Bread Baking: Terms & Techniques

Getting into bread baking more and more involved learning a lot of gargon and (unsurprisingly) a lot of French. I found the more that I write about baking, bread, sourdough, etc I end up repeating myself or that I need to pause a train of thought to ‘decode’ paragraphs for readers.

Below is a list of the most common term and techniques I find myself explaining on IG and through articles here on the blog. If you find something is missing or you’d like more information on a term please let me know in the comments. Happy baking! -M

 

  • AP — the abbreviation for all-purpose flour
  • Autolyse — the process of mixing all the flour and water (before adding levain) that allows for more complete hydration of the starches, gluten structures to begin forming, and dough becomes more extensible
  • Banneton — bread basket used for shaping
  • Bulk Fermentation (BF) — the dough’s first proof where it ferments as one mass before you divide and shape it into loaves
  • Boule — the French word for “ball”, round loaf of bread
  • Cold Fermentation (CF) — the process of refrigeration dough to slow fermentation which creates more flavor through alpha-amylase action which converts starches to sugars (another term for “Retard”)
  • Coil Fold — a method of strengthening and developing gluten in the dough during BF
    • Lift the dough from the middle with both hands. The four fingers have to be below the dough and only the thumbs above the dough. Lift the dough until the top of the dough releases from the BF container and curls underneath. Turn the BF container 180° and repeat with the bottom (now top) of the dough, lifting from the middle with both hands until the dough releases from the BF container and curls underneath. Turn 90° and repeat with the left side. Turn 180° and repeat with the right side.
  • Elasticity — measure of how well the dough recovers its original form after being stretched (see “Poke Test”)
  • Extensibility — measure of how well the dough will stretch and achieved through a process when a naturally-occurring enzyme, called protease breaks some of the long gluten bonds (see “Windowpane Test”)
  • Float Test — test to determine if levain is ready to be baked with
    • Take a dollop of starter and lightly place it into a cup of water. The levain should easily float on top and be buoyant.
  • Gluten — the molecular structure that is responsible for trapping and holding air in your bread
    • Made up of gliadin (which gives bread the ability to rise during baking) and glutenin (which is responsible for dough’s elasticity)
  • Lamination — a gentle method used to rapidly build gluten structure after mixing and before BF
    • 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.
  • Levain — the French word for “starter”, they can be used interchangeably
  • Oven Spring — the final burst of yeast activity and gas expansion (rising) just before the crust hardens
  • Poke Test — test to determine elasticity of the dough and if it proofed and ready to be baked
    • 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.
  • Retard — the French term for “delay” and used to describe the process of refrigerating dough to slow fermentation (see “Cold Fermentation”)
  • Score / Scoring — a method of cutting 1/4-inch deep slashing into the dough to control where the steam will release and dough will expand during oven spring
  • Slap and Fold — a method of rapidly build gluten structure by lifting and throwing down the dough after mixing
    • Turn the dough out onto an unfloured surface. It will have an ununiform ‘blob’ shapelessness. Lift the dough up and throw it down repeatedly, allowing it to fold over onto itself. Repeat this for 5-7 minutes, until the dough has a more cohesive shape and holds itself together more firmly.
  • Windowpane Test — test to determine extensibility of the dough and check that gluten structure is well developed
    • 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.
  • WW — the abbreviation for whole wheat flour

 

Sourdough (Discard) Flakey Biscuits

You’ll notice in the photos that there are five biscuits, while this recipe makes six. That is because I am someone who lacks the self-control to wait until after photos to snack and, frankly, I hope that never changes.

This recipe was born of necessity. Cultivating and maintaining sourdough starter is an absolute joy. Throwing out half of it during every feed? Less so. I started saving my discard starter and using it in recipes for flavor, more than for its ‘spring’. This recipe is a melding of a few biscuit recipes I truly enjoy, but substitutes discard sourdough starter for the acidity you would typically get from buttermilk.

Having discard starter sitting in the refrigerator means that I’m always 30 minutes away from these beauties. Which also means that, if patterns hold true, my waking up about an hour before the rest of my home gives me a quiet moment of baking and solitude before he stumbles in, sees what I’ve made and excitedly whispers, “biscuits”.

