For a general introduction to sourdough baking, please refer to Part 1.
Once you have a sourdough starter going, and it is predictably growing within 6-12 hours of feeding, you are ready to bake. For purposes of this bake, I am going to assume that your starter is typically fed equal amounts (by weight) of flour and water, and that if left at room temperature it doubles from 6-12 hours later. I am also going to assume that you keep your starter in the fridge. If you do not do so, you can skip the first evening’s instructions since the purpose of the Wednesday night feeding is to get the starter going again.
The formula for this recipe comes from Ken Forkish’s Flour Salt Water Yeast which is a book I highly recommend since it contains formulas for making excellent yeasted breads as well as pure sourdough breads (like the one being written about here). One caveat, however, is that he recommends baking his loaves in a dutch oven (as does my other recommended author, Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread). This is what allows the glorious crust to form.
Forkish uses a starter which is 80% hydration versus 100% hydration. What this means is that his starter is a little stiffer because rather than feeding the starter equal amounts flour and water, he feeds his starter with flour and water equal to 80% of the flour weight. For example, 10 grams of flour and 8 grams of water (or 125 grams of flour and 100 grams of water as I do here).
Take the starter out of the fridge, and refresh it. For me, that means stirring the week old starter with a finger or fork, and feeding it some flour and water. If you want to keep things “neat”, take a tablespoon of the starter, put it in a clean jar. Add 10 grams of flour and 8 grams of water, stir and leave it out overnight. Here is my starter the following morning:
Thursday 6:30 a.m., my starter is bubbly. This seems a little wet to me and I wonder if I got the ratios backwards and fed it 8 grams of flour and 10 grams of water.
1. Spoon out 25 grams of the starter into a separate container and then mix in 100 grams of water and disperse the starter.
Take 25 grams of your starter that was fed the night before and put it in a clean container. (This is my 8 quart Cambro container). It reads 299 grams because I did not zero out the scale and my container weighs 274 grams.
Add 100 grams of water and disperse the starter.
2. Add: 100 grams of All Purpose Flour such as King Arthur Organic All Purpose Flour.
25 grams of whole wheat flour (I used White Whole Wheat flour, milled with my mill).
Mix with your hand or a wooden spoon until it looks like this:
This is the levain, freshly mixed, viewed from the top.
Here is the levain viewed from the size.
Cover the levain and let it sit at room temperature for a while. For me, this meant leaving it from 6:40 a.m., until 8:15 p.m., after I put my kids to bed. It looked like this:
My levain: 8:11 pm, 14 hours after it was mixed. It expanded to cover the entire container and expanded upward a bit. There are lots of tiny bubbles in it, letting me know that it is healthy.
3. Ideally, an 30-60 minutes before the levain is ready, you will, in a separate large container “autolyse” or “hydrate” 604 grams of all purpose flour, 276 grams of whole wheat flour (I used the same flours as I used in the levain), with 684 grams of warm water. My water was 94 degrees. You have plenty of flexibility here in terms of when you start hydrating the flour. Here, at 8:12 p.m., I hydrated my flour:
In a separate container I am hydrating my flours: 604 grams of All Purpose Flour, 276 grams of white whole wheat flour and 684 grams of water at 94 degrees F.
4. After 20-60 minutes, you are going to add 216 grams of the levain to the hydrated flour and water, together with 20 grams of salt. The easiest way to measure the levain is to put your container on the scale, zero it out and then remove enough levain to make the scale read – 216 grams. Here you see the scale reads -219, and given the bits that stuck on my scraper, is close enough.
Removed 216 grams of the levain to transfer into the bucket with the autolysed flour and water.
On the left is the 216 grams of Levain. On the right is the autolysed flour and water, with 20 grams of salt poured on top.
5. Now it is time to mix the levain, the autolysed dough and the salt. First, I take a wet hand and pat down the dough and salt, then I fold it a few times to roughly incorporate the salt. I use Ken Forkish’s “pincher” method which is essentially to take your wet hand and pinch the dough between the forefinger and thumb, cutting through the dough in 5 or 6 places, folding the dough and repeating the process several times. Once the salt is incorporated, I put the levain on top of the dough and repeat the pinching and folding of the dough to mix the levain and salted dough thoroughly.
Note: do this near a sink, and put a bowl of warm water in the sink to dip your mixing hand into as the dough won’t stick to a wet hand. Here is what the dough looks like just after pinching in the levain:
Dough and levain just “pinched”. It is quite wet.
Here it is one minute later after several pinch and fold cycles. It is already more structured, but still very wet. Repeat this for 2-3 minutes until everything is thoroughly mixed.
Here is the dough at 8:34 pm, thoroughly mixed. Temperature is 83 degrees. You can impact the temperature of the final dough by using warmer or cooler water.
