August 17, 2010

Bread around here is life. It’s sustenance. There is hardly a meal without toasted or broiled crusty bread. When the granola is low, all of our breakfasts are played out on toast. Mid-day snack: a nice slice of tangy sourdough, preferably toasted, topped with tomatoes, or harissa, or goat cheese, or by itself. Indeed, bread people are we.

This summer, I have taken advantage of the heat and raised a stiff sourdough starter that I have been using for my bread. I absolutely love having it on hand. Though I am still working out the kinks, this particular sourdough recipe has become my favorite because of its large open texture, moist crumb, and the tangy flavor it produces in the bread.

Perhaps tomorrow I can share how to raise and tend to a starter of your own, if you don’t already have one going. But for now, I give you my go-to sourdough.

Here’s the ingredient list:

1 lb 14 1/2 oz Artisan Bread Flour (I use Gold Medal “Better For Bread”)

3/4 oz Medium Rye Flour

1 lb 4 oz Water (about 70 degrees F)

1/2 oz Salt

12 oz Starter Culture

Equipment recommended:

scale (so important in baking!)

stand mixer with dough hook

baking stone or parchment paper and a baking sheet

First of all, we are going to mix our flours and water together (I mixed mine in an upright mixer, you can do this by hand if you like) until they form a shaggy mass (see below). You aren’t looking for a smooth, finished dough, but  a roughly incorporated mess.

Let the dough rest for 20-30 minutes. We are allowing the dough to “autolyze”, or letting the grain absorb all the water and relax before adding our salt and starter. This step will encourage a chewy and open crumb (bread texture), while minimizing the amount of kneading required. Its win-win:  the dough requires less of your immediate attention, you get more time to peruse a magazine, or bury your nose in that great book you haven’t been able to put down. Win-win.

Next, once you have taken your 20 to 30 minute leave of the kitchen, drag yourself back to the kitchen and add your 1/2 ounce of salt to the bowl, begin the mixer on the lowest setting. As the mixer is whipping your dough about, you are going to “seed” the dough, or add little blobs of your starter at a time while the dough is mixing (as seen below).

Once all your starter has been incorporated, bump your speed up one or two notches (between speeds 2 and 3), and let the dough mix quickly together for 2 1/2 (two and a half) minutes. Turn the mixer off. Your dough should look smooth and have a tacky, not sticky feel. (I hate it when other recipes say “tacky, but not sticky”. What does that really mean, anyway? I’ve never known how to differentiate the two terms! Naturally, I simply had to employ the phrase myself. I apologize.) Basically, when touched the dough may stick to your fingers, but should release without leaving any dough left on your skin. There, that’s my official stance on the difference between tacky and sticky.

At this point, cover your dough tightly with plastic wrap and place the bowl in a warm and draft-free area. I stuck mine on my screened-in front porch, where both the heat and humidity are high. Let the dough ferment until doubled in size, approximately 45-60 minutes.

Then turn your dough gently out onto a well floured surface. Gently, because you do not want to destroy the gas bubbles and gluten that have been developing.  Now you are going to fold the dough as though you are folding a letter. Stretch one end of the dough and fold it up a third, then stretch the other end of the dough, folding it down over the other thirds, turn the blob 90 degrees, and repeat. Once that is finished, place the dough back into the bowl, cover it tightly, and return to ferment for another 45 minutes.

After this fermentation, you will repeat the two “letter” folds, and return it one last time to the bowl for 30 minutes. At this point, your dough should be ready to be shaped and prepared for baking.

Make sure your oven is preheating at around 550 degrees.

Gently remove the dough from the bowl, divide with a bench scraper or knife into two or three equal pieces. Shape each one lightly into a round.

The next step is to let the individual rounds proof before baking. If you have a banneton, flour it and place your dough inside. If you don’t, do what I’ve done: Line a few medium-sized bowls (enough for each round of dough) with a tea towel or large cloth napkin. Toss flour over the cloth, and place a round of dough in each lined bowl. Let the dough rest for 15-20 minutes.

Now, turn your doughs out of your lined bowls onto a parchment covered baking tray, slash gently (so as not to tear the dough) with a sharp knife or razor blade.

When you place the baking sheet into the middle of the oven, throw 4-5 ice cubes onto the bottom of the oven, close the door, and immediately turn your heat down to 450 degrees F.  The ice cubes will vaporize in the high heat of the oven, creating steam, which will allow the bread to rise considerably and also lend a thin, crisp crust to the bread.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, then open the oven door for 5-10 seconds to release the oven steam. Turn the temperature down to 350 degrees F, and bake for an additional 30-35 minutes. When finished, the breads internal temperature should register around 200-210 degrees. When the bread is done, turn off your oven, and crack the door for 5-10 minutes.

Allow the bread to cool for a few hours before wrapping and storing.

Tomorrow I will post my method of raising a sourdough starter!


4 Responses to “Sourdough”

  1. Todd Lawson said

    Wow, just like we learned at school. Chef Easter will be proud of you, I am.

  2. Hey Rachel! I am part of the Wise Home group with you. Saw your post about your blog. This is great. Thanks! Also, maybe you can check out my blog too:

    I’ve started a sourdough journal and working my way through the world of sourdough ;o)

    Marillyn “Mare”

    • Rachel Ward said

      I will definitely check it out, thanks for popping in. I would love to learn more about what others do with their sourdough!

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