Sourdough Bread 101

 

“Any kitchen can become an ecosystem. If you bake a lot, your kitchen will become a happy home to wild yeasts, and all your bread will taste better. Even a failed loaf is not wasted.”

Erin Bow

 

Late December 2019, I decided to take steps toward the life I want to pass down to my children. I started in the simplest way I could think, which at the time also seemed to be the most daunting, because, while making starter turned out to be relatively easy the question then became: What are you going to do with all this starter?

I baked my first loaves on the first day of the new decade. If I ever have to trace back when I got hooked on all things fermentation, sourdough, and wild yeast, all signs would point to 1 January 2020. The labor, the accomplishment, the smell, and the feeling of producing something nourishing for my family of two was the ‘had me at hello’ moment and I haven’t looked back.

Since then, sourdough has permeated my life, taking the form of pancakes, cinnamon rolls, and even face masks. Sourdough is an incredibly important, living legacy to me, and baking it is not as hard as it would seem…

 

MAKE YOUR OWN SOURDOUGH STARTER

 

 

Sourdough Loaf

Gather [materials]:

  • kitchen scale that measures in grams and ounces
  • mixing bowl (4 QT)
  • clean kitchen towels
  • parchment paper
  • bread baskets or bannetons
  • lame or sharp razor blade
  • dutch oven

[show_shopthepost_widget id=”3956394″]

Gather [ingredients]:

  • 750 g white bread flour
  • 250 g whole wheat flour (optional: replace 100 g of whole wheat flour with spelt flour)
  • 175 g fed, ripe sourdough starter
  • 800 g water
  • 20 g salt (non-iodine)

[show_shopthepost_widget id=”3956391″]

 

Instructions:

Starter: Feed your starter 4-6 hours prior to beginning your autolyse. The starter should be doubled in size before using and pass the ‘float test’.

For the float test take a dollop of starter and lightly place it into a cup of water. The starter should easily float on top and be buoyant. This is your indication that the starter is ready to be used. With practice, you’ll be able to time this ‘readiness’ with the ending of your autolyse.

Autolyse: Approximately 1-2 hours before your starter is ready to be used mix all of your flour (1000 g) with 750 g of water in a large bowl. The water should be lukewarm to the touch. If you dip your fingers in the water and cannot detect it being hot or cold it is the right temperature (the same temperature as you). This is a process that will cut down on ‘knead’ time later and allow your dough to fully hydrate and gluten structures to begin forming. Cover with a clean towel and set aside until the starter passes the float test (approximately 6-8 hours after it was fed).

Mix the dough: Prepare a plastic or glass bowl / box for bulk fermentation by lining it in neutral oil. Set aside. Pour 175 g of ripe starter (that passes the float test) over your autolyse. Using your thumb and first finger ‘pinch’ the starter into the autolyse to form your dough. When the starter is fully incorporated sprinkle salt and the remaining 50 g of water over the dough and begin mixing. To mix effectively run your hand along the outer rim of the bowl and fold in toward the center until all the water is incorporated. The dough will be wet and elastic.

Lamination (optional): Gently stretch the dough over the counter (being careful to stretch from the center of the dough and not the edge to avoid tearing). The result should be a large rectangle. Fold the left side in two-third across the dough. Fold the right side over it to make one skinny rectangle, with the dough tripled over itself. Beginning at the top fold down approximately halfway and repeat until the dough had become bundled.

Bulk Fermentation (BF): Once the dough is holding its shape, transfer it into your prepped BF container. Cover and set in a warm place. After 30 minutes uncover the dough and stretch it. For a bowl, using a wet or oiled hand reach down the side and under the dough. Gather it gentle and pull, stretching the dough up and over itself, ending in the center of the bowl. Rotate the bowl 45° and repeat, until you are back where you started. Recover and set aside. For a box, starting at the top of the box and using wet or oiled hands reach underneath the dough from each side until fingertips are touching. Gently lift that section of the dough, allow it to hang for a moment and then fold it forward over itself. Move 1-2 inches down the box and repeat. This will create a ruffle pattern as you go. Recover and set aside. Stretch the dough every 30-45 minutes until it passes the poke test and windowpane test (approximately 3-4 hours).

