These are my notes and instructions on managing and making a sourdough boule. This is loosely adapted from the notes from "The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread" by Peter Reinhart, but capturing a few changes that I've found work for my climate, kitchen and cheap-ass flour.
This all depends on having a healthy starter. By healthy, I mean that it should be active: bubbles, increasing volume after feeding, and so on.
I have tried to use eco-friendly plastic wrap alternatives (bees wax sheets anyone?), but find they don't really seal that well, and lead to dry crunchy bits on the surface exposed to air. They won't kill you, but they take a bit of work to re-incorporate. I've gone back to using ye olde plastic cling film.
On the Starter
I'm storing my stater in a ~1L Weck jar. It has a lid that opens to the side with a rubber gasket. It does well enough to keep the kitchen debris out, but it does allow for air to escape - and to enter - the jar as needed. To me, this is important: I think the buggies need oxygen, and in the event of a big feeding, you may want your starter to escape.
Making the starter
I straight up used the recipe from the above mentioned book. I have since kept it alive...
Putting the starter "on ice"
I start with this topic because I go through periods where I don't want to work with the starter, but I don't want to discard it either. There are other methods involving drying your starter out, but I have not experimented with them.
I have not attempted to freeze my starter, but I have stashed it in the fridge for extended periods of time with success:
- Feed the starter to double it's mass (more on that below)
- Store in a semi-airtight container in the fridge.
I've left it in the fridge for more than 4 weeks once; it had a layer of hooch on top that I poured out, then started a feeding cycle, and it seemed to recover just fine.
More often than not, the conversation in my household goes "Can you make some sourdough?" "Sure babe, I just need to feed it the starter a bit. When did you want it?" "Tomorrow?" .. and I wind up YOLOing it with a feed in the morning, and a bake-off the next day. I've only had one failure where it was borderline inedible, and that was unrelated to the starter (I forgot to add the salt).
If you're not YOLOing it,
Reinhart suggests that you at least double the starter at feeding, and illustrates this with a 454g starter requires a feeing of 227g of water and 227g of flour. With a jar tare weight of 1107g, I would discard starter to wind up with a jar + starter weight of 1561g, then add 227g + 227g flour and water for a total weight of 2015g. I found this to be wasteful - even after trying to use the discard for other recipes (see my preferred use, Sourdough Crackers), I would still be sending a lot of starter down the drain.
I'm down to maintaining 200g of starter, and feeding 100g + 100g flour and water.
Feeding is now:
- Jar tare weight 1107g
- Discard starter, leaving 1307g total jar weight. Remember there's loads of wild yeast on the walls - just because it's not in the bottom of the jar, doesn't mean it's not useful!
- Add 100g + 100g flour and water for a total weight of 1507g.
When I am anticipating a bake, I'll keep 400g and increase the feed to 200g each flour and water. This will leave me with ~800g of starter - considerably more than what I actually need for the recipe.
I will get the odd specs of gunk on the side of the jar, especially on the wall that I pour the starter out from. The Reddit's tell me that this is OK; they'll also tell me that I should turf the whole thing and incinerate my kitchen to be sure I'm rid of the bad bacteria. I find that repeated, "big" feedings (keep 400g, feed 200g+200g) will get rid of this pretty quickly. I tend to find that the bacteria that I'm actively feeding are more potent than the bacteria that is there just trying to survive.
Reinhart will also tell you that a more-than-double feeding will dilute the "sour" flavor of the starter. If this is important, you will want to double the starter for a few days prior to use (instead of the day before).
TLDR: Double the volume of starter at each feeding.
Timing plays a part here, otherwise you wind up looking to bake your boules at like 9:30 PM. No one wants that.
Household temperature also plays a part. A warmer kitchen will lead to more rapid growth (and less sour!), requiring less time.
Feed your starter to get it up to ~800g, and repeat at this mass (keep 400g, feed 200g + 200g).
T-1 Day, Morning (before 10 AM)
Feed your starter at least 200g each flour and water. If you're YOLOing it, you'll wind up with up with at least 400g of starter. Ideally, you'd start with 400g of starter so you'd be at 800g now.
T-1 Day, late afternoon / dinner time
Make your firm starter:
- 118g starter
- 128g flour
- 57g water (can be as little as 27g, but my flour seems to be drier than the average bear, so I've always gone for more here).
Mix this together until all the flour is incorporated.
Oil a small bowl, and put the content of your firm starter in it. Cover it with plastic wrap.
Let it ferment for 4-6 hours, or until it's doubled in size, or it's bedtime. Whichever comes first.
