Saturday, April 25, 2020

Baking Sourdough Bread!

I'm back! Now, on to baking sourdough bread. There are a lot of different ways to do this. Different amounts of starter to use, different flours, different temperatures, different times. It's dizzying. I tried one with this famous YouTube guy, Joshua Weissman, and honestly, it was too much effort. I have work to do during the day and I can't babysit dough all the frickin' time. I also watched these guys, (Irish guy Patrick, and guitar rocker/baker/FoodGeek named Sune from Denmark) who are both oddly very soothing (unlike Joshua, who is AWESOME but makes me feel like I just drank three pots of coffee).

So yeah, I tried about four different methods, and settled on the method by Culinary Exploration. It's pretty low maintenance, once you get used to it. It's a 65% hydration dough, which gives a loaf with a crunchy crust, an airy but not too airy crumb, but nice and moist and not too dense. It seriously looks like it came from an artisan bakery.

I'm going to adapt his recipe to a two-loaf recipe, because honestly--if you're gonna go through the trouble, you might as well have two loaves to show for it. I stick one dough in the fridge so I can bake two days in a row, instead of baking them back to back to reduce the chance of having unwanted, uneaten stale bread, which would pain my gluten-filled heart.

You can also use that fridge dough for pizza, or foccacia, too. Just know they'll have a slight tang! 

Recipe for 2 loaves:

Total time: Approximately 7-8 hours, not including starter prep the night before

For starter:
100g starter (a full 1/3 cup of stirred down starter)
50g whole wheat flour
50 g unbleached white flour (total of about 3/4 cup of both flours)
98 g warm filtered water (scant 1/2 cup)

For loaves:
500g warmish filtered water (2 1/4 cups)
20g salt (about 3 slightly rounded teaspoons)
750g bread flour (5 1/2 cups). I do think bread flour, with higher protein content, works best here.
256g sourdough starter (a heaping 3/4 cup). I've put in more, like just over  full cup and it works okay but can have a tendency to overproof.

-flexible bench scraper
-banneton, about 9 inches round, or 10 inches for an oval OR a floured cloth napkins inside colanders
-Dutch oven OR big cookie sheet with a pan/ovenproof container on the side for water
-cooling rack
-bowls for mixing and such
-plastic bag (if you want to save one half of the dough to bake another day)
-parchment paper (this is optional, but using parchment to transfer dough to the Dutch oven/sheet really prevents your dough from being slapped down when you drop it onto the hot whatever)

A note about temp: You have to get used to baking according to your room temp, and your oven temp. My room temp is comfy warm. My oven runs hot so I change all these temps down by 25 degrees. You may need to go up to 500 degrees if you have a cool oven. It varies. It's good to have an oven thermometer. The experts have their own fancy proofers with temp settings.

1. Night before, 7-9 PM: mix your starter, flour and water thoroughly, and use a rubber band to mark it.  Leave out at room temp all night.

2. Day of baking, around 8 AM!
Your starter should have doubled or more by now.
Add your warm water and salt in a very large bowl. NO, the salt will not kill your starter. Promise. Dissolve salt, then add your starter and mix it up with your hands until it's pretty loosely distributed in the water.

3. Add your flour. Mix together with your hand. It's going to be a very shaggy, very wet dough. Do not underestimate the size of a bowl you'll need to mix this. USE A HUGE MIXING BOWL or you will have flour in your eardrums. Once it's pretty thoroughly mixed, scrape the dough off your hands (bench scraper works good here) and leave it all in the bowl, covered for one hour with plastic wrap or a plate. This gives your dough time for the flour to get fully hydrated.

4. After an hour, scrape out onto a clean surface. Cut in half with your bench scraper. With each half, gently pull and fold dough over three times, using a different edge each time. Use your bench scraper to gently push and twist around and around, tucking under the dough until it looks nice and round and smooth. I can't do this with my bare hands. Too sticky. I use the bench scraper to do this. DO NOT add flour! RESIST THE TEMPTATION. Place each nicely rounded dough into a separate medium-sized bowl, and cover with plastic wrap or a plate.

5. Cold proof for 4-5 hours at room temp. This part has varied with the little experience I have. If you overproof your dough, it won't rise much in the oven because it's risen so much outside. So I tend to keep to 4.5 hours at the most. If your place is hot, proof less. If cold, proof more OR use a warmed oven to speed the process.  If you've used more sourdough, proof less. If you're proofing in a glass bowl, you'll see gas bubbles forming in your dough and it'll spread and rise a bit. See photo, below.

