Sourdough: The Process

Baking, Bread

Since I was 3 years old I have been in the kitchen baking. From pasties to sticky buns, cookies to cakes, I have always enjoyed the process of baking. I find the exact measurements and timelines to be incredibly comforting. Something to rely on. Now bread making on the other hand, has always seemed like a science I could never grasp. Some sort of magical club of people that could master this ancient art.

After recently watching far too much Great British Baking Show, I was inspired to give making sourdough from scratch a try. I knew I wanted to make everything by hand to enjoy the lengthy progression. Being green to this approach, I reached out to some friends that bake bread regularly and they suggested I get my hands on the Tartine Bread book and a small amount of starter from Breadtopia. Since then, I have looked to Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest for additional inspiration and methods. I have done my best to come up with a consistent process that others can follow!

So once you have an active starter (either homemade, gifted or purchased) you can start to consistently bake on your own schedule. I typically bake once a week on a Monday evening which means I start the process the day before on Sunday. Since I have those two days off it gives me enough time and freedom to get a nice long fermentation while building strength in the dough. I highly recommend purchasing a digital kitchen scale that has an option for grams, from this point on I will be talking about everything in terms of grams. I got one for $30 at Target or you can find them all over Amazon.

Now I keep my starter in the fridge, after I’ve fed it, for a week in between bakes. I keep it in a mason jar with plastic wrap loosely on top with a rubber band marking where the starter sits when I put it in the fridge so I can see how much it grows. So before I start the process of making my loaves, I will remove it from the fridge and feed it a blend of 50/50 whole wheat flour and bread flour (usually 50g total, so 25g of each flour) and 50g warm purified water (I typically use water that is between 75-80 degrees depending on how cold my kitchen is). I then stir it all together well with a butter knife, loosely cover with plastic wrap again and leave out on my counter. I like to feed my starter like this at least once before a bake until the starter smells sweet and slightly ripe or acidic.

Here is the basic recipe that I use in this post:

Sourdough

 

  • Step 1: Leaven. Sunday night I will remove a full TBSP of starter and put that into a tall plastic beaker so it has room to grow, I then add 100g of my 50/50 flour mix and 100g warm water, mix, cover loosely with plastic or an open Ziploc bag (see below) and leave overnight. This is your leaven. For this recipe I make 2 loaves, so I will need 200g of leaven.


Step 2: Autolyse. The next morning I begin the process of mixing together whatever flour I am planning to use (bread, whole wheat, rye, spelt, etc) and warm water. I like to let this sit for 45 mins covered in plastic wrap before adding my leaven. I have found that this extra little step helps build more strength in my loaves. *I have also tried mixing the leaven, flour, water and salt at once and it resulted in flat loaves*
  • Step 3: Adding the leaven and salt. After 45 mins, I measure out 200g of leaven and mix it in by hand by pinching it in all over the dough until fully incorporated. I cover the dough and let it rest for 45 minutes. After this resting period I slowly sprinkle in salt (20g for this recipe) while pinching to incorporate. Once salt has been fully worked into the dough, I perform one stretch and fold to create a nice ball. To do this you are going to lift the dough up from the middle and let each edge fold under itself, rotate your bowl and repeat in the other direction. Cover and let rest for 45 minutes.
Covered after stretch and fold
  • Step 4: Lamination. For this step you want to be sure you have a large, clean work surface to spread the dough out on. I use a portion of my granite countertop for lamination and shaping. Use a water spray bottle (or flicks of water with your hands) to lightly wet the surface of the countertop and be sure to wet your hands. Pull dough out onto the surface and begin to spread it out into a flat rectangle with your damp hands. *This is the time to add any fillings to your dough like seeds, flavorings, etc.*
Dough spread into a thin rectangle

Once the dough is spread evenly, you will wet your hands again and lift the edge furthest away from you and fold over the middle in thirds. Now repeat the same action on the edge closest to you to cover the previous fold.

The dough will now look long and skinny. Fold the right edge over the middle, then the left side over that so you have a nice square shape.