I have been known to do this step in a warm oven (heated by the oven light) if I'm running behind.
Put it in the fridge for overnight.
Reinhart will tell you to put this is an oiled bowl and fridge it, but I find that this makes the next steps a bit harder (the oil makes integrating the firm starter a bit harder), and you still need to scape the goo out of the bowl anyways .. so I don't.
T-0 Day, morning
Remove the bowl from the fridge, and let it warm up a bit. I leave this out on the counter until lunchtime.
T-0 Day, lunchtime
We're going to start assembling the dough now, which can take a bit of time - at least 10 minutes of kneading, plug time to assemble. You'll also need about an hour on the tail end for a few folds, so plan on having at least 1 hour free here.
In a large bowl, add:
- 647g flour
- All the firm starter (Reinhart says 269g, but last time I did this was >300g)
- 14g salt
- 397g warm water (~100f)
I add the ingredients in this order. I will dip my hands in the flour, extract the firm starter in handfuls, using the flour as a sort of lubricant. This generally keeps the firms starter from sticking to my hands.
Since I don't have a stand mixer (anymore), I squidge this through one hand, while turning the bowl with the other. Do this until most, if not all, of the flour has been combined.
Once combined, dump it out on to a clean surface, and begin to knead. You'll probably need a small handful or two more flour to keep things not too sticky. I find this really varies depending on the time of year, so your mileage may vary.
Knead for around 10 minutes. The dough should be lightly sticky - think tacky like a gummy bear. Tearing off a piece of dough and stretching it out, it should pass a windowpane test. We're trying to form gluten here, so more kneading never really hurts. Right?
Lightly oil a bowl, and transfer the dough to it. Cover with plastic wrap.
Set a timer for 20 minutes, and once expired, remove the dough from the bowl. Stretch it out, then fold it on itself like closing a book. Rotate 90', and stretch and fold again. Do this until you've come full circle. It should be pretty stiff to stretch and fold now.
Set a timer for 20 minutes (again), and repeat the process. Another 20 minute timer and repeat. You should have completed 3 sets of 4 stretch / folder over the last hour.
After the three folds, let the dough alone in the bowl for 3-4 hours, or until it's risen almost double in size. Or, about..
T-0 Day, before dinner
Around maybe 5 PM, you'll want to split the dough in half, making two loafs. I do this on a well seasoned wooden cutting board. The dough shouldn't be sticky by now, so it's usually just a case of flopping the dough out on to the cutting board, and with a bench scraper, cutting the dough in two.
You want to do this while releasing as little gas as possible.
I generally cut the dough not quite evenly in two. I only have one proofing basket, so I will use whatever round shaped linnen-lined object I can find for the 2nd loaf - usually a mesh strainer, which is smaller than the proofing basket I have.
Line your proofing baskets with flour so the dough doesn't want to stick.
One at a time, form the ball of dough into a .. ball. Being careful not to work out too much of the rise, pinch the seam of the dough shut. This will become the bottom of the dough, so looks aren't 100% here. The opposite side is what will become the top.
Cover the proofing dough with a towel (I have these elastic bread covers that work really well), and let these rest until after dinner. They should rise up a little bit more.
T-0 Day, after dinner
Time to bake.
Remove all but the bottom racks from your oven. Line the bottom of your cast iron dutch oven with tin foil - I usually do two layers. Put the lid on, put it on the bottom rack of your oven, and crank it to 500 F.
Once it's at temperature, take a loaf, pour it out on to a work surface. Brush off any excess flour (it will get in the way of the browning of the crust, and you don't want that), and gently carve a DEEP cut into the surface. LIke, 1" deep at a 45 degree angle.
Once the ball is ready, get two ice cubes on standby near your oven.
Working quickly (but safely, this stuff is hot!), open the oven door. Remove the lid of your pot (put it on another wooden cutting board), and put the dough in on the tin foil. On the inside of the pot, but between the wall and the foil, drop your two ice cubes. The melted water from the ice cubes should not come into contact with the dough, but the steam generated should share the container. Put the lid back on, close the door, and set your timer for 2 minutes.
After the two minutes, reduce the heat to 450 F, and set your timer for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, remove the of the pot. Remember it's hot. Set the timer for 15 minutes, again.
AFter 15 minutes, check your bread - If it's got a nice golden crust, it's good to come out. If not, give it a few more minutes and try again.
Once you're done the first loaf, time to reset and repeat - lid back on, temperature back to 500 F, and repeat.