Now that you have a pet jar of sourdough starter either sitting on your counter or sitting in the fridge, you might be thinking that you finally get to make some sourdough bread of your own. Good idea! Let me help you get started. Or let me help confuse you even more.
It may seem confusing at first. It isn’t really. It’s just that I write it that way. I will try to clarify as I go. I will try to keep a one track mind and not wander about going off on tangents. I will add a schedule at the end to help. Read through first. Maybe second too.
First, the star of the show: The starter.
If your sourdough has been in the fridge, take it out 2 days ahead of time, stir it up and spoon it into a mixing bowl.
Feed it by removing and throwing away all but 2 tsp. and to this 2 tsp. adding 1 ½ Tbsp. water. Stir it up.
Add 1/3 cup bread flour and mix until it is a fairly firm dough. Cover or put into its jar and let it sit on the counter to rise. It will start to bubble after a few hours.
The next morning take out about 2 tsp., add 1 1/2 Tbsp. water and stir it up. Add 1/3 cup flour and mix until it is a fairly firm dough. Does this sound familiar? Basically every 12 hours you should feed it, throwing some away, until it has been fed 3 or 4 times and is quadrupling again in 8 hours or less.
If it has already been on the counter, it is ready for the next step without the extra feedings.
You need to increase the sourdough so you have enough for the jar and the bread.
The above refreshing leaves you with over 1/3 cup of mother starter. Take out 2 tsp. In a different bowl, feed it, put it back in the jar, letting it sit on the counter for a couple of hours, then put back in the fridge for another day. Keep the rest of the starter for the bread. (the part you would have thrown away.)
You will need:
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. bread flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup water
Take that 1/3 cup starter and to it add the 2/3 cup lukewarm water. Mix it up to loosen the dough.
Now add the flours and either mix by hand or in a mixer, long enough to make a knead-able dough. It should be sticky, tacky, but not too wet. Let it sit and ferment. Depending on how warm it is in your house and the speed of your starter, this could take 6-8 or more hours. Mine is pretty fast and takes a little less time to puff up.
You could do this in the morning, then after a few hours, cover it with plastic and put in the fridge to chill until the next day. If so, take it out to come to room temperature before you make the dough.
See how this can take some time? Once you get the hang if it though, it is easy.
To make the dough, cut the above dough (the one with the whole wheat and regular flours) up into 10 pieces or so and put in a mixing bowl. You will need:
11 oz. lukewarm water (1 cup plus 6 Tbsp. or just under 1 1/2 cups)
3 1/2 cups bread flour
2 1/2 tsp. salt
Pour the water into the mixing bowl with the starter and mix to loosen things up a bit.
Add the flour and salt, mixing with a dough hook, or a wooden spoon if doing by hand. Mix for about 3 minutes until a tacky ball. Let it rest for 5 minutes, to let it absorb the flour and let the gluten start to align. Then keep mixing and then kneading until the dough is a soft, supple and tacky ball. Not too sticky, not too dry. Add flour or water to “make it so”.
Take it out of the bowl and knead by hand a few times to form a ball. Let it rest 10 minutes.
Now you will do the “stretch and fold”. Sounds kind of like a yoga exercise. You reach in (with wet hands to prevent sticking) and grab the far side of the ball of dough. Pull it up, letting the rest of the dough fall by its own weight, just for a few seconds. Now drop it back into the bowl and fold the pulled up part over the ball. Turn the bowl around so you are now pulling the opposite side of the dough. Pull it up, stretching it and fold it over the ball. Now turn the bowl so you can do the same to the other 2 sides. Let it rest. It is exhausted after all that stretching.
After 10 minutes do the “stretch and fold” again. Then after 30 minutes do it again. Now cover it and leave it alone for a while.
You can either let it rise on the counter, about 3-5 hours, or, if you want to bake the next day, let it rise at room temperature for 2 hours, then put it, covered well with plastic wrap, into the fridge. Keep in mind if you chill it, you need to take it out at least 4 hours ahead of time.
Now, it’s time to get to the baking stage. If its chilled dough, you have to bring it out to warm up for at least 4 hours before shaping.
Now you are going to shape it, let it rise, slash it, spray with water and bake it.
To shape it, gently cut the raised dough in half. Taking one half, form into a ball with a taut ‘skin’ on it.
