It’s a random Wednesday morning in March and I’ve just pulled my starter out of the fridge. The lovely box of yeasty goodness will celebrate it’s fourth birthday next month and my daughter is keen to break out the sourdough recipe book and try some recipes that are not bread.
In the meantime, I’ve been writing quite a bit in my daily thread this past month and a half about my sourdough and it felt like a good day to combine, mix, fold and proof those words into a proper post here.
Set oven to hot and…
I’ve stopped counting how many loaves of bread I’ve made with my starter. It passed the three hundred mark about six months ago, and I ran out of room for tick marks on the lid of the container where I keep the magic.
I made two more last night, sandwich loaves in little cast iron loaf pans, crispy on the outside and fluffy and delicious on the interior.
This morning (February 13th) there are about one and a quarter loaves left. That’s what happens when four adult (or at least three adults and one not-quite-but-eats-like-an-adult) lives in your house. Fresh bread does not last long.
sourdough first day
I sometimes tell people who ask about my bread that sourdough isn’t difficult. It’s just twenty minutes of work spread across two full days.
On day one I start in the morning and take my starter out of the fridge. Some people will tell you that you need to keep in on the counter, feed it every day, and care for it as if it were a child. My starter will be four years old next month and he comes out of the fridge for about 12 hours at a time, just long enough to prime for action… then fed, watered, and right back to bed.
My starter comes out of the fridge at about 7am, before I head out to work, and by the time I get home it’s warm and bubbly and active.
I mix my dough, and while I’ve got the flour out on the counter, I replace the half of the starter I used with two parts flour and one part water and double him back up to his regular size with a good mix.
The starter goes back in the fridge. The dough has some countertop time and some folds over the next couple hours, and it joins the starter.
Ten tough minutes of work, spread across that first day and I’ve got a fed starter and a bowl of dough resting for tomorrow.
sourdough second day
The dough spent the night in the fridge and this morning, shortly after I got up and while I was bustling around the kitchen to feed the dog and make coffee and wake up, I put the covered bowl onto the counter to warm up a bit.
It was still cool an hour later when I weighed, cut, kneaded and rolled the dough into a pair of loaf blanks and dropped them into my parchment-lined cast iron loaf pans.
Those two loaves will rest and proof on the counter, out of the way from disturbance, covered and quiet and warm at room temperature until later today. Maybe it will take ten hours, twelve hours or even fourteen — it all depends on the mood of my yeast this week. (But I’m guessing 12 hours.)
When those loaves rise up over the lip of the pan and start to look and feel ready, I’ll heat the oven up to 450F and put them inside for a thirty minute bake.
When the timer chimes, I’ll pull them out onto a cooling rack and savour the smell of fresh baked bread through the house while it lasts. It only lasts a while, sadly.
Ten more minutes of work, spread across the second day and I’ve got two loaves of fresh sourdough ready to enjoy for breakfast in the morning.
sour flour power
The flour makes all the difference to the end product… at least according to my daughter, who will devour a half loaf of bread in a sitting when I use 100% white bread flour to make my weekly breads versus a slice here and there when I substitute even as little as 10% for rye, whole wheat or some other blend into the mix.
I prefer the grainy breads and the darker results.
But there is something captivatingly powerful to the teenage mind for white bread, it seems.
This is doubly strange when one considers that we never buy white bread. Not that we buy bread much (or ever really) now anyhow but back when loaves of sliced bread were still on our shopping list we would always go for the grainy, wheat-ish, non-white bread every time.
Hamburger and hot dog buns, sure. White bread.
But sliced loaves? Never.
So, all this means that I’ve had to limit my flour experimenting to alternate bakes, white one week, blend the next, repeat, to surrender to the allure and power of white bread flour.
The thing about sourdough is that there is an advantage to a long proof.
So, when you mix your dough on Wednesday night, say, and intend to rest in the refrigerator overnight and then countertop proof it the next day so that, say, you can bake it on Thursday evening… but you forget and go to work instead and leave the dough in the fridge…
You can countertop proof it on Friday and bake it up Friday evening (instead of Thursday as you had intended) and not only is the final bread fine, it is arguably better for the longer rest in the fridge. Better flavour. Better rise. Better all round.
This may have definitely been a true story.
Do you keep a baking journal.
I know, if you’re not a hardcore baker or sour-bread-head, then maybe that sounds a little nutty.
But after nearly four years of baking sourdough from my little kitchen and having a few of photos and plenty of tasty memories, I realize I haven’t kept great notes on what I made, how I made it, or when or why or how or whatever…
I blogged a bit, and you can find it here.
I made lots of tick marks on my starter-ware to denote a baking event.
But I couldn’t tell you the specifics.
Specifics and details and notes are how you learn and get better.
My bread is pretty good, but it could always be better, right?
So. Maybe a journal isn’t a terrible idea.
How do you keep a bread journal and what kinds of things do you write in it?