Sunday, 10 November 2013

Sourdough Basics 103.1: Baking a loaf of bread

It seems a miracle that I have been maintaining a sourdough starter since August.  Something I always hoped would happen one day but never dared believe.  I have been baking sourdough bread about once a week using only white flour, water and salt.  I keep hoping once I feel confident I will branch out into more sourdough recipes.  Truth be told, I still find sourdough recipes a mystery.  I have developed my own style though and so it is time to update my basic sourdough loaf recipe.

I take lots of photos of my bread to document the process.  I take notes about the process for each loaf.  It is a sign of my lack of confidence.  It is also one way to compare, reflect and learn.  The best way to learn is to just keep baking.  Interestingly some of the information I read about sourdough when I started (see notes and links in my sourdough basics 103 post) is now beginning to make sense.  My loaves are also getting better.

Notes on what I am doing and learning:
  • I am still using the same plastic jug I had when I made my starter.  I find I have to wash it regularly or the starter begins to smell like nail polish remover.  I've considered buying a glass jar instead.  Maybe one day.
  • I have been experimenting with a softer dough.  So soft it is quite sticky when I knead and cover with clingwrap.  It seems to allow lighter bread with holes to form.  Occasionally I get a hole so big it is like a cave but this is worth it to achieve the texture I love.
  • I am still unsure how long I can leave the starter to get bubbly in the initial feed.  Last time I left it from 4pm until 12pm on a coldish day and it had lots of bubbles but could have more of the clusters of tiny bubbles that look like foam.  
  • I usually make two loaves of bread in time for the weekend.  One we eat fresh and the other is sliced up and frozen for during the week when we eat less bread.
  • I have been making free form loaves.  I must start trying to make the bread in this style using a square tin.
  • I have reduced the time that I leave the loaves to rise on the tray because I find I get more oven spring that way.  However I do get a bit of blow out where the bread cracks along the lower edges - so am not sure it is quite right.
  • I have been making this bread in cooler temperatures (around 18 C days of spring).  Timing might change once it is Summer - if I can bear to turn on the oven.
  • I am having some success with my slashing the top but still yearn for my slashes to open more.  I have a sharp knife (that was recently professionally sharpened) and cut very deeply but perhaps not widely enough.
  • I find my method means that I only need one day where I must be about occasionally to look after the dough (never having found enough room in my fridge to put it there while I go out).  I occasionally forget it or push the times about to suit me.  It is fairly forgiving.

I regret that I can't talk about sourdough with a breezy casual approach.  Not yet.  Hopefully I will one day.  Unless I find myself with no time to bake bread and then I can just look back on this post with wistful happiness.


However I do find a lot of joy in my sourdough baking.  It is a beautiful thing to have loaves of bread fresh from the oven, filling the kitchen with that homely aroma that real estate agent dreams are made of.  I love to hear the bread sing as it cools, the crackle of the crust like the song of the sirens, tempting me to slice it up too early before it has completed its baking.

I am always delighted to come home and see a loaf of bread in the kitchen, to slice it and feel that sturdy sourdough texture that I love so much.  It is so satisfying to eat a lazy lunch on the weekend where the main attraction is my sourdough bread.  Yes, I am proud of how far I have progressed with my sourdough baking.  Even when I have forgotten the salt.  (It was only once.  The crust was too dry and the bread lacked flavour but the loaf still tasted better than many you can buy from the supermarket.)

We go through sourdough loaves so much quicker than any others.  Sure, they are sliced thicker.  That is not all.  They just taste so much better.  We tend to eat more meals with bread.  E and Sylvia love the bread as much as I do.  Anything tastes amazing on a fresh piece of bread, still warm from the oven.  My loaves might not be perfect but they are so satisfying.

