How to bake sourdough bread

More than three years ago I started my journey into baking sourdough bread. I also experimented with different bakes substituting the commercial yeast with levain. If you already have your starter ready to go then keep reading. If you don’t have or don’t know what starter is then read herehttps://mothergoose.me/2018/01/09/how-to-grow-sourdough-starter-at-home/to find out more and see how to make your own.

A quick warning as this article won’t be short and if you don’t have the patience to read it well…then baking sourdough might not be for you.

Sourdough bread is made with only three ingredients: flour, water and salt. The dough goes through different stages of fermentation and this is where the magic happens. Before we go into the recipe and method let’s learn some of the terminology in sourdough making. This will help you read different recipes better and understand the whole process.

Sourdough starter: this is a mix of flour and water, that has been carefully grown to catch the wild yeast around us. The bacteria will act as levain and give the bread the reaction we need to have soft and spongy bread. It’s basically yeast but it works very slow and interact with the dough differently.

Activate the starter: it means we need to wake up the bacteria by “feeding” it fresh flour and water.

Autolyse: mixing water and flour to start the bread. This helps hydrating the flour and encourages the enzymes to start gluten development.

Fermentolyse: the moment of adding the sourdough starter.

Slap and fold: this is a kneading technique that helps further developing the gluten of the dough. See how it’s done here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbBO4XyL3iM

Stretch and fold: this technique is usually repeated 3-4 times and plays crucial role in further developing of the gluten. See how it’s done here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbBO4XyL3iM

Bulk fermentation: the stage where the dough is fermenting as a large mass

Shaping: the moment after bulk fermentation when we shape the dough by giving it the right amount of tension. This step is important for the final crumb and overall bread look. I use similar technique to this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIA16YQP_Jw

Retardation: this is the moment where we will slow the fermentation.Usually it’s done by putting the bread in the fridge overnight. This helps the flavors to develop and to manage your time better.

Scoring: slicing the surface of the bread with a sharp razor. This will help the steam to come out and the bread will look beautiful

Hopefully the above will now help you to better understand the method and recipe.

Now lets talk flours. I prefer baking with white flours and even though is absolutely possible to make gluten free sourdough bread, I have no experience with it so please do not substitute the white flours with gluten free or you will be up for disappointment. I find that best results with my bakes come from flours with 11 and above protein content. This kind of flour usually represent 80% of my dough. The rest 20% are usually whole wheat flours or very strong white flours (protein 13 and above) For those living in the UAE I use Carrefour generic brand all purpose white flour with 11g protein.

So let’s get going with the recipe. This quantity will yield one loaf that fits in 20cm (8 inch) long banneton basket.You can however make double the dose, but if you do, I recommend you divide the two loafs after adding the salt as it is easy to monitor the process and the fermentation (or at least it is easier for me). Again the exact formula is something you can find for yourself after baking few loafs and experimenting with different flours. If you are a beginner in sourdough starting with low hydration will be easier.

NOTE: Any substitute of the white flour with whole wheat, rye, or gluten free versions will NOT give you the same results. Playing with the 80/20 flours ratio will also change the results. Same goes for skipping the steps, changing the order of the steps, reducing or prolonging the time of each stage.

NOTE 2: I live in Dubai where we have summer temperatures all year around. The timings of fermentation are mentioned according to how long it takes me in my kitchen. If you are baking in colder climates you will need longer time for the starter to activate and for the bulk fermentation. My kitchen temperature is between 24-26 degrees. Please observe the dough and even take pictures to note the changes. This helps the beginners to learn how the temperature affects their bakes and find what best works for you.

250 g white flour

80 g whole wheat flour

220 ml water (approximately 70% hydration)

80 g active starter

7g salt

1) At 8am activate your levain by feeding 2 tbsp of it with 50 g white flour and 50 g filtered water. Mix well and cover with lid. Once the starter is bubbly and almost four times bigger than before feeding it is ready to go. In my kitchen this usually takes 4-5 hours.

2) At 11am mix your flours and water until you get a shaggy dough, place into a big bowl and cover with foil or shower cap. This is the autolyse.

3) At around 12-13pm take 80g of the bubly starter and add it to the dough. Mix well, just enough to incorporate. Cover and let it rest for 30 min. This is where the fermentolyse starts.

4) To the dough add salt, mix and knead for 10 min (set a timer) using the slap and fold method. I do that on my marble slab, but any kitchen counter will do. Do not add any flour or oil on the kneading surface. If it gets sticky keep kneading. The development of the gluten will soon turn the dough very elastic and easy to work.

5) Leave to rest for 30-45min, then to the first stretch and fold.

6) Repeat the stretch and fold 4 times with 30-45 min intervals in between.

7) After the last stretch cover the bowl and let it proof for 2-4 hours. In this temperature mine is ready in 3 hours. The proofing happens on the kitchen counter. You are looking for a rise of up to 50% in size. This is the bulk fermentation.

8) On your working surface dust a bit of flour and gently take the dough out of the bowl. It is important not to pull and hurry as we have created lots of air in the dough and we do not want to loose that. Using the technique in the link above shape the dough and make sure you create some tension to it. The dough should almost feel like inflated balloon. This is the key to a nice open crumb.

9) Dust your proofing basket with gluten free flour. If you don`t have banneton then use a round bowl, covered with clean towel. Gently put the dough with the seam up, cover with plastic bag and let it stay in the fridge overnight (this is called cold fermentation or retardation). NOTE: Dusting your banneton with gluten free flour is important to avoid sticking. Perfect for the purpose are corn flour, corn starch, rice flour and gluten free mixes

10) The next morning, preheat the oven to 260 degrees Celsius with the dutch oven for 1 hour. Affordable Dutch oven link here: https://www.mumzworld.com/en/lava-cast-iron-28-cm-round-pot-1

11) Take the dough out of the fridge and gently place it on a big cut of baking paper. Score the bread using a sharp knife or razor.

12) Take the preheated dutch oven out and gently put your dough inside holding it by the baking paper. Close the lid and bake for 20 min. Then reduce the heat to 240 and bake lid off for another 20 min. Cool the bread completely before slicing.

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