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Sourdough: Everything You Need to Know and Nothing You Don't


 




 

Sourdough is a science, an art, a craft, a hobby of its own, and oftentimes the subject of the longest article a food blogger could possibly write. Not to say that bakers are bogging the reader down with unnecessary information; it's an education and the science demands full appreciation. There is a lot to know and you need to know why you're doing it. I have been baking for most of my life and I consider it to be the most daunting baking project a home cook could do. A minimum of seven days dedicated to growing a wild yeast starter from scratch (which may or may not thrive) and two days of actually baking the bread itself for a maximum yield of two loaves (that may or may not turn out) gripping you with worry. At the end of it, you will have a maximum of two loaves of bread and an enormous sense of pride. Or you may throw it in the trash and never try it again. This recipe is for those attempting this for the first time and feel overwhelmed by the wealth of information surrounding it. My aim is to strip this down as much as possible to give you exactly what you need to follow and save you miles of scrolling.








 

The Starter



The only shortcuts here are borrowing some from a friend, or purchasing it freeze-dried online. The secret 3rd way is faking the sour taste entirely by using cultured yogurt or flavoring the bread with vinegar (like a lot of commercial grocery stores do) but you will not have the texture that comes with the fermentation, and it just won't be right.

  1. Add 1 cup of all-purpose flour and 3/4 of water to a glass mason jar (or any glass vessel) with a lid. Mix it vigorously with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula (no metal allowed) It should look pasty and just slightly thicker than glue. Screw on the lid loosely.

  2. 24 hours later, open the lid and you may see a few bubbles at the top.

  3. Using a scale (a must-have for this) with an empty bowl zero'd out on top, pour out approximately four ounces of starter (this is the first discard) leaving about 1/2 cup of starter behind. You can eyeball this, it's about the length of the tip of your index finger from the bottom of the glass.

  4. Add back 1 cup of all-purpose flour and 3/4 cups of water and mix vigorously.

  5. Repeat this process for the next 5 days every 24 hours. You'll know your starter is thriving if it is bubbling and rising in volume each day. By the 5th day you should notice the sourdough smell and see plenty of bubbling.

  6. By the 5th day, you will feed your starter every 12 hours for a minimum of two days or up to 5.. At this point it can be stored in the fridge and fed only once a week.

  7. Is your starter ready to use? Try the float test. Pinch off some of the starter and drop it into a small bowl of water. If it floats, there is enough gas in the starter to leaven your bread. If it sinks, it's not ready.

 


Making the Dough



Yield: 2 Individual Boules

  • 200 grams of sourdough starter

  • 800 grams of room temperature water (28 fl oz. or 3 1/2 cups) Add the first two ingredients to a very large bowl and stir. Then add in:

  • 1000 grams of bread flour (8.3 cups, or 1 kilogram)

  • 1 cup of rye flour (for flavor)

  • 12 grams of salt (almost 2 teaspoons)

Very very gently fold everything together until it is well incorporated and cover it with plastic wrap. This step is called the Autolyze. The flour will absorb all of the water before it's time to stretch the dough. After an hour passes, using a Dutch whisk or your hands, pull up a side of the dough and stretch it upwards and push it back down in the middle. Rotate the bowl and repeat with another side. About 30 stretches is sufficient. Let it rest for an hour. Come back and do the stretch and fold again a total of 3 times over 3 hours. After you've done all the rounds of stretches and folds, you should have a smooth and very sticky dough. There are two options here: Go full steam ahead and bake or let the dough rise overnight in the fridge. Either way is great. Time is your friend with fermented goods, so letting it rise over night is even better. If you've waited long enough and can't take it anymore, generously flour two proofing baskets or bowls. Here is a set I have linked here if you don't have one.



Rising and Baking


 

Divide the dough in half and place the halves in the baskets. Cover with a well- floured cloth and allow it to rise for 3-5 hours. (Option to place the other in the fridge covered and let it cold ferment overnight.) *

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and place a 4-quart Dutch oven in the oven to heat as well. As it's preheating, lay out a piece of parchment paper on the counter. Let the Dutch oven heat for about 30 minutes.

  • Remove the hot Dutch oven from the oven and put it to the side. 

In a very swift motion, turn the dough out onto the parchment paper and score it with a razor blade or lame. Be sure to score deeply to allow the dough to split and prevent it from bursting in the baking process. Lift the parchment paper and drop the dough into the hot Dutch oven. Be careful and wear heavy duty oven mitts. Cover with a lid and bake for approximately 30 minutes. Check the top after 30 minutes and let it bake uncovered for another 20 to get the deeper color. 

  • One last test of patience: you'll need to let the sourdough cool for at least an hour or the texture will be gummy when you cut into it. This is a marathon and you've come this far, but a little more waiting is needed. Once it's cool, cut in and enjoy. 

*If you opted for the cold fermentation, take your dough out of the fridge and place it straight into the hot Dutch oven. No need to let it rise or come up to room temperature . The baking time should be the same as well. 


Watch my video on Instagram if you're a visual learner like me. I hope this was helpful and as always leave me comments or questions for troubleshooting. Good luck!




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