientific related to releasing steam, who knows.  The main purpose here is to make a picture-perfect sourdough loaf.

 

Now we bake.  Twenty-five minutes covered at 450 degrees, then twenty-five minutes uncovered at 425 degrees. 

And then we bask in the glory of what we’ve done today.

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Thoughts?  Comments?  Got your own tips and recipes?  Send them over to info@zacharyflynt.com