I am sending this bread to Susan for YeastSpotting.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: 
Truffles, the weekend and random notes
Two years ago: Vegan nutella fudge for eat.drink.picnic
Three years ago: Queen Victoria Market - lunchtime delights
Four years ago: Grasping the nettle (soup)
Five years ago: Rogan Josh with variety

Basic Sourdough Bread
makes 2 loaves

200g starter (100% hydration)
700g plain white flour, divided, plus extra for kneading
450g filtered water*
2 tsp salt

Bring starter out of the fridge and scrape 200g into a large mixing bowl.  Stir in 350g each of flour and water.  Cover with clingwrap and leave to get really bubbly.  I usually do this the day before (between 4 and 7pm) and leave it for between 17 and 20 hours.

Stir in 350g flour and 100g water to make a sticky dough.  Turn out onto a well floured surface.  Knead for 10 minutes by hand, using quite a bit of flour at the start to make the dough smooth and then keep adding flour to the surface as it becomes sticky.

Rub the crumbs out of the mixing bowl (a little flour helps to rub out as much dough as possible) and discard.  Return ball of kneaded dough to the mixing bowl and cover with cllingwrap.  Leave to rise for approximately 3 to 4 hours or until doubled in size.

Gently transfer dough from mixing bowl to a well floured surface.  (Notice lots of gluten strands in the dough as you pull it from the sides.)  It will deflate slightly.  Cut into two pieces.  Take the first piece of dough and stretch into a large square and fold three time (like folding an A4 sheet of paper to go in a DL envelope), turn 90 degrees and then fold again three times.  Place on an oven tray that has been lined with baking paper and shape into a loaf.  (I do this in a slapdash way by trying to stretch it to be longer and tucking the edges underneath.  Other sites demonstrate much neater ways.)  Repeat with second piece of dough.

Dust generously with flour and cover with clingwrap and leave to rise for approximately 1 hour 15 minutes and 1 hour 30 minutes.  The flour helps to stop the clingwrap sticking.  The loaves shouldn't have quite doubled by the time they go in the oven.

While the loaves are rising, preheat the oven to 220 C.  For a chewier crust, place a container of water at the bottom of the oven (or spray water in just before putting the loaves in).  When loaves are ready, slash deeply a few times with a very sharp knife.  Bake for between 30 and 45 minutes.  They loaves are ready when they sound hollow when tapped and are golden brown.  Don't be afraid to let the loaves get quite dark brown as this can add to the flavour.  Cool for at least one hour on a wire rack before slicing.  Enjoy!

Notes and updates:

*Instead of filtered water I use water that has been boiled in the kettle and cooled.  I keep a bottle which I pour water into once the kettle is cooled - or even when it is warm - so it is ready when I make bread.

To make enough for two loaves I have used 300g starter, 450g water and flour each, 3 tsp salt, then approx 550g flour and 100g water. Another time I used 400g starter, 350g water and flour each, 3 tsp salt, then 600g flour and 100g water.

I have been making bread in my bread tin and leaving it to rise longer once in the tin - anything from 3 to 4 hours to 12 hours overnight.  It needs a lot of space to rise (once I had it flowing over the edge of the tin) and some slashes before going in the oven but it makes a lovely spongy damp loaf that lasts well.  Like the one in this post.  I have tried it on a tray but it is quite flat so I prefer it in a tin.

I have started to spray oil in the tin and then scatter sesame seeds on it so there is a nice seedy bottom to the bread.  I sometimes sprinkle seeds or semolina flour on top of the bread.

My first rise always goes over my bowl but I have found that if I oil the clingwrap it doesn't stick to the dough.

On the Stereo:
A beginners guide to traditional Scottish music: various artists

25 comments:

  1. You never cease to amaze me Johanna. Your patience and tenacity are beyond approach. Here I go complaining about my lack of yeast bread skills and look at you, mastering the art of sourdough cookery. Kudos to YOU! You should be proud of how far you have progressed.

    Thank you so much for sharing...

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    1. Thanks Louise - I am very proud of my progression but I am also in awe of some of your achievements (esp your vintage cookbook collection) :-)

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  2. I am proud of you too, and mystified by the bread making process still myself! Although, I do sometimes think it's just as well I haven't made the leap into bread baking, as everyone who has notes that their families now no longer want other bread. If I converted Mr B to homemade sour dough, I may find myself locked into bread making for life!

