Sourdough So Simple A Spartan Could Make It
There are still a few months until Michigan’s football season (83 days to be exact, not that I’m counting) kicks off so instead of Football Saturdays over the summer I have Sourdough Saturdays. For all you need to know about sourdough starters (including how to get one and take care of it), see my previous post. I must say I’m feeling fairly alliterative today.
I feed my sourdough starter usually on Friday night or Saturday morning which gives me time to make a delicious loaf over the weekend and also a sizable mountain of sourdough pancakes or waffles. From my own experience as well as recommendations from professional bakers, it is best to bake with a “fresh” starter, meaning one that has been refreshed recently (within the last day if possible). To make sure it is active you can leave it out at room temperature the night before you bake.
It is also worth noting that this recipe requires 500 grams of starter which may be close to all of what you have. This is easily solved by either reducing the recipe or (and what I’d recommend), just feeding your starter more than usual to increase the amount available. For example, when I normally feed my starter I add 1 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water. If I’m getting ready to bake a loaf I add double of each.
If you’ve baked bread before or read any of my other posts you’ll have noticed that the #1 thing required is patience. I can’t stress enough that despite whatever misconceptions people have about making sourdough it is not that difficult.
There is not much more work involved than any normal round loaf and sourdough has an out of control ratio for total time to work involved. The recipe below takes around 18-20 hours depending on proofing times but involves maybe 30 minutes of you handling any ingredients/finished product.
All that time you spend waiting around is completely worth the finished product. What I’ve made here is a very basic sourdough loaf that can be easily modified depending on your tastes (I’ll be trying out a roasted garlic and basil sourdough soon). Ok, enough of the chit chat, let’s get baking. This recipe was adapted from one by Jacob Burton at Stella Culinary.
The night before you plan to bake refresh your starter. This means removing about a cup (which you can set aside and use for pancakes!) and refreshing with 2 cups of flour (AP or Bread) and 1 cup water. Make sure everything is well mixed and cover with plastic wrap. Let it sit overnight at room temperature. You’ll notice when you wake up that it has bubbled nicely (see below the difference between directly after feeding and 12 hours later).
Note that for this recipe I’m using grams for measuring ingredients instead of cups. Depending on how you refresh your sourdough it may have a different density and the amount in a cup could vary greatly. By using mass instead you get a more accurate recipe. Similarly, depending on how you measure a cup of flour (scooping vs. spooning in the flour) you may get surprisingly different amounts. You can get a kitchen scale pretty cheaply but know that for flour 1 cup is roughly 125 grams.
The following morning mix 500 grams of your starter with 275 grams (just a little more than a cup) of water. Stir together to make sure the starter is evenly distributed.
Add in 400 grams of bread flour and 100 grams of wheat flour. If you don’t like wheat bread or don’t have the flour it’s not necessary, as long as there is 500 grams total.
Mix it up but don’t knead it completely. Once it looks like all of the flour has been incorporated and hydrated, stop mixing! You are going to leave it and for 30 minutes. This process is called autolysing, wherein you just mix your water/flour before adding in the remaining ingredients.
It allows the flour more time to hydrate fully and helps develop the structure of your bread down the line.
Once that half hour is up add in 20 grams of salt (this will seem like a lot), and use your hands to make sure it is evenly distributed. This is a very wet dough, so don’t be surprised if you have trouble handling it.
Now, because it is so wet (about 70% hydration, meaning the ratio of water to flour) that makes it harder to knead. You can knead using a ‘slap and fold’ method. If you have a clean work counter you can, while holding on to the dough, throw it at counter (from only a few inches high) and then fold the part your are holding over the remaining dough. This isn’t a very easy process to describe, so see this video for a visual demonstration.
If you are in my situation you have no stable work surface you would dare do this on (I have a wooden kitchen table in desperate need of resealing and a stovetop). I’ve developed what I call the accordion method for kneading this bread and have found it works quite well and gives you a great arm workout. Embrace the stickiness of the dough and grab it with both hands. Just like you would play an accordion, move your arms in and out, rotating the dough when your hands come in. Every time I’ve done this all I can think of is Brand from The Goonies.
After about five minutes the dough should be nicely kneaded.
Lightly flour your hands/work surface and form the dough into a ball shape (as much as it will hold it). Place in a lightly greased bowl and let it rise until doubled. This should be able 3 hours.
After the rise turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and work it into a round shape once more. If it doesn’t hold it just let it rest 10 minutes between each stretch/fold. Place in a floured proofing basket (or just a reasonably sized bowl if you don’t have one) and let rise another 2-3 hours (again, until roughly doubled in size).
At least 45 minutes before you want to bake place a dutch oven with the lid on in the oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Once the bread is ready and the oven is hot, carefully drop your risen bread into the pot. I find it is easiest to transfer directly from what it rose in rather than handling it more than necessary. Score your loaf and place the lid back on and bake at 500 degrees for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes remove the lid and turn your oven down to 450 degrees. Bake until the loaf is nice and dark brown, about 30 minutes. You will need at least 25 minutes to fully bake the inside of the bread, so if it appears to brown to quickly turn the oven down to 425.
Remove from the oven and transfer onto a cooling rack. It will need 2 hours to cool fully and I recommend, as hard as it may be, to wait the full time. Slicing into it fresh out of the oven will cause the crust to become incredibly soft and that is something you want to avoid. This will keep for about a week in a ziploc bag at room temperature, if you don’t eat it all before!
Whole Wheat Sourdough Boule
- 500 grams sourdough starter
- 275 grams water
- 400 grams bread flour
- 100 grams wheat flour
- 20 grams salt
Mix 500 grams active starter with 275 grams water. Mix well and add in both flours. Incorporate flour completely and let sit for 30 minutes (autolyse).
Following autolyse add 20 grams salt and knead using slap/fold method or ‘accordion’ method. Shape into ball and bulk ferment for 3-4 hours or until doubled in size.
Using stretch/fold method and being careful not to degas the dough, shape into round. Ferment in proofing basket for floured bowl for 2-3 hours, again until doubled in size.
Place covered dutch oven in oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Place risen loaf into oven (seam side down) and cover, allowing to bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes remove lid and continue baking for 25-30 minutes at 450 degrees. Bake until loaf is dark brown. Let cool 2 hours before slicing.
Recipe courtesy of Jacob Burton at Stella Culinary.