The poke test indicates that the dough is proofed and ready. Using an oiled finger gentle press into the dough. The dough should spring back, but leave an indentation. If the dough springs back completely the dough is not proof enough. If the dough does not spring back the dough is over-proofed.

For the windowpane test take a small piece of dough and stretch it between your thumb and first finger. The dough should hold its form and create a sheer ‘windowpane’. If the dough tears the gluten structure is not strong enough and it will need more stretching.

Pre-shaping the dough: Once the dough is passing the poke and windowpane test gently turn it out onto a clean, unfloured surface allowing the weight of the dough to do the work and being careful not to knock the air out of the dough. Striking with confidence, divide the dough in half using either a bench scraper or knife. Using your hands or a bench scraper lightly shape each dough ball into a circle. Cover with a clean towel and let the dough rest for 15-20 minutes.

Shaping the dough: Option 1, flour directly in front of the dough and flip the dough away from you (onto the flour). Tug out the top of the dough and fold it onto itself. Repeat with the side and bottom. Cup dough and gently pull it toward you, creating a neat loaf with tension across the top. Allow the dough to rest, seam-side down, for 10 minutes. Place the dough into a floured and prepared banneton, seam-side up. Flour the exposed dough, cover with a clean towel (to catch condensation), and bee’s wrap or single-use plastic (to keep out air). Place into the fridge. Option 2, using the outer edge of lightly flour hands circle the dough, gently tucking it under itself with the rotation, to form a tight, round boule. Allow the dough to rest, seam-side down, for 10 minutes. Place the dough into a floured and prepared banneton, seam-side up. Flour the exposed dough, cover with a clean towel (to catch condensation), and bee’s wrap or single-use plastic (to keep out air). Place into the fridge.

Cold Fermentation: Allow the dough to cold ferment for at least 12 hours and for as long as 72 hours. CF is where the tang of sourdough really shines, so you don’t want to rush this step. Time = Flavor.

 

open spring after 20m covered

 

Prepping your dough for baking: Preheat your oven as high is it will go (500°) and place your dutch oven into the bottom of the oven. Leave for one hour. Cut a parchment round the approximate size of your dough, adding a small radius to give you a ‘handle’ for moving the dough later. Once the oven is up to temperature (after an hour) turn the dough out onto the parchment paper. Flour liberally and rub the flour into the dough. This will give a smooth contrast to your scores after the bread is baked. Using the corner of a lame or a sharp razor blade score deeply into the loaf (1/4 to 1/2 inch), cutting through the surface tension. During the bake your dough will rise, expand, and release steam. Without scoring the steam will bust through the weakest part of your dough (typically the sides).

Baking: Lift the dough (by the parchment paper handles) into the dutch oven. Cover and bake for 20 minutes with the lid on. This will create steam that keeps that outer edge of the bread from setting too quickly. If the outer edge sets too quickly it will inhibit the oven spring, resulting in a dense crumb. Oven spring final burst of yeast activity and gas expansion (rising) just before the crust hardens. Uncover and bake until the top is deep golden and the bottom knocks hollow (approximately 40 minutes).

 

 

Sourdough Loaf

  • 750 g white bread flour
  • 250 g whole wheat flour ((optional: replace 100 g of whole wheat flour with spelt flour))
  • 175 g sourdough starter (fed, ripe)
  • 800 g water (lukewarm)
  • 20 g salt (non-iodine)

Starter

  1. Feed your starter 4-6 hours prior to beginning your autolyse. The starter should be doubled in size before using and pass the 'float test'.

  2. For the float test take a dollop of starter and lightly place it into a cup of water. The starter should easily float on top and be buoyant. This is your indication that the starter is ready to be used. With practice, you'll be able to time this 'readiness' with the ending of your autolyse.