 

Sourdough (Discard) Flakey Biscuits

Gather [materials]:

  • 1 mixing bowl
  • baking sheet

Gather [ingredients]:

  • 1 c all-purpose flour (+ bench flour)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt (for savory biscuits, increase to 1 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 2 tsp sugar (for savory biscuits, substitute 1/2 teaspoon black pepper)
  • 1/2 c butter (cold, unsalted)
  • 1 c sourdough starter (unfed, discard)
  • buttermilk or whole milk

 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425° and prepare a baking sheet (either lined with parchment or greased).

Sift flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar (or black pepper) until well incorporated. Breaking the butter with a fork, gently incorporate it until mixture is crumbly and not quite ‘dough-like’.

Tossing mixture with a fork, drizzle in starter and continue to mix. Add a drizzle of buttermilk or whole milk if dough is too dry.

Lightly knead dough in the bowl, careful not to over-work, until a shaggy dough forms.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently pat it into a 1″-thick square. Using a chef’s knife or bench scraper, cut the dough in half lengthwise and crosswise so you have four evenly sized squares. Stack the squares, placing scraps of dough in between layers, to form a tower, and then compress, laminating the dough. Pat into a 1″-thick rectangle and cut into six pieces using a 2×3 grid.

Place biscuits on prepared baking sheet, approximately 2 inches apart.

Freeze biscuits for 10-15 minutes if the dough has come to room temperature. If your discard was stored in the refrigerator, keeping the dough cold, skip this step.

Brush tops of biscuits with melted butter and place in oven.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until biscuit tops are golden brown and crispy to the touch. Optional: When biscuits are done, turn off oven and, with the door held ajar by a wooden spoon, leave the biscuits in oven for an additional 10 minutes to fully dry out.

Sourdough (Discard) Flakey Biscuits

  • 1 c all-purpose flour (+ bench flour)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 c butter (cold, unsalted)
  • 1 c sourdough starter (unfed, discard)
  • buttermilk or whole milk
  1. Preheat oven to 425° and prepare a baking sheet (either lined with parchment or greased).

  2. Sift flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar (or black pepper) until well incorporated. Breaking the butter with a fork, gently incorporate it until mixture is crumbly and not quite 'dough-like'.

  3. Tossing mixture with a fork, drizzle in starter and continue to mix. Add a drizzle of buttermilk or whole milk if dough is too dry.

  4. Lightly knead dough in the bowl, careful not to over-work, until a shaggy dough forms.

  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently pat it into a 1"-thick square. Using a chef's knife or bench scraper, cut the dough in half lengthwise and crosswise so you have four evenly sized squares. Stack the squares, placing scraps of dough in between layers, to form a tower, and then compress, laminating the dough. Pat into a 1"-thick rectangle and cut into six pieces using a 2×3 grid.

  6. Place biscuits on prepared baking sheet, approximately 2 inches apart.

  7. Freeze biscuits for 10-15 minutes if the dough has come to room temperature. If your discard was stored in the refrigerator, keeping the dough cold, skip this step.

  8. Brush tops of biscuits with melted butter and place in oven.

  9. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until biscuit tops are golden brown and crispy to the touch. Optional: When biscuits are done, turn off oven and, with the door held ajar by a wooden spoon, leave the biscuits in oven for an additional 10 minutes to fully dry out.

For savory biscuits, substitute 1/2 teaspoon black pepper for sugar and increase salt to 1 1/2 teaspoons.

 

On Why: Sourdough Starter Issues & FAQs

 

Several weeks ago I posted this article, to better familiarize you all with starters and *hopefully* show that creating and owning a starter is fun, rewarding, and not nearly as difficult as it may seem at face value. Since posting I’ve been getting a lot of troubleshooting questions on Instagram and I wanted to put all the answers in one place to make life a little easier for you all. If you have a question that isn’t answered below drop it in the comments or shoot me a note on IG and I’ll get it added for you!

