Basic Sourdough Bread

Here it is.

The product of much study.

Bread from the sourdough starter, with which, successful results took me a journey of much failure to produce.

I can happily say that today I produce consistently good loaves with my sourdough starter and the method below, though it did take some trial and error.

This recipe (and method) originates from Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread book. The original recipe was printed in the New York Times, though, I’d say, as with any recipe, that the secrets lie between the recipe lines.

This is my take, commentary, and experience on the country loaf:

I will say, that for any serious baker, a scale is a worthy investment. My measurements below are both in grams and cups/tablespoons. I’ve had success with the cup and tablespoon measurements below (when the batteries in my digital scale died)…though I would still recommend that if you are serious about your levain baking, you consider purchasing a scale. Good options here, here and here.

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Ingredients:

200 grams sourdough starter (approximately 1.6 cups) Just over 1 1/2 cups)

Your starter needs to be “baking ready” meaning fresh and bubbling. Your starter must be fed consistently for two or three days prior to baking. The night before you plan to bake the bread, discard all but about a tablespoon or two of the starter in the container. Feed the starter with a cup of bread flour and a cup of white whole wheat flour.

700 grams warm water (appx 3 cups), plus 50 grams (1/4 cup) to be added after autolyse
900 grams white bread flour

(appx 5 cups)

100 grams white whole wheat flour

(appx 1/2 cup)

21 grams sea salt

(appx 1.4 tablespoons)

Instructions

First, I have outlined the simplified recipe instructions. Below that, you can find my extended notes and in-depth explanation.

Pour the 700 grams of warm water into a large bowl.
Add the 200 grams of sourdough starter.
Next, add 900 grams of bread flour, and the 100 grams of white whole wheat.
Mix with your hands or a silicon spatula until just combined.
Let it sit for 25 minutes. (Autolyse) **see extended notes for more**
Then, add the 21 grams of salt and the 50 grams of additional warm water.
Mix with your hands, squeezing the dough between your fingers to incorporate the salt and water.

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Transfer to a different container for the bulk rise. I use a 6 quart plastic commercial kitchen container with a lid, like this one.

In a 90 degree Fahrenheit proofing chamber, the bulk rise is complete in 4 hours.

Instead of a long period of kneading, this recipe uses a series of turns, or “flips” of the dough.
Do the first turn after the first 30 minutes of the bulk rise. Do about 6 more turns on or about every 30 minutes.

How do you turn the dough?

Slide your hand down the side of the container and scoop up the dough from the bottom, pull that handful of dough upwards (gently) and fold it over the rest of the dough. You can fold more vigorously for the first two folds or so, then be more gentle, and be careful not to deflate the air pockets that are forming within the dough.

 Once the dough is fully proofed, dump it out onto a floured surface.

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Divide the dough in half, using wet knife or dough scraper.
Using a dough scraper, swiftly scoop up about half of each smaller dough ball and fold it on top if itself, sort of like doing another turn, just on the flat surface instead of the proofing container.
Cover both dough balls with a dish cloth, and let sit for 20 minutes.

This period is crucial. It is the easiest time to discern whether your dough is ready to be formed into loaves for the final rise, or whether it needs another turn out on the counter.

A fully proofed dough will be cohesive, and not too sticky. At the end of the 20 minute rest, the edges of the dough will be thick and stand up on it’s own, like a thick pancake sitting on the counter. If it’s not ready, it will be VERY sticky and look more like a drippy pool than a pancake. If the latter is the case, just give it another flip with the dough scraper, and check again in another 20 minutes.

Form the loaves

Prepare two bowls, line them with dish clothes and sprinkle them with bread flour and white rice flour. (Don’t skip the rice flour, it really helps to keep the dough from sticking to the dish cloth).

The idea here is to create as much tension and air inside the loaves as possible.

Flip the the ball of dough upside down and stretch it out gently (do not press down on the dough). Take each edge and fold it inward, creating a little “package” of dough. Gather up the dough and place it in the lined bowl. Do the same with the second loaf.

Let the loaves rise. In a 90 degree Fahrenheit proofing chamber, the loaves will be ready to bake in 2 1/2 hours.

About 30 minutes before you anticipate wanting to bake, preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a dutch oven or other cast iron baker with a lid inside the oven  while it preheats.