Gently form the squared off dough into a ball and cover for 45 minutes.

Rough ball shape before being covered
  • Step 5: Stretch and folds. After the 45 minute rest, perform another stretch and fold by lifting the dough from the middle and letting each edge fold under. Rotate the bowl and repeat in the other direction. You will do 3-4 of these every 45 minutes until the dough starts to look smooth on the surface.
  • Step 6: Bulk rise/ bulk fermentation. This step is completely hands off, but so very important. After your stretch and folds you will cover the dough and leave it undisturbed for 2 hours. This is when your dough’s strength, flavor and gluten structures are formed and should grow 30-50% in size.
  • Step 7: Preshape. After the bulk rise, I like to lightly sprinkle flour onto my surface using one of these. Using a dough scraper, pour the dough out onto the floured surface. Now you will want to use a bench knife to cut the dough in half (for this recipe because it is for 2 loaves). With floured hands, pull the edges into the middle until the dough resembles a ball shape. Flip the ball over and repeat with the other piece of dough. Cover with plastic and a tea towel for 20 minutes.
  • Step 8: Shaping. Uncover the dough balls and re-flour your hands. Now I found a video on instagram that PERFECTLY explains the shaping method that I prefer. So thank you to @nmuvu for this clip! Basically you want to fold on edge towards you, one away from you over the first and then pinch and criss-cross the “seam” shut like a zipper. I have found that this extra step creates a lot more oven spring and a more round final shape than just folding the dough over itself.

So at this stage you will want to decide whether you are going to bake within the next few hours, or retard the fermentation in the fridge (up to 36 hours). The benefit here is that slowing the final proof in the fridge helps to develop flavor and I have found I get a better oven spring and texture.

If using a banneton proofing basket I like to take the cloth liner off to get the ridges from the basket after the final proof. To prevent the dough from sticking, I spray a light layer of coconut oil spray inside the basket and dust the whole surface with rice flour (knock off the excess into the trash). If using a bowl, line bowl with a tea towel and dust with rice flour. Gently pick up the dough with floured hands and drop into either type of vessel seam side up.

If I am going to bake soon, I will leave the basket out with the cloth liner covering the top for 3-4 hours and bake from room temperature. If retarding in the fridge, I will sprinkle flour on the surface of the dough and fold the tea towel over and cover the bowl with plastic before placing in the fridge. *I do not like to put the banneton basket in the fridge because air will get in and dry out the surface of the dough*

  • Step 9: On your marks, get set, BAKE! Okay, you have made it this far, Great job. Now it will soon all be worth it when the warm smell of fresh bread wafts through your kitchen. I bake my bread in this Calphalon Dutch oven, but you can use any type of Dutch oven with a lid or a bread cloche. It is so important to have a lid so that the initial bake produces steam to help the bread rise beautifully.

Begin by placing your Dutch oven in a cold oven with the lid on. Set the temperature to 500°F for 30 minutes. Once the oven has preheated for 30 minutes, use oven mitts to CAREFULLY remove the Dutch oven and place on a safe surface. Remove the lid and set aside. I like to use a pastry brush to dust any excess flour off the top surface of the dough before flipping the bowl or basket upside down so the dough falls directly in the middle of the Dutch oven.

Using a very sharp knife or dough scoring tool, slash the dough with a single line or “X” to allow bread to rise more evenly in the oven. Cover the Dutch oven with lid and lower oven temperature to 450°F before placing the Dutch oven inside. Bake with lid on for 20 minutes. Remove lid from Dutch oven and bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove bread from oven and use a spatula to place onto a baking rack to cool. I wait at least an hour before cutting into my bread with a sharp, serrated knife.

I would like to say a special thanks to my husband, Andrew, for his constant encouragement and critiques. I would also like to thank my friends @edmakesbread & @jennygoycochea for always guiding me and holding my hand through this new journey (check out their instagrams for more inspo).

Thank you for reading through my sourdough process and I hope this is helpful to you! Look forward to more bread recipes and if you have any questions please comment and let me know, Happy Baking!

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