A few things to note:

  • A mature sourdough starter is a workhorse. It will be difficult to kill and easier to revive. I have forgotten my starter for over a month and brought it back to peak activity in a handful of feedings.
  • If you see any orange or pink streaks or tinges to your starter throw it out.
  • If you see mold, throw it out.

 

‘Nothing is happening.’

Your starter is like a toddler. It’s developing and hitting milestones at its own rate. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, but there are common factors: time, temperature, flour type, flour to water ratio, frequency.

Unless you have subjected your starter to very high (think oven) temperatures, something is happening. If you have an immature starter or have recently increased feeds it may seem like your starter isn’t doing anything,  but this is simply because your starter needs to catch up to the amount of food available. Keep your starter in a warm place (cold will slow down the yeast) and skip feeding for a few days. Wait until there is a little water separated on top (a sign your starter is hungry) and give it a small feeding: 50 g starter, 50 g flour, 50 g water. Wait until it shows signs of activity before feeding again.

 

‘Do I need to add sugar to reactive my starter?’

Adding sugar to a starter is a big ‘no-no’ within the sourdough community. Because a starter is a SCOBY, or a Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeast, you want to be sure you don’t add in an additional factor that could upset that balance. Sugar will alter the acidity of your starter and could result in a microbial imbalance. The beauty of a starter is this unadulterated, natural leavening agent. Adding sugar to rush the process is counterproductive in the long-term. (This goes for adding commercial yeast or honey as well).

 

‘My starter smells weird…’

Your starter is fermenting, it will smell a little different than most of what’s in your kitchen. There are very few ‘red flag’ smells when it comes to starters. If it smells acidic, vinegary, like acetone, or sweaty, your starter needs to be fed. This happens to my fridge starters if I forget to feed them for 2-3 weeks. I put it on a regular feeding schedule (once a day) for 3-4 days until it starts smelling like its normal self: fresh, fruity, yeasty.

 

‘What should I store my starter in?’

A glass jar (my personal favorite), food-safe plastic, or a crock are the most popular options. Personally, I love a glass jar because it makes seeing the activity much easier as you can see bubbles forming on the sides.

 

‘Does it need to be stored in an airtight jar?’

Airtight or not is a personal preference. Personally, because a starter is an active community of wild yeast and bacteria in the air, I like to leave the jar loosely covered when it’s on the counter. When I’m long-term storing my starter in the fridge I will screw the lid on completely.

 

‘My starter has dark brown liquid on top of it. Is it dead?’

Nope! It’s just hungry. Hooch, that dark brown liquid (sometimes grey or black), is an indicator that your starter needs to be fed. Pour the hooch off and feed the starter as you normally would.

 

‘What do I do if there’s mold in my starter?’

You throw it out and start over. We don’t mess around with mold. Mold can have microscopic threads that weave throughout your entire jar of starter, meaning that just because you scrape out what you can see doesn’t mean that the mold is gone.

 

‘Can I feed my starter gluten-free flour?’

No. Unless you have a GF starter you will need to feed it flour that contains gluten. A good rule of thumb is to feed your starter what it’s origin flour is. This is a rule you can definitely break, but most sourdough enthusiasts (myself included) suggest keeping the feeding flour the same.

 

‘My starter was super active, but now it seems like nothing is happening.’

With a new starter, there is an adjustment period around the time that you begin two-a-day feeds, in order to mature it. As long as you are discarding half the starter with each feeding you are developing the yeast in your starter (it may just take a few days to see activity). Don’t be discouraged! Patience in the name of the game.

 

 

Sourdough (Discard) Date & Walnut Bread

Today is Day 23 of self-quarantining amid Covid-19 and I am going stir crazy. I’ve found that the only thing that is keeping me a little on the ‘zen’ side of things is consistent time journaling and consistent time in my kitchen. While exploring a different style of bread baking and attempting to quell a friend’s unending date craving I came up with this recipe.

The result is a very tender, lightly sweetened loaf that goes perfect with a cup of coffee in the morning. Lightly toast your slice before slathering in butter and thank me later.

