Cooking With Metachat!

Monday, September 26, 2005

omiewise's Sourdough bread

Sourdough bread-easy, it just takes time:

Starter:
organic flour (1/4 cup)
distilled water

[Total time:1 hr spread over two weeks]
Mix together, let sit covered on counter, add a bit more flour and water every day until you have a nice bubbly mess. It should smell fresh and sour, but not moldy. (If it molds, start over.)

Keep feeding now three times a day for about a week. If you have to go a long time between feedings, mix it stiff.

At the end of that time, feed one more time by weight: start with a quarter cup of starter, add 8oz water and 8oz flour. Set aside for 8-12 hours and it will be ready to bake. Take 12-14oz of the starter and set it aside for use in the bread. Take half the rest and put it in a glass or plastic container, add some flour and some water, and throw it in the back of the fridge. At first you should feed it every week, but then it can go for as long as three months between feedings. It's yours for life. It doesn't matter what proportions you store it in, but for this recipe, always refresh it so that it is half flour and half water by weight before you use it.

[In baker speak, since you're now a baker, this is called a 100% hydration dough, because the water equals the flour by weight. Flour is always 100%, then the weight of the water is taken as a percentage of that and that's your Baker's percentage. Light, shapeless breads have a high hydration (Ciabatta can be as much as 80%.) Dense breads lower hydration (55%). We're gonna make a ~60% hydration bread out of a 100% hydration starter]
posted by omiewise 14 June | 09:05
Mixing the bread (even easier than the starter)

30-45 minutes

12 oz starter
34 oz flour (bread flour just to be safe. There's a lot to say about flour, protein content, additives, etc, but I won't bore you. If you want the best, use King Arthur. Otherwise, any flour that says Better for Bread.)
18 oz water (filtered is best but not necessary)
1.5 Tablespoons salt
1/4 cup wheatgerm (not bran!)(optional)
That's it.
Who knew the staff of life was so basic?

Pour all the water, all the starter and half the flour into a big bowl. Beat with a spoon until there are no lumps. Beat another 100 strokes. Lift spoon, try to get as long a strand between spoon and bowl as possible. If it breaks very short, beat a bit more.

Add the rest of the flour. Mix and knead with your hands a bit until just barely mixed. Let rest for 20-30 minutes. (This is called the autolyse, and helps the bread to hydrate so that you knead less and the bread is better able to take it.) Use the time to clean your spoon, wash your hands, clean the kneading surface, flip the record, give your sweetie a kiss and get some props for all the work you're doing in the kitchen.

At the end of the autolyse turn the bread out onto the counter or whatever and begin to knead. Here's how: Smush the bread into a big thick pancake shape to start. Grab the edge furthest from you and pull it toward you, folding the giant pancake in half. Push the half-moon together and away from you, giving it a quarter turn. Repeat a bunch of times. The bread should get smooth and silky. If it's sticky, dust it with flour.

Once it's gotten silky (200 kneads maybe), you want to add the salt. It's kind of a pain to add it now, but it's better for the bread. If you want you can add it at the beginning, but it makes kneading a bit harder and makes the gluten tougher. Whatever you do, do not forget to add the salt.

Make another big pancake, sprinkle with salt, roll it up, sprinking the whole time. Start to knead again until all the salt is incorporated. Sometimes depending on humidity etc, the dough kind of separates into layers around the salt. This will go away as you keep kneading.

Raising and shaping

30 minutes spread over 2(!) days.

Take the freshly kneaded dough and shape it into a ball with a smooth top. Get a big bowl, put some oil in the bottom (about a tablespoon) use the top of the dough to spread the oil over the bowl. Nestle the dough lovingly inside the bowl (there should be plenty of room to spare). Cover with plastic wrap or something to keep it from drying out.

Put in a quiet place. Let rise for 4-8 hours (depending on temp, activity of the yeast, etc). The dough should double to triple in size. The goal is to max it out without letting it fall. The bad news is that natural yeast takes a long time to do this, the good news is that it takes a long time to get past the point you want it to. So, how do you tell when it's ready? Don't poke it! This kind of yeast has to be seduced, not assaulted. So, one of the most sensuous moments in bread baking: take off the plastic wrap and very gently place your whole hand over the top of the bread. Do not apply any pressure. Stand like that for a second. Now, what you've got your hand on is alive. The question is, is it getting tired? Is it starting to feel slack, like it can't hold itself up anymore? If it is, it's done rising; if not, put the cover back on and come back in half and hour.

When it's done rising, lightly flour your counter and gently, gently, turn the bread out onto it. You know that smooth upper surface you were caressing? You want to keep it intact. Take a big knife and cut the dough into several pieces-it can make two 4 pound loaves, or more smaller loaves. Kind of tuck the pieces up so that the upper smooth surface is on top, cover with a towel, and let rest for 20-30 minutes.

Come back and shape them: You want to make taught little balls out of them, stretching that nice gluten sheet on top. Use your hands to gather the bottoms of the pieces together, pulled against that top sheet. If you have baskets to raise them in, now is the time, although I imagine that if you do you haven't needed my help. If not, put them, well-separated, on a cookie sheet onto which cornmeal has been spread.

The final proof now begins. It too can take a long time, so it's probably best to put the loaves in the fridge and take them out the next morning, or you may be up all night. Anyway, set them in a quiet place and let proof until they seem like they have no more rising in them.

Preheat the oven to 500 F. When the oven is good and hot, slip in the bread and turn it down to about 450. Cook for 20 min, and then rotate and cook for about 20 more. The bread will get darker than you are used to seeing crappy American bread get, but the flavor is in the crust, so be brave. Remove and cool on wire racks. Let it cool at least 45-60 minutes or it will be gooey inside, just like we are.

There is a lot to say about baking, it's certainly best done on a stone, with some form of moisture, it's best to score the loaf, etc, but since I doubt anyone will read this, much less try it, I won't get into it here. (Feel free to email me.) Baking bread is really easy, and there's almost nothing like eating your own bread.

More info at the pretty decent Sourdough FAQ.

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