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    1. Thanks Kari - I think E would eat any bread still - well as long as not too dark and stodgy - but he does enjoy the sourdough - keep thinking it might not last as it does seem to take quite some time - I always thought there would be a time for it in my life and glad to find it is so - hope it might be for you too at some stage.

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  3. Your loaves are looking great Johanna! It takes so long to get the sourdough just right. I'm not there certainly but I feel with each loaf they get better :)

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    1. Thanks Lorraine - sourdough baking is definitely a skill that is not learned overnight

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  4. Have you tried baking your bread in a cast iron pan with the lid on? You will get a great spring in your loaf and a great crust. Your slashes will also produce more ears. I have been making sourdough for years and have only recently switched to this method.

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    1. Thanks Marie - my only cast iron pan is too huge but I think the idea sounds great so if I can find some reasonably priced cast iron pan may look into it.

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    2. Agreed, this is a great way to bake bread for a good crust; you can also use stoneware or glass containers with lids, such as Pyrex roasters.

      That bread is looking good. It's great to see someone embracing sourdough (I was reluctant to do so at first, but was living without ready access to fresh yeast).

      The most recent change in my bread method is from William Rubel's history of bread, where he points out that village sourdough mixing containers were traditionally never cleaned out. The old, more or less dry dough improves the quality of the next batch, so if you have one bowl that's always in the bread process, this works really well and saves time washing.

      I stumbled on your blog through the chestnut nut roast, which I'm looking forward to using very soon. It all looks great.

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    3. Thanks Marion - I have a couple of stoneware containers with glass lids that might work. Interesting to hear about your using the old dry dough in the next bread - I have started to clean out my sourdough starter container regularly as I was worried it was beginning to smell but this makes me wonder if that is the case. Enjoy the nut roast

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  5. The texture of that bread looks amazing. Bet it has a fabulous flavour. I miss sourdoughs

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    1. Thanks Katie - have you looked into a GF starter - have seen a bit of info about these and find them quite intriguing - though I don't know I have seen GF sourdough breads for sale anywhere

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  6. Your sourdough loaf turned out great!

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  7. Your bread looks wonderful Johanna. I really should make more effort to make a sourdough starter. I don't make my own bread often enough.

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    1. Thanks Jac - I think you would love a sourdough starter - hope you find the time and energy for it sometime - or maybe get cooper started on it - he is such a little chef I could see him kneading the bread for you :-)

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  8. With your blow outs Johanna, try making your slashes deeper or a longer prove. The bread is finding the path of least resistance and pushing itself out :-)

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    1. Thanks Bridie - sounds like good advice - will experiment with this - I feel like I am getting there slowly

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  9. Nothing is better than a fresh loaf of bread dipped in olive oil, it looks sooo good

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    1. Thanks MIHTR - hmmm maybe I should be buying some of that lovely olive oil at the farmers market for my bread

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  10. Johanna your bread looks professional and yummy.
    I too have a sourdough starter, for 3 years now. My first was about 11 years old and died while I was away for 6 weeks and it was not 'fed' :-

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    1. Thanks Chocolate - your starters sound like grand old dames compared to my little baby one - hopefully she will thrive for a long time but I am not sure what I will do if I take a long holiday

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  11. Your breadmaking ventures are going very well! Great looking loaves.

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    1. Thanks Cakelaw - I am pretty happy with them though my stash of yeast mostly lingers in the fridge now and looks at the pampered sourdough starter with envy :-)

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  12. Gorgeous sourdough loaf - the sturdy texture, the scoring, and the airy filling! It is my favorite type of bread - when I go to any bakery, I always order sourdough (and of course inquire about ingredients in advance). After reading your post, you’d inspired me to make my own bread! I agree - it’s simply a beautiful thing to have fresh bread loaves just from the oven - I am picturing it already now!

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    1. Thanks Rika - it is such a great feeling to make your own sourdough - it is a bit of s learning curve but well worth it - hope to hear how you go

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