Friday, May 27, 2011

Sourdough II: The loaf lives

So, you've cultivated some yeast and now you want to make some sourdough? Well, be careful. Lots of people seem to hate bread called sourdough, so call it naturally leavened bread or something like that. Your bread will be very sour if you let it rise very slowly at a low temperature, but barely sour otherwise, and your deceit will surely go unnoticed. (For example, I have no idea which of my local bakery's breads are sourdough and which aren't. You have to look on the ingredient list and check if yeast is listed to know.)

I've cobbled this bread recipe together from a few sources, including Sandor Ellix Katz, Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking, and a bread seminar I took one weekend in college. (Yes, I took a bread seminar. It was during passover, too.) I use about 75% white bread flour, 20% whole wheat bread flour, and 5% rye. In the recipe, I've just written flour.

This recipe is for two large loaves. After step 2, I take half the dough and put it in the refrigerator. Then I take it out a few days later, let it come to room temperature for a few hours, and bake it.

There are three basic steps. Here's quick summary:

  1. Mix up a preferment of starter, flour, and water, and let it sit overnight. This is supposed to give the yeast a chance to multiply and to give a deeper, fermented taste.
  2. The next day, combine the preferment with more flour and water and some salt. Knead and let rise.
  3. Form a loaf and bake.

Step 1

  • 1 cup starter
  • 240g (1 1/2 cups) flour
  • 40g (scant 3 tbs) water

Mix up the starter, flour, and water. Cover and leave overnight, or however long is convenient. This is your preferment.

Step 2

  • 840g (5 1/4 cups) flour
  • 445g (scant 2 cups) water
  • 1 tbs salt

Mix up the flour and water in a separate bowl. It might be a bit too dry to quite come together. Let this sit for thirty minutes. This supposedly helps break down some of the gluten, which makes it easier for it to reform itself in a grid.

Mix in the preferment and the salt. With your hands, combine everything and start kneading. It will be really sticky at first, but don't give up and don't add any flour. After a few minutes of kneading it should start to feel a lot less wet. Knead it for maybe ten or fifteen minutes, after which the dough should be pretty and smooth. (I might even try to make the dough a little bit wetter next time.) Form a ball, put it down, and cover.

Now you want to let the dough rise. Instead of punching down the dough at any point, which the experts seem to frown upon, do something called turning: pick up the dough, gently stretch it out a little bit, then make a ball by folding the four sides up towards the center. Then flip the dough over and put it back down. After you've done this, the dough will magically seem smoother and more dough-like, more capable of stretching without tearing. I think it's ideal to do this a three or four times as the dough rises, but I'm always away when this is happening, so instead I usually just do it once at the beginning, 15-30 minutes after I stopped kneading and started to let the dough rise. You could also try doing it at the end, thirty minutes before you want to shape the dough.

Dough that has risen.

Step 3

How long you let the dough rise probably depends on the temperature. My best loaf happened when I kneaded in the morning, let the dough rise during the day, and baked it in the evening. So, try something like eight hours of rising, maybe more if your apartment is colder than 68 degrees and less if it's warmer. But you should probably just do whatever is convenient for you, since that's what I did, and it seems to work okay.

When you're done with the rise, cut the ball of dough in half. Put half in the fridge, unless you want to bake a huge amount of bread, and form the other half into a ball. Let this sit for an hour, and while your dough is resting, turn your oven to 450 degrees and put a dutch oven in to heat up for 20 or 30 minutes. When you're ready to bake the bread, take the dutch oven out and sprinkle it with coarse corn meal. Form the loaf into a ball and put it in. Sprinkle flour on top, and slash very shallowly with a knife in whatever pattern you'd like. Bake with the lid on for 35 minutes, and then off for 15-20 minutes. Remove the bread and let cool.

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