14 December 2011

Sourdough: a Revival

I spent the past week with a cold, bookended with bouts of bread baking. Not much other cooking besides; a fair amount of canned soup, scottish oats, sandwiches, and eating out. I did make a comical observation - my weekend dinners consisted of three cultural takes on "round piece of dough as delivery method for meal"; namely Ethiopian, burrito, and gyro. I thought of pizza on Monday to round it out, but decided soup would be more fitting. But, yes, on to the bread. Last year, around this time, I started a sourdough experiment that ended when I got lazy and the sourdough got mold. Sad, really. A chance encounter with the Tartine Bread book in an art museum gift shop told me there was an easier way. Less baby sitting starter, less watching dough rise. Sign me up!
Armed with my partially-remembered sentences from a book and my newly-purchased cheesecloth, I began the starter. I did the following, and it seemed to work, though I'm not sure how proper it is: I put 1/4 cup whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup bread flour, and 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp warm water in a bowl (non-reactive, non-metal is a must - use Pyrex or equivalent) and stirred it. Cheesecloth on top, let it rest in my kitchen for 3 days. Made sure it smelled funny - cheesy, almost. Threw out half of it, added in enough flour/water to bring it back up to the same size; stirred. Let sat for 2 days. Made sure it rose a little. Also, smelled funny. Threw away half of it, refreshed back to size. Everytime it rose and then fell, I refreshed; the period is a feeding every 2-3 days right now and I've reduced the size a bit so it is perfectly sized for making a loaf of broad ~160 grams, of which 80 goes into a loaf. The refresh amount is about 2 tbsp of each whole-wheat and normal flour and 2.5 tbsp of water.
I've made two loaves with this; the first (pictured below) was a half-whole wheat bread with ~70% hydration. I skimped on salt accidentally, leaving it with that peculiar taste of bread that doesn't have any salt. The second loaf (both pictures above) was 100% white flour, not counting the starter, with ~80% hydration and black sesame seeds. The second loaf was infinitely better, so I've included the process below. And, for the person who doesn't have a few hours in the morning spare for bread, this recipe is fantastic - straight from the fridge to the oven, easy peasy. Delish.
Rustic Sesame, Naturally Leavened
Makes a single loaf
80g starter (recipe approximately above)
320g bread flour
256g cold water
10g black sesame seeds
5g salt

Take the starter right when it needs refreshing; that is, it has risen recently and begun to fall. Combine with flour, water, and sesame seeds and mix with a wooden spoon until it has come together, then stir for a minute longer. Cover; wait 30 minutes. After that first wait, add the salt to the bowl, lightly wet your hands, and stretch-and-fold the dough until you can no longer feel the grain of the salt. Cover, let rest for 3-4 hours. Stretch-and-fold it every 30 minutes or so, until it feels very difficult to do so or the bread has risen a bit (it will feel fluffier). Refrigerate the dough for a day and a night.

After giving it time in the fridge to complete the rising process, turn your oven up to 500 degrees and prepare, as I did, a bespoke dutch oven consisting of a cast-iron frying pan and a brownie pan, turned upside-down, for the lid. Have this in the oven to warm up. Remove the bread from the fridge, flour a work surface and your hands, and shape it into a round somewhat. After you think the cast iron is hot (30 minutes or so), place the dough on some parchment paper and put the parchment paper in the dutch oven, reducing the oven to 475. Cook for 20 minutes, remove the lid, and cook for 15-20 minutes longer (until the bread is ~200 degrees inside, looks golden brown, and sounds hollow).



  1. Why when you're starting do you throw out half of it over and over again?
    Also- why no metal dish? What would happen if you used metal?

  2. A starter is like a little fish tank. You've got your medium (water) your fish (bacteria) and your food (flour). The bacteria eats the flour, producing booze and bubbles and rendering the food useless, as far as further sustenance goes. So, you need to add more food and, essentially, clear out their shit. You could just add more food, but then the dough would increase in size with every feeding and the goal is to keep one of these going for years so... not sustainable.

    Some people (and most books I've read) say metal adds a flavor to the starter. I don't think it is the end of the world, though.