Autolyse

  1. Approximately 1-2 hours before your starter is ready to be used mix all of your flour (1000 g) with 750 g of water in a large bowl. The water should be lukewarm to the touch. If you dip your fingers in the water and cannot detect it being hot or cold it is the right temperature (the same temperature as you). 

  2. This is a process that will cut down on ‘knead’ time later and allow your dough to fully hydrate and gluten structures to begin forming. Cover with a clean towel and set aside until the starter passes the float test (approximately 6-8 hours after it was fed).

Mix the dough

  1. Prepare a plastic or glass bowl for bulk fermentation by lining it in a neutral oil. Set aside.

  2. Pour 175 g of ripe starter (that passes the float test) over your autolyse. Using your thumb and first finger 'pinch' the starter into the autolyse to form your dough.

  3. When the starter is fully incorporated sprinkle salt and the remaining 50 g of water over the dough and begin mixing. To mix effectively run your hand along the outer rim of the bowl and fold in toward the center until all the water is incorporated.

  4. The dough wil be wet and elastic.

Lamination (optional)

  1. Gently stretch the dough over the counter (being careful to stretch from the center of the dough and not the edge to avoid tearing). The result should be a large rectangle. Fold the left side in two-third across the dough. Fold the right side over it to make one skinny rectangle, with the dough tripled over itself. Beginning at the top fold down approximately halfway and repeat until the dough had become bundled.

Bulk Fermentation (BF)

  1. Once the dough is holding its shape, transfer it into your prepped BF container. Cover and set in a warm place. After 30 minutes uncover the dough and stretch it.

  2. For a bowl, using a wet or oiled hand reach down the side and under the dough. Gather it gentle and pull, stretching the dough up and over itself, ending in the center of the bowl. Rotate the bowl 45° and repeat, until you are back where you started. Recover and set aside.

  3. For a box, starting at the top of the box and using wet or oiled hands reach underneath the dough from each side until fingertips are touching. Gently lift that section of the dough, allow it to hang for a moment and then fold it forward over itself. Move 1-2 inches down the box and repeat. This will create a ruffle pattern as you go. Recover and set aside.

  4. Stretch the dough every 30-45 minutes until it passes the poke test and windowpane test (approximately 3-4 hours). 

  5. The poke test indicates that the dough is proofed and ready. Using an oiled finger gentle press into the dough. The dough should spring back, but leave an indentation. If the dough springs back completely the dough is not proof enough. If the dough does not spring back the dough is overproofed.

  6. For the windowpane test take a small piece of dough and stretch it between your thumb and first finger. The dough should hold its form and create a sheer 'windowpane'. If the dough tears the gluten structure is not strong enough and it will need more stretching.

Pre-shaping the dough

  1. Once the dough is passing the poke and windowpane test gently turn it out onto a clean, unfloured surface allowing the weight of the dough to do the work and being careful not to knock the air out of the dough.

  2. Striking with confidence, divide the dough in half using either a bench scraper or knife. Using your hands or a bench scraper lightly shape each dough ball into a circle.

  3. Cover with a clean towel and let the dough rest for 15-20 minutes.

Shaping the dough

  1. Option 1, flour directly in front of the dough and flip the dough away from you (onto the flour). Tug out the top of the dough and fold it onto itself. Repeat with the side and bottom. Cup dough and gently pull it toward you, creating a neat loaf with tension across the top. Allow the dough to rest, seam-side down, for 10 minutes. Place the dough into a floured and prepared banneton, seam-side up. Flour the exposed dough, cover with a clean towel (to catch condensation), and bee's wrap or single-use plastic (to keep out air). Place into the fridge.

  2. Option 2, using the outer edge of lightly flour hands circle the dough, gently tucking it under itself with the rotation, to form a tight, round boule. Allow the dough to rest, seam-side down, for 10 minutes. Place the dough into a floured and prepared banneton, seam-side up. Flour the exposed dough, cover with a clean towel (to catch condensation), and bee's wrap or single-use plastic (to keep out air). Place into the fridge.

