Sourdough Bread, Rise to the Occasion
I have been sitting on this blog post trying to pair it with an instructional video that I made to go along with it but I have decided to let this one fly and follow up with the video when I am done with the editing. Enjoy this blog post about baking.
If you are like me, then you may have missed THIS kitchen trend during the Spring of 2020. But it has become one of my new favorite things to bake at home - Sourdough Bread. Not only is the process therapeutic, but the end result is absolutely delicious. There's just something about the taste of freshly baked bread that can't be beat.
In this blog post, I'll walk you through the process of making your own sourdough bread, share some tips and tricks along the way, and give you a recipe that's perfect for baking two boules in a 10" Dutch Oven.
First things first, let's talk about the process. I follow the process outlined in the Tartine Bread Cookbook. This is a great book and if it’s not already in your collection, buy it. There are in-depth instructions for a lot of bread basics and it’s a great resource if you are serious about getting into bread baking at home. And you should! Once you learn the process, then you learn to adapt it to your life and this is where the art form is developed.
You’ll need to start by creating a sourdough starter, which is a mixture of flour and water that's left to ferment for several days. This is another topic that the Tartine Bread book covers really well, in full detail. There are also several articles available online as well as you tube channels dedicated to getting a sourdough starter going. If you are starting from scratch on that, you are about 7 days out from baking bread. Take a look at some resources so you can learn about the process and what you should be looking for visually and how it should smell as it ferments.
This blog post is more to talk about the joy that comes from baking. There's something incredibly satisfying about creating something from scratch, especially when it comes to bread. There’s a rustic charm to this process and finished product. Plus, the aroma of freshly baked bread wafting through your home is simply heavenly.
Another great thing that has come from baking our own bread at home is the cost effectiveness. Sure, there’s an initial investment for equipment, but in the long run, you'll save money by not having to buy bread from the store. With two kids, we go through a lot of bread, and we were paying upwards of $8.00 a loaf for good bread. Now we buy ten pounds of flour for $12.00 that make roughly 16 loaves!! Plus, once you get some proficiency you can customize your bread to your liking - add in herbs, spices, nuts, or dried fruit to make it unique. We’ve even started proofing in loaf pans and making sourdough sandwich loaves that have changed the sandwich game in our house!
Finally, let's talk about the simplicity of ingredients. Sourdough bread only requires a few basic ingredients - flour, water, salt, and your sourdough starter. That's it! No preservatives or additives that you can't pronounce. Just simple, wholesome ingredients that you can feel good about feeding your family. You can truly FEEL the difference when you eat homemade bread. It digests the way it’s supposed to instead of sitting in your gut like a rock.
Now, let's get to the recipe.
This recipe makes two boules, perfect for sharing with friends or freezing for later. It is a process that takes about 6-12 hours depending on how you attack it. I am going to tell you how I prefer to do it, when I have planned accordingly.
Every time you want to bake you need to make a leaven from your sourdough starter. This is your natural yeast culture that is responsible for the rise and flavor of the bread. I make the leaven with my discard so that I can feed the starter at the same time. This kills two birds with one stone and the result is the same. It also ensures that I never run out of sour dough starter.
To make the Leaven: I take 50g (about 2 TBSP) of sourdough starter and I combine that with 100g of flour and 100g of water. This will be your Leaven. I prefer to make this in the morning, so it is ready to use by about 3:00 or 4:00 pm.
Then to feed the starter; I replace that 50g I use for the leaven with 100g of flour and 100g of water. After I feed the starter I place it directly back into the fridge. This slows the fermentation process and makes it so that you only have to feed the starter every 3-4 days instead of every day like when you are building it. It also builds in flavor and complexity the longer it is alive so continually propagation of the starter should be your goal. You will hear bread aficionados boast on the age of their starter.
To test the leaven for readiness, take a small spoonful of it and see if it floats in a small bowl of warm water. If it floats, it will rise. If it doesn’t it may need more time. It should be lively and smell pleasant and slightly sweet.
