The Sourdough Loaf
The classic sourdough loaf is a staple when you have a starter going. It tastes fantastic and can be a great substitute for store bought bread. It also has no sugar which makes it healthier.
To start I fed the starter for about a day and a half, this way I had enough and it was active enough to give the bread a good rise.
I like to use glass bowls and doing my mixing by hand. The bowls are easier to clean since they can go in the dishwasher and the feel of bread is so important. The machine doesn't give you that.
With two cups of stirred down (releasing the air bubbles makes it easier to measure) I add 3 cups of bread flour, two cups of all purpose flour and 3/4 cups of wheat flour. The reason I changed the recipe was because with only all purpose I was getting a lot of collapse in some of my early loafs.
Once I add the flour and mixed it with the starter I start to add the water. The recipe asks for 1 3/4 cups of room temp water. I have found that sometimes that is true and other days its not. So I add the water slowly and keep mixing until I get a soft dough. At this point I cover and let it rest for about 20 minutes. Don't add the salt yet.
Once the rest is over mix in the 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt. I have found that a finer grain salt works into the dough much easier than a courser salt. I find the act of working in the salt works well to knead the dough as well. The dough should be smooth and soft. Now its ready for its first rise. I cover it and let it sit on the counter for an hour. A note on covering. I've been using basic plastic wrap and its worked fine, but I found the amount of waste to be unsustainable. So I've switched to basic shower caps. They have the elastic to hold it in place and the plastic prevents a skin forming.
At the end of the rise its time to fold the dough. Folding adds tension which helps trap the air bubbles the yeast makes. I do this by putting the dough out on a lightly floured surface and gently pat it flat. I then fold it like I would a letter, one edge over the other. Then I turn it, and repeat, turn it and fold it once more. Now I can let it rise for another hour at room temperature.
After the second the rise or prove its time to shape the loaf. This recipe makes two loaves of good size. You can leave it as one massive loaf if you want, its just going to be harder to find a baking surface. I put the dough out on to the floured surface again and cut it half with a bench knife. To shape I make basic ball and then start to turn it under. Takes a little bit of doing but you'll start to see a nice sooth top. Let it rest, while you work on the second one. Now its ready to place it in a bowl for the final rise. I use a lined banneton basket. Its the traditional way. A bowl with a kitchen towel or tea towel works just as well. You just won't get the artisan bread marks like you do in the banneton. No matter what you choose to use, make sure that its well floured. I use rice flour first to get into the grain of the fabric and then bread flour for the surface. The dough ball goes into the bowl/basket smooth side down. This preserves the shape.
This last rise is important. I place mine in a cold location. At this time of year that's my garage. To get that classic "sour" flavor the yeast has to be forced to live in a less then ideal environment. If you don't want it to be sour leave it at room temperature. It will rise more quickly and lack the sour flavor. When I do the cold method I leave the loaves for anywhere between 10 and 18 hours. Some of this depends on my schedule as to when I can get it in the oven. This is up to you.
Now its time bake. To get them out of the basket can be a trick. I place a piece of parchment paper over the dough and gently turn the basket over. Slowly peel the fabric away to reveal the round domes. Make sure the oven has been preheated. And I have found that if you preheat your baking surface you get better oven spring (the sudden change in size that makes sure its not dense.) The original recipe has you use a stone or cookie sheet with a pan for steam. I struggled to get this right. The crusts were sad and the bread was often dense. What I found worked better was a dutch oven. Keep the lid on and it captures the bread's natural moisture. This gives a crispy crust. About two thirds through the bake remove the lid to let it brown up. I found this works so much better and so much more reliably. Currently I'm using a bread clouch. Its unglazed ceramic which changes the way the moisture is captured from the loaf. It does present some problems as you can't put a cold loaf on a hot ceramic or you risk cracking it. Not a problem with the cast iron dutch oven. Now before you put it in make sure to slash it. I use a bread lame but a sharp knife works too. This gives the steam a direction to escape. If you don't there can be bursting from all kinds of places.
Congratulations! You have baked two beautiful loafs that will taste so yummy. When you bring them out let them sit on a rack to cool. They should sound hollow if you tap the bottom. Enjoy!
The bread recipe By King Arthur Flour (I have included my notes but also the original recipe so you can tinker on your own.)
- 2 cups of ripe (or active) starter stirred down
- 5 cups all purpose flour (I do 3 of bread flour and 2 of all purpose)
- ¾ cup whole wheat flour
- 1 ¾ cups room temp water (it will depend of the day, sometimes more, sometimes less)
- 2 ½ teaspoon salt (the finer the better)
1. Combine the starter, flours, and water in a large bowl and mix well, until all of the bread is moistened, and dough is formed into a mass. Should be a soft tacky dough. (I add the water slowly so I can see when it becomes a good dough
2. Cover the dough and let rest for 20 minutes
3. After the rest, add the salt and knead the dough until smooth and supple, though still soft and tacky. Once kneaded return to the bowl and let rise and room temperature for an hour (I only kneed enough to get the salt incorporated)
4. Give the dough a fold. Turn it our onto a floured surface and, using a bowl scraper or bench knife, fold like a business letter. Turn the dough 90 degrees. Gently flatten it and repeat the letter fold. Return to the dough to the bowl, cover and let rise for another hour
5. At the end of the rise, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide in half. Gently shape into two rounds, cover and let rest for 20 minutes
6. After the rest shape the loaves into tight rounds and place them seam side up in bowls lined with floured cloth or in a bread couche. Cover and let rise until light and airy about 2 to 2 ½ hours. (I do the rise in a cold location, my garage or fridge. It takes longer but you get a sourer flavor. Lately the rise has been 10 to 16 hours.)
7. About 60 minutes before the bread is ready to bake, preheat the lover with baking stone in it to 450 F. Place an empty cast iron frying pan on oven rack below the stone to preheat. (I don’t do this anymore. It’s a huge hassle and there’s an easier way. I still do the temperature thing, but I only put my Staub Dutch oven in to pre heat.)
8. When the loaves have risen, gently turn them out of their bowls onto parchment, slash with a sharp knife or lame and slide the parchment directly onto the stone in the oven. Pour 1 cup of boiling water into the cast iron frying pan. Be sure to wear good oven mitts to prevent steam burns. (Place the loaf, with its parchment, into the dutch oven and don’t worry about the boiling water. By putting it in the dutch oven with the lid on the bread creates its own steam. Just remember to take the lid off halfway through to let it brown.)
9. Bake until bread is crusty and golden about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.