Cold Fermentation

  1. Allow the dough to cold ferment for at least 12 hours and for as long as 72 hours. CF is where the tang of sourdough really shines, so you don't want to rush this step. Time = Flavor.

Prepping your dough for baking

  1. Preheat your oven as high is it will go (500°) and place your dutch oven into the bottom of the oven. Leave for one hour. Cut a parchment round the approximate size of your dough, adding a small radius to give you a 'handle' for moving the dough later.

  2. Once the oven is up to temperature (after an hour) turn the dough out onto the parchment paper. Flour liberally and rub the flour into the dough. This will give a smooth contrast to your scores after the bread is baked.

  3. Using the corner of a lame or a sharp razor blade score deeply into the loaf (1/4 to 1/2 inch), cutting through the surface tension.

Baking

  1. Lift the dough (by the parchment paper handles) into the dutch over. Cover and bake for 20 minutes with the lid on. This will create steam that keeps that outer edge of the bread from setting too quickly. If the outer edge sets too quickly it will inhibit the oven spring, resulting in a dense crumb. Oven spring final burst of yeast activity and gas expansion (rising) just before the crust hardens.

  2. Uncover and bake until the top is deep golden and the bottom knocks hollow (approximately 40 minutes).

How To: Make Your Own Sourdough Starter

 

Up until a few months ago, I had the same thoughts about sourdough starter that you probably do. I thought it was too hard to make. That it would be impossible to get the same, high quality sour from my ‘few months old’ starter when compared to a 100-year-old starter. That it would be a high maintenance project that I probably wouldn’t get much use out of in the long run.

Then I found this article that completely changed my point of view and had me eagerly fermenting things on my kitchen counter. After creating both a high-tang wheat starter and a milder ‘all-purpose’ white starter and maintaining them for several months I’ve found a relatively easy and straightforward way to create your dream starter and begin a baking legacy to pass down, generation to generation.

Something to note: A new starter is like a child, it needs supervision. If you are headed out of town in the week put off your starter genesis until you return.

 

HAVING STARTER ISSUES?

 

 

Sourdough Starter

Gather [materials]:

  • 1 kitchen scale that measures in grams and ounces

Gather [ingredients]:

  • 1 lb wheat flour or bread flour
  • 32 oz glass jar for storing your new starter

[show_shopthepost_widget id=”3955297″]

 

Instructions:
Day 1: Combine 115 g of flour with 115 g of room temp water in a glass or food-grade plastic container. A 32 oz jar is perfect for this as it allows space for the starter to grow. Mix thoroughly to fully hydrate the flour, cover (screw lid on a half-turn shy of tight to ensure gas can escape), and place in a warm spot in your home (anywhere around 70-75°). If you live in NYC the hot pipe in your bathroom is the perfect place. Leave it alone for 24 hours.

Day 2: The first 24 hours may have no or a little visible activity (wheat starters will be more active after the first 24 when compared to bread flour starters). Regardless, pour 4 oz of starter into a small mixing bowl (glass or food-grade plastic) and discard the rest. Add in 115 g of water (cool if your home is warm, lukewarm if your home is cool) and 115 g of flour. Mix thoroughly, cover, and leave it alone for 24 hours.

Day 3: This is when you’ll definitely begin to see some activity. The starter will be bubbling, fresh-smelling (slightly bread-like), and you will see that it has grown in size. (If this does not happen on Day 3 repeat the instructions from Day 2). Once this happens you will begin feeding the starter twice a day. Each feeding will be 4 oz of starter (discard excess), 115 g of water, and 115 g of flour. Mix thoroughly, cover, and leave it alone for 12 hours. Do this twice daily for the next two days.

Day 5: By the end of Day 5 the starter should have doubled in size. There will be lots of bubbles in varying sizes and rivulets across the top. The starter itself should have taken on the classic sourdough tang, slightly acidic, but not overpowering. If it is not doubling in size or showing lots of bubbles (read: activity) continue the process of discarding and feeding twice daily until the starter will double in size in approximately 6 hours.

