Sourdough Bread

by infamouscookery

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Recently we’ve been playing around with making sourdough bread. For a couple of years we’ve been using a sourdough starter to make pancakes. We wanted to know if we could use it for making bread too. It turns out the answer is “yes” but there’s a lot more to making a good loaf of sourdough bread than having a decent starter on hand.

Our first task was to get our starter “in shape” for making bread. Instead of feeding it milk and flour on a monthly basis (per our pancake recipe) we switched to feeding it equal masses of flour and water (about 100 g of each) every twelve hours. Pretty quickly, we had a vigorous starter on our hands — it now easily doubles in volume in 12 hours, even after being refrigerated. Last night I left the starter in a sealed ziplock bag. This is what I came back to in the morning:

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I guess our starter produces a good bit of C02!

The main thing we’ve had to figure out about bread-making was a good kneading technique. Without good kneading, one can’t develop the gluten needed to get bubbles inside the bread and the loaf becomes very dense (and, needless to say, unpalatable). After quite a number of failed attempts, we finally found a technique that works pretty well for us (undoubtedly expert bread bakers have even better procedures).  When we learned that the idea of kneading is to produce big stretchy sheets of gluten, we decided to try rolling out our bread dough, folding it over on itself, turning the dough 90 degrees, and then flattening it again — a little like making a flaky pastry crust. We also found that the kneading was a lot easier to do if we broke it up into three small kneading sessions (2-3 minutes) separated by about 10-15 minutes. It takes a little more time for the bread to rise this way, but it also makes kneading a lot less strenuous.

Kneading underway: The loaf has been flattened and folded onto itself.

Kneading underway: The loaf has been flattened and folded onto itself.

Here is our dough recipe:

  • 225 g unbleached white flour
  • 150 g H20
  • 10 g salt
  • Approximately 100g of starter

Mixed together, the dough is still pretty wet and lumpy. After the first kneading, it looks like this:

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After two kneading sessions it’s still pretty lumpy.

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Finally, 10 minutes after the third kneading, the dough is looking good.

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Our baking technique is also little different. In lieu of a baking stone or ceramic La Cloche, we heat a heavy cast iron roasting pan (with a lid) to 500F in our oven, put the loaf in the pan and cover it. After 15 minutes we remove the lid so the loaf can brown. We’ve read that some amateur bakers do this in order to better simulate the power of a professional bread oven, though we haven’t done any experiments to see if it’s really necessary.

Here are some loaves we’ve made and some cross sections.

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