6. Scrape out dough onto clean surface very, very gently. You don't want to punch it down, or knead or anything. You're going to save all that aeration that's occurred from this rise. Do several folds of your dough, about 4 total, one on each side. Use your bench scraper to get under each edge to grab it. Don't tear the dough! Pull gently and slowly, and it'll stretch and accommodate. Thoroughly flour your banneton, or napkin-lined colanders. Gently flour your dough (I like to use a little mini strainer with flour like this one) and lay it into your colander/banneton.

7. Last proof. This one goes for 1-2 hours. If you'd like to bake a fresh loaf tomorrow, put one into a plastic bag, tie it into a knot, and stick it in the fridge and skip the 1-2 hours of proofing. If you're going to bake today, and you want to have an easier time of scoring it for a pretty design, then proof at room temp for 1 hour, then stick in fridge (like the other loaf) in a plastic bag for 1 hour. It's easier to score with a cold "skin." Not necessary, though.

8. About 15 minutes before you're ready to bake, set your oven to 475 and place your Dutch oven in there. If you're going to use a cookie sheet, then you can preheat your cookie sheet too. Also preheat another oven proof container (a deep set 1/4 jelly roll sheet, for example, or brownie pan) for water. Heat a cup of water to near boiling in the microwave.

9. When it's time to bake, flip your dough gently onto a square piece of parchment paper. Flour the surface until it's covered. Using a very sharp paring knife or lame (fancy word for a razor blade) cut a deepish gash (about 1/3 inch deep) across the loaf, off center. Or make a fun design. You need the cut so the loaf can expand and spread and not be contained by the bread "skin" so-to-speak.

10. Put your loaf into the hot dutch oven and cover. Or, if using the cookie sheet/water method, put dough onto the hot cookie sheet, and add the water to the water pan. You will scream when the water hits the hot pan. It happens.

11. For the Dutch oven: set for 25 minutes. When it goes off, remove the lid to the Dutch oven, and drop the temp to 450. The loaf should look risen and blond. Set the timer for another 15 minutes.

12. For the cookie sheet method--check around 35 minutes. You're looking for a medium brown loaf with some darkness on the crust by your cut. Some like it darker, some lighter. But it should not look "blond." That is not baked enough. It might need a total of 40 minutes.

Remove, and let cool on a rack. Don't forget to turn your oven off, or you will be very sorry. Sometimes if you listen closely, you'll hear your crust "sing" by making crackly noises as the hot crust hits cooler air and contracts!

Next day baking: I heat my oven, take my dough out, score it, and bake it. I don't wait for it to come to room temp, and I don't let it proof again. Works just fine!

Good luck, bakers!

Photos, so as not to ruin the flow of the recipe above.

The dough after about 4.5 hours rise time. I think this was a little over-proofed. 

How floury my napkin/colander set up is

Thoroughly floured and ready to be scored

My husband scored our dough. He's got a good hand! 
This loaf was one where the dough stayed in the fridge overnight. 

The crumb texture on the overnight/fridge dough. Not bad! 

Another gorgeous loaf! This was a same day loaf. 

This crumb was airier. Both tasted about the same sourness (lightly sour), 
both super soft, chewy, and delicious. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Sourdough Starter a.k.a. making your pet "Sour Doug"

Sour Doug all grown up. 
Here he is after he's risen to his full peak, about 12 hours after a feeding.

From the top: slightly domed, bubbly, no hooch. Ready to use for baking! 

It's me. 
It's been ages since I've blogged, but I've gotten a few requests on how I do my sourdough starter and bread, so why not share it with the world?
I very much hope you, your friends, and family are all staying safe during this pandemic! 

Here goes! 

What is sourdough?

Sourdough is a mix of water, flour, and natural yeasts and bacteria that grow from the air and the flour itself. It's a bit tangy, as the bacteria produce a little lactic acid (like in yogurt). It's the way to make risen breads, cakes, and other pastries without relying on active yeast you need to buy. Once you've got a "starter" you basically can make bread forever without worrying that a pandemic is going to make active dry yeast hard to buy!

Is it very sour?

The sourdough breads I've made are only a touch sour. Some sourdoughs like the famous Eli's in NYC, or San Francisco's famous sourdough (a very specific mix of yeasts and bacteria) are a bit more strong (deliciously so!) but my homemade has been pretty mild.

For more sour taste, a longer rise when you're making dough, or using starter straight from the fridge, will probably give you a more pungent flavor. Using more starter in your recipe oddly makes it less, sour, compared to more sour with less starter. Confused? Watch this guy.

A few notes to start with:

*Try to use filtered water, not tap/chlorinated. There's a theory that the chlorine will slow the growth of your sourdough microbes, but I know some people who just use tap and it's okay. I like to use filtered, to be safe. If you don't have a filter, just sit some tap water on the counter for a few hours and the chlorine evaporates.

*When possible, use 50/50 unbleached white flour plus whole wheat flour or rye flour. I think the whole meal flours help the sourdough grow better. Vitamins and minerals and all that. But if you only have regular unbleached, at least be sure it's unbleached!