 

Sourdough (Discard) Date & Walnut Bread

Gather [materials]:

  • 1 mixing bowl (large)
  • 1 mixing bowl (medium)
  • 9×5″ loaf pan

Gather [ingredients]:

  • 1 1/2 c white wheat flour
  • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 c sourdough starter (unfed, discard)
  • 1/2 c buttermilk
  • 1/2 c butter (melted)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 c water
  • 1/2 c walnuts (chopped)
  • 1 c dates (chopped)

 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350° and grease a 9×5″ loaf pan.

In a large bowl, sift the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

In a medium bowl, mix starter, buttermilk, butter, and eggs.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry, stirring just until the mixture is evenly combined (mixture will be very dough-like) and add in the water to fully hydrate. Stir in the walnuts and dates.

Pour the dough into the prepared baking pan.

Bake for 65-70 minutes, until the top has slightly browned and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. After 45 minutes, if the bread begins to brown too quickly, tent foil over top.

Allow bread to cool for 15 minutes on a wire rack before turning out of the pan. Wait for bread to cool completely before slicing.

Sourdough (Discard) Date & Walnut Loaf

  • 1 1/2 c white, wheat flour
  • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 c sourdough starter (unfed, discard)
  • 1/2 c buttermilk
  • 1/2 c butter (melted)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 c water
  • 1/2 c walnuts (chopped)
  • 1 c dates (chopped)
  1. Preheat oven to 350° and grease a 9×5″ loaf pan.

  2. In a large bowl, sift the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

  3. In a medium bowl, mix starter, buttermilk, butter, and eggs.

  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, stirring just until the mixture is evenly combined (mixture will be very dough-like) and add in the water to fully hydrate. Stir in the walnuts and dates.

  5. Pour the dough into the prepared baking pan.

  6. Bake for 65-70 minutes, until the top has slightly browned and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. After 45 minutes, if the bread begins to brown too quickly, tent foil over top.

  7. Allow bread to cool for 15 minutes on a wire rack before turning out of the pan. Wait for bread to cool completely before slicing.

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).

make believe: neighborly love

beautifully baked pumpkin muffins + one egg {borrowed}

 

9:48 PM {my neighbor} Hiiii, can I bother you for one egg? 

9:49 PM {me} Yes, of course!

9:50 PM {my neighbor} Thank you! Knocking now 🙂

 

My mother was always an avid baker. She would buy two large bunches of bananas, knowing that one would brown before our family of seven could devour it, and bake several loaves of chocolate-chip banana bread. She would then carefully wrap each loaf and dispatch all five of her kids, bread in hand, to the neighbors for a delivery. There was never an expected repayment, though there often was. It was the nature of growing up in a small town with close neighbors. Neighbors that blur the line between a friend and family. I have to think that much of that connection was born of my mother’s generosity and love of sharing something made from scratch.

This specialness is something I always wanted to foster in my neighborhood. During my senior year of college I lived in the freshman dorms (I spent half my time off-campus in DC and thrifty as always opted for a cheaper single room than an apartment) and became the “big sister” of our hall. I helped girls dye their hair, talked them through rough relationships, and had a revolving door of young women hanging out, studying, and chatting about life. Moving to college post-college I lived in a house in a diplomatic neighborhood. We watched our neighbor’s homes when they traveled, received honey from their backyard beehive, knew their dogs, and sent muffin baskets to each other.

Moving to NYC in 2019 made me a little nervous. Was I going to lose this loving neighborhood relationship? Was I going to even know my neighbors? Life beautifully gave me a very special next-door neighbor. We’ve developed a very special bond over soup deliveries, borrowed eggs, and moments chatting in a stairwell. With a population of 8.6 million, it’s amazing how lonely this city can feel at times and having someone next door to water your plants, chat with, or dote on can be a very special feeling.

 

A few bits to help you shape a beautiful moment:

this basket for filling with small treats to share with anyone walking by.

a simple knock and introduction.

offering to walk their dog for them on nights they need to work late.

a handwritten note for the holidays.

leave them a special May Day basket this spring.

host an overdue housewarming party.