 

Once the starter is doubling in size within 6 hours it is ready to use!

To use your starter, feed as you normally would (4 oz starter, 115 g water, 115 g flour) approximately 6-8 hours before you intend to use it.

To store, feed as you normally would (4 oz starter, 115 g water, 115 g flour) and allow it about 3-4 hours to rise at room temperature before placing it into the refrigerator. Feed once weekly, allowing it to sit at room temperature before returning to the fridge, to keep the starter active.

 

 

Sourdough Starter

  • 115 g flour (whole wheat flour or bread flour)
  • 115 g water
  1. Day 1: Combine 115 g of flour with 115 g of room temp water in a glass or food-grade plastic container. A 32 oz jar is perfect for this as it allows space for the starter to grow. Mix thoroughly to fully hydrate the flour, cover (screw lid on a half-turn shy of tight to ensure gas can escape), and place in a warm spot in your home (anywhere around 70-75°). If you live in NYC the hot pipe in your bathroom is the perfect place. Leave it alone for 24 hours.

  2. Day 2: The first 24 hours may have no or a little visible activity (wheat starters will be more active after the first 24 when compared to bread flour starters). Regardless, pour 4 oz of starter into a small mixing bowl (glass or food-grade plastic) and discard the rest. Add in 115 g of water (cool if your home is warm, lukewarm if your home is cool) and 115 g of flour. Mix thoroughly, cover, and leave it alone for 24 hours.

  3. Day 3: This is when you’ll definitely begin to see some activity. The starter will be bubbling, fresh-smelling (slightly bread-like), and you will see that it has grown in size. (If this does not happen on Day 3 repeat the instructions from Day 2). Once this happens you will begin feeding the starter twice a day. Each feeding will be 4 oz of starter (discard excess), 115 g of water, and 115 g of flour. Mix thoroughly, cover, and leave it alone for 12 hours. Do this twice daily for the next two days.

  4. Day 5: By the end of Day 5 the starter should have doubled in size. There will be lots of bubbles in varying sizes and rivulets across the top. The starter itself should have taken on the classic sourdough tang, slightly acidic, but not overpowering. If it is not doubling in size or showing lots of bubbles (read: activity) continue the process of discarding and feeding twice daily until the starter will double in size in approximately 6 hours.

Once the starter is doubling in size within 6 hours it is ready to use!

To use your starter, feed as you normally would (4 oz starter, 115 g water, 115 g flour) approximately 6-8 hours before you intend to use it.

To store, feed as you normally would (4 oz starter, 115 g water, 115 g flour) and allow it about 3-4 hours to rise at room temperature before placing it into the refridgerator. Feed once weekly, allowing it to sit at room temperature before returning to the fridge, to keep the starter active.

Weekly Loaf

 

Grams & Percentages

  • 1000 g flour (750 g bread, 200 WW, 50 g spelt)
  • 780 g water (78% hydration)
  • 175 g levain (17.5% inoculation)
  • 20 g salt (2%)

 

Timeline

  • 3:00h autolyse
  • 7m slap & fold
  • coil fold, every 45-60m
  • 6:00h bulk fermentation
  • both loaves  — 12h retard
  • bake (20m on, 45m off)

 

Notes

  • Starter was very active — doubled in 3:30h
  • Best flavored loaves to date (very active starter)
  • Incredibly even crumb, even though it was slightly closer than I would have preferred (potentially from the slap & fold?)

 

 

 

Weekly Loaf

 

Grams & Percentages

  • 1000 g flour (750 g bread, 250 WW)
  • 800 g water (80% hydration)
  • 250 g levain (25% inoculation)
  • 20 g salt (2%)

 

Timeline

  • 0:30h autolyse
  • 5m slap & fold
  • coil fold, every 20m
  • 4:00h bulk fermentation
  • Loaf A — no retard, baked immediately
  • Loaf B — 24h retard
  • bake (15m on, 50m off)

 

Notes

  • Both loaves had overall good crust, color, crumb
  • Loaf B [in photos] developed more flavor throughout the 24h retard