I don’t know how to explain it. Kind of like cupping your hands around the ball of dough, then pulling down, toward the counter, with the sides of your hands tucking it in, rotating the ball and continuing to pull down and tuck. This gives the skin tightness to it. It’s easier to show you how I do it, if you come over. Another way to explain it is to cup the dough in both hands on a barely floured board. Start spinning, quickly and gently in a circular motion,like a hula-hoop, rotating it around and around, clockwise or counter-clockwise. It should grip the board a bit and after a minute or two there should be a ‘belly button’ on the bottom. This means there is a tight skin and it has a good round shape.
Okay, so by hook or by crook, you shaped them into 2 balls. There are 2 ways to bake them now. (Just to make things more confusing than ever,)
Take 2 medium size mixing bowls. Line with tea towels, not the linty-fuzzy kind. Sprinkle flour inside (so the towel won’t stick to the dough) and lay the ball, belly button side up in there. That is assuming you do not have a proofing basket. (If so, I will assume you know how to use that). Cover the bowls with plastic wrap and let rise. It may not double, but will puff up nicely. It may take several hours. Anywhere from 3-5.
Preheat oven to 450. If you have it, put a baking stone inside to heat up too. But keep in mind you are baking 2 loaves.
Now you will need a pizza peel or the bottom of a large cookie sheet. Lay some parchment on it and gently turn over one ball of dough onto it. I usually lay the parchment in my hand and tip the dough onto it. Lay it on the peel and remove the towel, carefully.
Taking a very sharp knife, make 2 slashes into the top of the dough. Spray the dough with lukewarm water. When the oven is hot, transfer the dough from the peel to the hot stone. With a quick jab, it will slide from the peel to the stone, with any luck. (without luck, it will end up somewhere on the oven rack.) Now do the same with the other dough. If you do not have a stone, lay it on a baking sheet and put in the oven. Spray some water into the oven too. Unless you have a steam injected oven, in which case you really know what you are doing and probably aren’t reading this anyway. Spray again in a few minutes. This allows the skin to be moist enough to expand quickly. Reduce oven temp to 425 and bake about 30 minutes or until it is 200 degrees inside. (Use you instant read thermometer.)
Or another way:
Put some parchment paper into 2 small (8″) skillets. Lay the dough balls into them, spray with oil and cover with plastic.
They will take 3-5 hours to rise. After it is almost risen, take an iron pot with a lid, like a La Creuset, and put into the oven. Turn it on to 450 degrees. Let it get hot-hot-hot! So hot, it will change to a darker color. When the dough is ready, carefully lift out the pot from the oven. Remove the lid. Slash the dough and gently lift the parchment with the dough, like a sling and lower it into the hot abyss. Put on the lid and return to the oven. I can fit 2 pots in my oven so I can do 2 loaves at the same time. I don’t know if you have that option. The other choice is to make one big loaf that will fit in the pot. Of course, you would have to do that back several steps, at the shaping part. You don’t need to mist it, because the pot is like a little mini oven and holds in the moisture from the bread, creating a wonderful golden crust. Reduce heat to 425. After 20 minutes very carefully take out pots and remove lids. Return to oven until golden brown and reads 200 degrees with your instant read thermometer. This will be about 10-15 minutes more.
It will be beautiful and crunchy and soft and warm and chewy and (fill in the blank with your favorite bread adjectives).
Here is a type of schedule. (“Feed it” means take out 2 tsp. sourdough and add 1 ½ Tbsp. water, stir it up and add 1/3 cup flour. Knead.)
Thursday evening: take sourdough starter out of the fridge. Put about 2 tsp. in a bowl, tossing the extra. Feed it and put it back in the jar. Keep on the counter overnight.
Friday morning: Put starter in a bowl, (save 2 tsp. throwing away the extra), feed it and put it back in the jar. Keep on the counter.
Friday Evening: Do the same as Friday morning.
Saturday morning: From the bowl, take out 2 tsp. of the sourdough to put back in the jar (feed it, let it sit a few hours and tuck into the fridge.) To the remainder of the starter add the water, bread flour and whole wheat flours as stated above. Kneading and putting in a bowl to rise, covered with plastic wrap. It may take about 5-8 hours to rise, depending on your starter and the weather.
Saturday Afternoon: Cut the dough in half, shape and let rise as instructed above. Let rise 3-4 hours. Preheat oven with baking stone or dutch ovens. Bake!
For another good book on artisan breads, including sourdoughs, see:
Artisan Baking by Maggie Glezer. I know, I need another baking book like I need another hole in my head. But this one is pretty darn good, with stories on farmers growing wheat, people who grind the wheat, small bakeries, large scale bakeries and their recipes. I’ve had it a few months and it is already stained, with flour between the pages and damage from water drops.