Here is the final dough after mixing, viewed from the top without the thermometer reading.
Thursday 8:35 pm. Here is the final dough from the side. Not the best picture. You can see that it does not fill the container. I guesstimate that it would be more or less at the 1-liter line if flattened out.
6. This bread does not require “kneading” but does require “stretch and folds”, which can be accomplished in the bucket or bowl containing the dough. Wet your dominant hand, reach under 1/4 of the dough and pull it up (stretching) and folding it over the top of the dough. Rotate the container 1/4 turn and repeat until the dough has been turned once in each direction. If possible, rest the dough so that the seams are on the bottom of the container, as this will allow the dough to hold its shape longer. You will do this a total of 4 times before retiring for the night. The dough is ready to be turned when it goes from being shaped like a ball to being more like a pancake.
Here is the “stretch”. This dough is particularly wet and nearly “pours” when scooped up.
And folded over once.
This is the dough after the third or fourth rotation (during the first series of stretch and folds).
Here it is , an neat little package (and you can see how much is stick to my fingers). In the next picture, I flipped it over so the seams were on the bottom.
After the first series of stretch and folds, seam side down. You now will wait until the dough spreads out before repeating for the 2nd series of stretch and folds, and then repeating two more times for a total of 4 stretch and folds before retiring for the night.
Here is the dough from the side, after the first series of stretch and folds.
Here it is 15 minutes or so later, spread out again and ready for another stretch and fold.
10:00 pm, the dough is covered up again and left on the counter overnight to rise, hopefully, to the 3 liter mark.
Depending on the temperature of your kitchen (or wherever your dough is kept), the starting temperature of your dough and the vitality of your starter, your dough should be triple in size when you wake up. Here is the dough at 6:10 a.m. Friday morning:
It is not quite at 3, but it is close enough, especially since it did not fill the bottom of the bucket initially when I guesstimated that it would hit the 1 mark.
7. Time to lightly flour your work surface and pour/scrape the dough out carefully on to the work surface.
This is more flour than I usually use, but I recommend going heavier on the flour initially, especially since it will only be on the outside of the bread and will make it easier to handle and shape the dough.
The dough removed from the bucket. It will need to be divided in two and the easiest way to do that is to run a bit of flour down the center and cut it with your bench knife.
Here is the dough bucket with only a bit of the dough stuck behind. The pink thing is a flexible dough scraper.
8. After you divide the dough, you will shape it into a boule. There are several ways to do this. I simply took 1/4 of the dough, folded it to the middle, repeated for a total of 4 times and then cupped my floured hands around it and shaped it into a ball, pulling it toward me while dragging my pinkies along the countertop, turning the dough a bit and repeating the cupping/pulling motion until the dough formed ball of sorts. My dough was still rather loose.
9. In a floured basket or towel-lined bowl (floured towel), pick up the boule and place it seam-side down. Here is what mine looked like — and if I had to to it over again, I would have used more bench flour and then a bit more flour so the dough was “soft” rather than somewhat sticky.
6:30 a.m. Friday The dough will need to rise for 3-4 hours. It should pass the poke test (I have not really figured this test out just yet because it seems to pass the test as soon as it is put in the basket!)
My dough looked like this, after 3 hours:
Here is the dough, after 3 hours.
10. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees, with combo cooker(s) inside.
I bought two combo cookers. If you have only one, you will bake one after the other. You might want to put one of the loaves in the fridge while the first one bakes, but that may not even be necessary. You have a large window of time within which to bake a bread that has no commercial yeast in it.
11. When the oven is up to temperature, I flip the basket over onto a peel (you can use parchment paper and a cookie sheet if you like), and then transfer the dough into the shallow portion of my combo cooker, covering the cooker with the deeper portion and bake for 30 minutes covered, and 20-30 minutes uncovered. Let it bake darker than you are comfortable with.
Here is the dough just out of the basket. Yours will hopefully look much nicer than this and won’t have torn.
This dough took a beating but still baked up fairly nice.
I don’t wish this on my worst baking enemy.
My second loaf did not fare much better out of the basket, but it too baked up okay.
Ugh! Looks like a disaster but all hope was not lost.
Less dough stuck here but the loaf still took a beating.
This was the better of the two loaves:
This one hardly looks like it was nearly destroyed out of the basket.
And here is the other loaf.
And here is the “better” loaf, cut down the middle:
And here is the end piece cut off. It was quite tasty with and without butter.
The bread tastes great, plain or with butter. It makes fantastic grilled cheese. It makes a delicious peanut butter sandwich. All in all, a very versatile loaf. If I had a less stick dough, or perhaps used more rice flour in the basket, the bread would have bloomed nicer and given a better crumb. But, look at how great it came out despite the near disaster of having torn the dough considerably before baking!