Who hasn’t been to Heritage Park bakery and had their amazing sourdough bread, or San Francisco on the wharf and had those amazing sourdoughs? Yummm!!
I have been making sourdough for about 1 year now and have learned a few things along the way that I thought I would share.
First of all I am not a baker and never have been. I do cook most of the meals in our house but it’s really unrelated when you think about it. What I do that is more closely related to making bread is that I make beer. Okay so now the wheels are turning, how does making beer have anything to do with making sourdough bread. The short answer is they are both fermented, very much like so many things that are fermented and good for you (think Kombucha, Kimchi, sauerkraut, etc).
What you need to make a good sourdough is surprisingly little – flour, sourdough starter (more on this in a bit), water and salt. Pretty simple. My first couple of loaves were more bricks than bread, so keep trying and you will get the hang of it.
Important point to note – AVOID using metal bowls or utensils. The metal can negatively react with the yeast and bacteria. Use glass and/or plastic where ever possible.
The starter I mentioned above is really the key here. Now you can get one from a friend or you can make your own (I did this and have been keeping it going for 1 year now). The starter is flour and water and the naturally occurring yeast and bacteria that exist in the air. A key learning here is that when you are feeding your starter you should use equal amounts of flour and water by weight, not volume. A ½ cup of flour is lighter than ½ cup of water. A scale is a good idea at first.
A loaf based on my recipe uses 2⅓ cups of starter, so you will need about 2½ cups so that you have enough left over to keep building upon for future loaves.
I use a mason jar with a coffee filter and elastic band as a lid. DO NOT under any circumstances ever seal the jar completely as you may create a mini bomb, and be cursing while spending hours cleaning it off the ceiling.
Feeding your starter is important and you need to feed it daily. I use ½ cup of flour (approximately 80 g) and 80 g of water (which is less than ½ cup). Okay so now you say there is no fricken’ way I can do this, what about vacation, etc. Easy answer – you put it in the fridge and it will slow down the process so you can be away for a few days, but if you need to be away longer you can keep it in the freezer.
Sourdough making is more of a process than anything else. The key is time. Once the 4 ingredients are put together, time is your best friend (patience Young Padawan).
The recipe I follow is:
3⅓ cups of flour (I use organic white as I don’t want the glyophosphates found in the non-organic flours),
2⅓ cups of starter,
1 cup filtered water (chlorine in tap water will kill some of the good bacteria off), and
1 scant tablespoon of salt.
Now most recipes will say mix all the ingredients together, knead and then wait 2 hours. Here is where my process differs a bit based on a hidden nugget I discovered in some research. **Mix all the ingredients together except the salt, wait 20-60 minutes, then add the salt and knead again.**
I have found it to be better to have a bit of a moist dough versus a drier one. This is probably due to the altitude at which I live (Calgary) and the very dry air here.
When kneading the dough you will need about 15-20 minutes of constant kneading time (bit of a workout). At around the 15 minute mark you will start to notice a difference in the consistency of the dough, so you know you’re getting close. The dough will be stretchy enough that when you pull it thin you will see light through it before it breaks apart.
Once finished kneading I put it right into the pan I use for baking (a greased glass loaf pan). I cover it with some plastic wrap being careful not to seal the top as it will restrict the dough from rising. Not using the plastic cover makes the top too dry. Some books suggest covering with a damp paper towel, but that would dry way too fast here. Play with this given the humidity of where you live.
Proofing / Rising
This is where the magic happens. The yeast and bacteria and enzymes in the starter do their work to “digest” the flour, creating air bubbles and making the bread rise without commercial yeast. So many books say 4-12 hours, but I typically go for 24 hours as our house can be cooler in the winter. This time may vary during the summer. I have shortened this time as well as my oven has a “proofing” setting. I left my loaf in with that setting on overnight once and had dough dripping all over the place. So this timing will be a bit of a learning based on environmental temperatures, etc. As mentioned, it’s very dry where we live so I cover my loaf with plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out to much.
Most recipes call for a preheated oven at 400°F. I have found that this depends on where you live (altitude makes a big difference). I live at 3600’ above sea level and have dropped the temp to 375°F in a convection oven. Moist heat is beneficial, so putting about 400 ml of water in a pan in the oven with the loaf will make a big difference.
Before baking I melt a bit of butter and brush it on the top of the loaf just before putting the loaf in the oven. Another useful tip is to use a sharp knife to make a slice in the top end-to-end so you have a predictable expansion point. If you don’t it doesn’t affect the loaf too much, you just may get some unusual shapes.
Bake so the internal temperature of the loaf is above 190°F. I find this takes about 45 minutes.
Pull out of the oven then let cool, if you can – once you get it right I bet the loaf doesn’t last the day!
Written my loving husband and sourdough-making-expert,
Bruce Wright, B.Tech Net Mgmt, CCNA