*if you don't have a digital scale, then measurements are in parentheses

*container: I love using those takeout plastic containers. They're wide-mouthed and easy to use. I've used mason jars but I don't like how even the wide mouth ones make it difficult to stir. There are pricier glass Weck jars, but this is about using what you have, so.

*metal: Some people say never use metal instruments or bowls or whatever. I think that's probably bunk. I tend to use plastic, glass and silicone, but I've used metal spoons and it's fine.

Day 1 
(These are about 24 hours apart. I usually do my starter stuff at 8 AM)

Mix 100 g flour (about 3/4 cup) and 115g (about a teaspoon + 1/2 cup) filtered water together. Use either a plastic or glass jar. I like those plastic take out containers because the opening is wide. Keep loosely covered (if it’s airtight it’ll explode and it needs oxygen to grow, too). Use a rubber band to show where the level is, so if it rises you’ll see growth. Keep in a warm place, like near the stove.

You may notice it will get a little bubbly.

Day 2

It should smell a little yeasty. It may have risen, or not. That's okay.

Remove 70g of starter (1/4 cup of stirred down starter) and place in a new container. Store the rest of the starter (the “discard”) in the fridge or throw in compost (there are recipes online for using the discard if you don’t want to be wasteful. Remember it has a 50/50 water to solid content, so you can figure out substitutions in recipes. I have a great banana bread recipe to come to use with starter that I'll post soon.

To your 70g of starter, add 100g flour and 115 g filtered water. Mix really well so it’s well incorporated. Wait another day.

Day 3:

You may notice it rose a little more. It should smell yeasty, but possibly a touch yogurty as the yeast is also mixing with bacteria and fermenting to make some lactic acid. That’s cool. Repeat your discard and feeding (keep 70g starter; add 100g flour; this time, add 110g water (1/2 cup + half a teaspoon).

Day 4:

Repeat, but this time, use 70g starter, 100g flour, and 105 g water (1/2 cup).

Day 5:

Repeat, but this time use 70g starter, 100g flour, and 100 g water (barely less than half cup).

By now, you’ll notice a rhythm. Your starter will get bubbly and rise. As it rises, it’ll look domed on top. At some point, it will flatten out, and start to fall. This is a sign that it’s eating all the food supply and going anaerobic. Sometimes you’ll notice a touch of liquid on top—that's “hooch” or alcohol. A little bit won’t hurt your starter, but a sign that you need to feed it more often. A lot of hooch isn't great.

If you find that your starter rises and is falling around 12 hours after you did your morning feeding/discard, then it’s time to start feeding every 12 hours.

At this point, use 70g starter, 100g flour, and about 98 g water (little less than 1/2 cup). (Good god, does that -2g of water really matter? Dunno for sure. But it seemed happy by being 2% less wet.)

Keep repeating. When your starter has more than doubled reliably 2x within 12-18 hours after each feeding/discard, it’s ripe and ready to use.

Using starter:

Ideally, you should use the starter when it’s at its maximum rise after a feeding. So you need to time this for your baking. Often, it means feeding at night, and baking the next morning.


Once your starter is ripe and mature, and you’ve named it something memorable, it’s time to store.

Take 70g starter, add your 100g flour, 98 g water, mix well, and leave alone for about 2 hours. Then stick it in the fridge, and feed/discard once a week. I find that Dough gets hoochy after a full 7 days, so I feed on day 6.

Using starter after it’s been in the fridge.

I'll take it out the night before I'm going to bake, don't discard, just add 100g flour and 100 g of water, and let it rise overnight. The next morning, it should have doubled and be pretty bubbly.

Some people use starter straight out of the fridge for a recipe, but generally it takes more time to rise and will have a slightly stronger flavor.

Problem Solving:

Your starter smells like nail polish remover.

It probably went too far and wasn't being fed often enough. Either start over, or start with a very tiny bit of starter, like a tablespoon, and mix with 100g flour and 100g water and see how it goes.

It also may mean your environment is really warm and your starter is eating through its food supply very fast. It may need to be fed more often, like twice a day.

Are you covering the starter? it should be loosely covered, not airtight.

You're getting a lot of hooch.

See above--probably needs to be fed more often. Or it's not getting enough air.

No rise or activity at all

Probably too cold? Try turning on your oven to 200 degrees, then shutting it off and leaving your starter in there for several hours and see how it goes. Remember it should be loosely covered, not airtight.

It's liquidy and bubbling, smells okay, but never rises.

It probably needs less water, and a touch more flour. Decrease the water amount so after a feed, it feels like a thick, moist dough, not a liquidy, pourable dough.

Good luck all! I'll try to answer questions in the comments!