Sourdough refresher course

Having just got back from the land of perfect sourdough  bread, I felt it only fitting that I refresh my starters and make a couple of loaves. (To see photos and post about the trip from La Petite Kitchen, click here.)

here is my last whole wheat sourdough.
here is my last whole wheat sourdough.

First I reached in the back of the fridge and pulled out the whole wheat starter I started earlier this year. Ackk! The whole thing had turned black! It was horrifying. I didn’t take a picture, I was too busy trying to get rid of it and still save the jar. (I keep my starter in canning jars.) I was trying to hold my nose and still scoop out the villainous goo.  Bleck. Good thing I hadn’t had breakfast. What went wrong? Who knows. Some kind of off bacteria got in there and ruined the ‘crop’ of wild yeast. It happens.

Then I got out Tiffany Bubbles, my good regular sourdough starter. She is trusty and as reliable as the sunrise. I fed her good, after months of hibernation, taking the starter, putting it in a larger bowl and adding some flour and water. I added about 1/2 cup of water and enough flour to make a putty type dough, and covered it with plastic wrap. This is called ‘feeding’ it. Just by adding flour and water you are giving the wild yeast more food, since it does eventually use up its supply. Kept in the fridge, it doesn’t require much food. But if I want to make bread, I need to refresh the dough, waking it up from dormancy, feeding it, letting it sit out at room temperature to bubble up and feeding it again before I head off to bed.

A good loaf of sourdough bread is not something you can whip up at the spur of the moment. If your starter has been sleeping in your refrigerator, you should give it 3 days before your bread comes out of the oven. 2 maybe.

But you already know all this because I already posted sourdough basics here.

So you really do not need to read any further.  I just write it out to help clarify in my own mind what I am doing and maybe to add something I may have forgotten to in my previous post

sourdough bubbling away and just about ready to refresh. Its bubbly and slightly falling back.
sourdough bubbling away and just about ready to refresh. Its bubbly and slightly falling back.

.

Here is my schedule for this batch:

Sunday: (Afternoon) Got the starter out of the fridge. Scooped it out into a bowl and added about 1/3-1/2 cup of water and enough flour to make a firm dough that I could knead. Covered it with plastic wrap and let sit.

(Evening) Scooped out about half and threw it away.(Could have used it to make pancakes the next morning by storing it in the fridge. Just didn’t want to.) To the other half, added more flour and water to still make a firm dough. Covered it and let it ferment on the counter. I happened to wake up around 3 in the morning and decided to put it into the fridge. I was worried it might over do it and run out of food.

Monday: (morning)  Took it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Looked through baking books in the meantime and started brewing some yogurt. This time I took out some of the starter, about 2 tablespoons and set it into another bowl. To this added a little more flour and water to make a firm dough and put it back in the jar. I let this sit out at room temperature for about 1 hour and then put her back in the fridge. This is the mother starter and I will save her for next time.

To the rest, I used this for the actual loaves of bread I am making. I do not exactly follow the amounts called for in the recipes. They are assuming you are using their starter formula and just say something like “take the rest of the starter” and follow their directions.

This kind of bread is very easy to improvise with. There are only 4 ingredients. Flour, water, salt and yeast. The yeast part is your sourdough starter. Use more if it and it will be more sour. Use less and it will be less sour. Don’t forget the salt though! It goes in last. There is not salt in the mother starter.

So, to the rest of my starter I added 1/2 cup of water, stirring to loosen up the starter, then added 1 cup of bread flour and 1 cup of whole wheat flour, mixing this all with a wooden spoon. It looked too dry, so I added more water, a little at a time. Once I had a nice consistency, like putty, I covered it. Since it is a warm day, I will let it sit only about 4 hours, as opposed to 6, then will pop it into the fridge.

So now you are caught up with where I am.

Tomorrow, I will take it out to bring it to room temperature and add basically, more water and flour and the salt. It will make a bigger ball of dough this time and it will rise for 3-4 hours. Then I will cut it into 2 balls, let them rise in my bread baskets, probably for 2 hours or until about 1 1/2 times what it started out, then bake in my red iron pots at a high heat.

I love these iron pots. In fact the only reason I initially bought them was for baking bread. They create a little mini-steam oven for the loaves, giving you unparalleled crust.

The oven goes to 500 degrees with the pots inside, then when I put the loaves in, I will lower the oven to 450.

To get it from the basket to the pot:

I use my pizza peel, but you would use the back of a baking pan. First put parchment paper in the pizza peel. Gently tip the bread dough out of the basket onto the parchment, score the bread (put some cuts in it), then lift the parchment by the corners to put them in the pots.

here is one I forgot to slash. It turned out alright anyway.
here is one I forgot to slash. It turned out alright anyway. You can see the blisters on the crust up close. This is all good.  I can almost hear the crunch.
Here is one beautifully slashed.
Here is one beautifully slashed.

These pots get very hot! Be armed with heavy mitts to get them out of the oven and to lift the lid. Put the bread in, put the lid on and move on to the next loaf.

Not using a pot? You can use a baking stone heated up in your oven. For steam, have another pan on a bottom rack while the oven is heating and right after putting the bread in, pour about 2 cups of hot water into the hot pan. Beware of steam hitting you!

Close the oven door, turn down the heat and let it go. You have the oven turned up extra high to make up for heat loss while you are doing all this. You do not bake it at 500! In fact, if it looks like it is browning too fast, I sometimes turn it down to 425.

As for your dough, you will get to know if it is ready by feel. You can only go wrong by adding too much flour. If you add too little, and your dough is sticky, but still rises, you will have a chewier, crustier loaf with larger irregular holes. There are several kinds of breads that have a higher ratio of water to flour to get just those results. Big holes, chewier crust. Think Ciabatta for example.

If you knead it well and it is tacky, but not sticky, you will have more regular holes and it will raise higher. (Due to more flour, more gluten to hold up the loaf.) But if you have so much flour in it that it is smooth and not tacky, you will get a dry loaf. It may still taste good, but it will not be chewy. It will be crumbly. That describes many of my first loaves until I learned what I had done wrong.

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