Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Sourdough bread

Here is the bread recipe I am currently using.  I am taking elements from Thom Leaonard's The Bread Book, Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads, and whatever secrets I can trick Andrew at Madison Sourdough Company to let slip out when I talk to him.

This is a sourdough and I am having the best luck with my 92% extraction Turkey Red flour.  This extraction is an estimate and I have variously labeled it as 90%, 92%, or 94%.  It's all the same thing--stone ground and sifted with a 630 micron screen.  I always make enough for a loaf of bread and a few pizzas.  On baking day, after bulk fermentation, I divide the dough, put 1/2 of it into a proofing basket, and the other half gets made into pizzas.  I eat one pizza and freeze the rest.  When I am done making pizzas, it's just about time for the bread to go into the oven.

Day 1, remove starter from the fridge, dig out the soft inside (I use a stiff starter, wrapped in a dish towel), add 1/2 cup water, and mix in enough flour to make it stiff again.  Keep at 70 degrees for the day.

In the evening, divide the starter, add more flour to the portion that will go back into the fridge, wrap it up, and put it in the fridge.  Add 1 1/4 C water to the starter that remains and dissolve the starter.  Mix in at least 3 C of flour, knead a little bit, and let sit overnight at 70 degrees.  I do all my mixing by hand.

In the morning, dissolve the entire thing in another 2 C of water, add a little less than 3 teaspoons of non-iodized salt, and mix in at least 5 C of flour.  I use so much flour straight from my mill that my volume measurements are very suspect.  Freshly ground flour is very light and airy.  I should weigh it but I never have.  The ideal bread dough is as wet as you can possibly stand it while preventing it from sticking.  I find the wet hands technique to be too much bother, so I just keep dusting in small amounts of flour to keep it from sticking.  Also, you need to keep the dough in motion while it's on the counter.

Immediately retard the dough after kneading.  I put mine into the root cellar, which got it down to about 55 degrees or so.  I think the fridge could be tried, too.  If possible, fold the dough once or twice over the course of the day.  We are going to wake up this dough at some point in the next 12-24 hours.  To do this, heat up a thick earthenware bowl by letting it sit in your proofing area for awhile, and use a proofing area that is ideally 75-80 degrees.  

About 2-3 hours before you want to bake, put the dough into the preheated bowl and put it in the warm proofing area.  At about the same time, you can start pre-heating the oven.  At home I have an ordinary gas oven that I put 6 thin firebricks into.  This will be the baking surface for pizza and bread.

After an hour or so of re-awakened bulk fermentation, divide the dough into your pizza dough and your bread dough.  Don't punch it down or knead it.  In fact, don't ever punch the dough down when working with this kind of flour.  For your bread dough, fold it carefully a couple of times, dust it, and put into your proofing container.  I have been using a cane banneton lately, but a cloth towel in any kind of bowl also works fine.

While the bread dough is doing it's final proofing, you have time to make and eat pizza.  With this recipe I can make 3 for freezing and one for eating.  I usually work in a little more flour so that the pizza dough is a bit stiffer and drier.  Enjoy.

After no more than 90 minutes of proofing, tip the dough onto a baking peel, slice the top with a sharp, wet knife, and slide it into the oven.  The oven is as hot as you can stand it--you may need to pull the kitchen fire alarm off the wall.  You'd like to get 600 degrees in the oven, but of course most home ovens red line at 450.  So just get it as hot as you can.  I use 450 at home.

Use a spray bottle and spray the entire inside of the oven for 10-15 seconds.  Then close the oven and don't open it up again for at least 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes you can check on it. I usually go about 25 minutes.

Cool it on the rack, and enjoy!  Don't forget to put your smoke detector back on the wall and test it.  I mean, test the bread, and also test the fire alarm.

This last shot is a loaf from Madison Sourdough on top, and my loaf underneath it.  Both loaves are really quite nice, and they are both made from exactly the same wheat, from the same field and the same harvest.  I think Madison Sourdough is using 100% extraction, which gives it the darker color. (they have their own stone mill, I just sell them whole berries)  It's also a bit sharper and tangier than mine.


  1. Replies
    1. To me it does not seem very sour. A friend recently told me it was a very approachable sour, and not as sour as some commercial sourdoughs. I have made sourdoughs in the past that were tangier and sharper, but this system seems to result in a fairly mild sour flavor. Frankly, I don't really know how to control the sour flavor in one direction or the other.