Ideally it is 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon when I start making the dough. It needs at least 4 hours of bulk fermenting and then I like to do the final proof overnight. Bulk fermentation is a process that develops the dough. During this period, every thirty-forty minutes I stretch and fold the dough in on itself. This is an essential part of the process. Without this your bread will lack proper gluten structure and therefor, texture. On this time schedule, bulk fermentation is usually done around 8:00, just after dinner when the kitchen is all cleaned up. A perfect time to use the clean countertop to shape the loaves. I love this time schedule for our bakes because I like to shape the loaves and get them in the bannetons and then proof them overnight in the fridge. Yes, you do have to live a day ahead but proofing overnight slows the process down and develops the flavor. I wake up early the following morning and I bake bread for the first 90 minutes of the day while I drink my coffee. This warms up the house and gets the whole place smelling like a bakery. I will concede that we sometimes eat an entire loaf before noon on these days, but there’s four of us and that usually includes the best sandwiches for lunch!
Here's how we have been making it. This follows the basic ratios from the Tartine book. I upped the whole wheat flour to 15% of the overall because I love the moisture retention and stiffness of the crumb. It’s great for these little sandwiches we like to make when we go into the mountains. I call them alpine sandwiches (I don’t know why, I just did it one day and it’s stuck).. Thin slices of this whole wheat sourdough bread with prosciutto, coppa and salami. They are so satisfying and simple.
Here's a list of the equipment I have been using
• 2 round bannetons (affiliate link)
• 10" Lodge Dutch Oven (affiliate link)
• Bread lame (affiliate link)
• Bench knife (affiliate link)
• Plastic scraper (affiliate link)
Here's the bread ingredients.
850g AP Flour
150g Whole Wheat Flour
700g Warm Water + 50g
1. Place the 700g of warm water in a large bowl and add the leaven. Dissolve by swishing around with your fingers.
2. Once the leaven is dissolved add the flours. Do this about in 4 stages so that the hydration is even and gradual, I have found this makes the dough hydrate more evenly during bulk fermentation and ultimately makes it easier to work with.
3. Once all the flour is combined, allow it 10 minutes to rest on the counter
4. After resting is complete, add the salt. Squish it into the dough with your hand until combined. Then add the +50g of water and do the same thing, squish it into the dough until fully combined.
5. When the dough has come back together into one mass, place it in a vessel for bulk fermentation. I like to use the container that is linked above. It is easy to clean, easy to store, and easy to work the dough in.
6. At this point bulk fermentation has begun. The dough needs to sit somewhere warm in your kitchen, ideally between 70-80 degrees. Every 30-45 minutes for the next four hours I take and stretch the dough from the corners, folding it over itself and deflating it in the center in the process. You will notice after the second or third cycle that the texture of the dough changes completely. It gets very supple and smooth and should become easier and easier to work with.
7. Bulk fermentation is complete when the dough has a nice aerated look. There may even be small bubbles starting to form on the edges.
8. At this point you are ready to shape your boules. Turn out the dough onto a clean counter top and with the dough knife, cut it in two. I never weigh it, I just eyeball it and try and get them as even as possible.
9. Shaping the boules is a technique that is difficult to explain. I have linked a Youtube of how I do it. My technique is far from perfect, as I am not a trained baker. But I love to practice and I feel like I have shown a ton of progression in just a couple months of regularly baking.
Once the loaves are shaped they need to be proofed one last time. Like I said earlier, I like to do this overnight in the fridge to develop flavor and put the baking side of the process in the morning of the following day. You could just as easily make the leaven the night before, assemble the dough in the morning and be baking by noon. Flour the boules as well as the bannetons. Transfer the dough balls to the bannetons and cover for proofing.
Once your loaves have undergone their final proofing, they are ready to be baked.
Set the oven to 500 degree and place your dutch oven into the oven, allowing it to preheat with the oven.
Invert the bannetons onto a piece of parchment paper and lightly smack the basket to release the loaf. The lines of the basket should be visible in the surface of the dough. Score the dough with a bread lame or razor blade prior to placing the dough ball into your preheated dutch oven.
Place the lid onto the dutch and place it in the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes. For this first 20 minutes you need to get some steam in the oven. There are two techniques that I use for this. One is to take a towel and get it wet and throw it in on the rack. Another is to keep a spray bottle of water next to the stove. My kids love that method because they love the sound of the water hitting the hot oven walls. Either way, this first 20 minutes needs steam to help with the oven spring.
After the first 20 minutes, remove the dutch oven lid and reset the timer for another 20 minutes. After the second 20 minutes remove the loaf from the oven and cool on the counter top. Repeat the baking process with the second boule (which I usually leave in the refrigerator until I am ready to bake it)
I hope this blog post inspires you to bake your own bread, or to get back into baking your own bread if it's something you used to do but have gotten away from it. If you are interested in any of the equipment I use for baking, there are links on the home page.