When ready, remove the dutch oven, take off the lid, and overturn one of the loaves into the hot baker. Slash the loaf with a sharp knife or razor blade, cover with the lid and return to the oven.
Immediately reduce the temperature to 450 degrees and set a timer for 20 minutes.
After the first 20 minutes of baking, remove the lid, and continue to bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes.

The crust should be a deep golden brown.

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Remove from the oven and set on a wooden countertop or cutting board to cool.

Let the loaves cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

In Depth Instructions and Recipe Notes

Autolyse Period

The autolyse period  occurs immediately after the incorporation of the flour and water. During autolyse, the enzymes amylase and protease (present in four) begin to split and break apart the starch and protein in the flour

The starch portion of the flour is converted sugar and the protein to gluten.

Gluten is latin for “glue.” It helps give the springy, elasticity to bread and baked goods, as well as a chewy texture.

Turns or “Flips” of the Dough

This period of your bread making is flexible. I typically do a total of about 7 turns, one every 30 minutes for the first three and a half hours of the bulk rise. Sometimes I do one or two more, depending on how the dough feels. And, if your bulk rise is lasting what seems like a ridiculously long time to get fully “proofed,” give it another turn.

How long do you bulk rise?

Good question. It depends–on a lot of factors, like how warm the water you mixed the dough with was, how warm your kitchen is, how much moisture is in the air, the list goes on.

The Tartine recipe dictates that if your kitchen is between 78 and 80 degrees, your bulk rise should be complete in 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Though I believe this may be true for some, I have never found this temperature/time combo to work for me. Granted, my kitchen is in a basement, so it is intrinsically cooler and moister than most. I keep a digital thermometer on the counter to keep track, and the temperature typically hovers around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, my bulk rise takes about 6-7 hours.

I’ve tried multiple methods of urging the rising process along, (such as: placing the dough on top of a preheating stove, or right next to the wood stove) none of which were particularly effective of consistent.

One method, however, that has proven reliable, is the proof setting on the oven. Set at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the bulk rise is complete in 4 hours.

How can you tell the dough is done bulk rising?

It will increase in size by 30%

It will feel light and “billowy” instead of thick and dense,  and you’ll be able to feel the air pockets formed within the dough.

The Final Rise

As I mention above, my dough is typically done with the final rise in 2 1/2 hours in my oven set to “proof” at 90 degrees. If your kitchen is cooler, which it likely is, it will take an hour or so longer.

The best way to find out if your dough is ready for baking is to press a well-floured finger into the proofing dough. If it springs back slowly and just incompletely–it is ready. If it does not fully spring back, it’s not ready yet. If it springs back fully and completely, your dough is likely over-proofed.

If your dough is over-proofed, don’t panic. I’ve baked loads of loaves I was sure were over-proofed that ended up just fine. Or, you can remove it from the proofing basket, drizzle with olive oil, wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge overnight. You can use it as pizza dough the next day.

Slashing the Loaves

Use a very sharp knife, razor blade, or lame. Wet the blade before slashing the loaf. I typically do three slashes diagonally across the loaf. You can also do four cuts in a square pattern, or one long cut through the middle of the loaf.

Baking Time

20 minutes with the lid on. I always do the full 25 minutes once I remove the lid, but because of the variations in oven temperature, I would start checking at 20 minutes. It’s OK for parts of the loaf to be very dark brown, or even black, particularly the “ears” where the loaf has risen the most. This will yield a crusty, flavorful loaf. Though if you prefer a lighter crust, watch it carefully after the 20 minute mark.

Phew.

There it is.

Questions? Comments? Critiques? Sourdough success pictures? Post them!

Bubbles.
Bubbles.

More about Kaitlin

I’m a food lover, health researcher, amateur cook, recovering journalist, nutrition student and avid kitchen experimenter. I live in the woods with a boyfriend and a dog.

Comments

  1. Reply

    Kaitlin, my first and second rises generally take about the same time as yours. No need to hurry them along, time builds flavor. I never discard starter and keep just a small amount in a half-pint jar in the fridge.

    1. Reply

      Good to know, Jean! It’s amazing how much my experience has varied from the recipes I’ve used in the past. Sourdough (and baking in general) is more trial and error than anything else!

  2. Reply

    […] dish makes a good appetizer. I served this one with freshly baked sourdough bread slices. It could also make a great main course served over herbed rice or cous […]

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