Perfect and Simple Sourdough Bread

Sunday, September 14, 2014

I have been working really hard at perfecting bread making.  One of my favorite types of bread to make is sourdough.  Sourdough might be totally daunting but YouTube has some EXCELLENT videos on how to make it and I've tried a ton of different methods and techniques to make mine PERFECT! The best part is that I can cheat and make the dough in the bread machine, shape by hand, and bake on my stone in the oven.  I've got this bread so delicious that my friends have even started asking me if I will sell it!  The tricky part is the starter.  My starter isn't traditional by any means, but it works really well and makes the bread taste AMAZING.  I was thinking about making a video tutorial but since we've moved I can't find my video camera.  As soon as I can find it, I will make one cause it really helps to see it done.  
One thing to note, when making bread, ESPECIALLY sourdough, the type of flour you use REALLY DOES MATTER!  I use either King Arthur flour or Bob's Red Mill.  You really need to use bread flour and that bread flour needs to be UNBLEACHED and UNBROMATED.  The reason for this is because you need to have flour that has a high gluten content and it needs to be more nutrient rich.  All purpose flour isn't going to cut it, even if it's unbleached, you need a high quality flour.  So, my advice to you is, spend the extra money to get a good quality flour.  In addition to good flour, I add  4 tsp. per loaf of vital wheat gluten.  Vital wheat gluten isn't essential, but it helps give the dough a nice rise as well as an amazing texture.  It also gives a little longer life to your loaf of bread.  You can find the Vital Wheat Gluten right next to the yeast in the baking aisle of your grocery store.
Also remember, the older your sourdough starter, the more sourdough flavor you will have.  So if you use this recipe for a sourdough starter, it will probably take a few months before you start to really notice that delicious sourdough flavor.  Don't despair if your bread doesn't have that distinct flavor to start, give it time, like a fine wine, sourdough gets better with age :).  If properly maintained, your starter can be kept alive indefinitely! 

Basic Sourdough Starter

  • 1 cup high quality flour (I use Bob's Red Mill or King Arthur- you can also use whole wheat flour that has a high gluten content)
  • 1 cup cool, filtered water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp. yeast (Note- Sourdough purists would probably have a fit about me adding yeast to my starter, however I find that it gets the starter going quicker, and keeps it really active.   I have tried it both ways and find that I prefer adding yeast to my starter)
To Make your Starter:
In a large, non reactive (non metallic) container (I use a large, glass mason jar), mix all the ingredients together with a rubber scraper or wooden spoon.  If you have lumps, don't worry about it, lumps are OK! Cover loosely with plastic wrap (not too tight, you don't want air to make it explode), or I use a piece of cheese cloth held in place by a rubber band.  Store in a warm, dry place like a pantry or kitchen cabinet.  
For the next 8 days you are going to start fermenting your starter.  Your starter is a living thing and needs to be fed to keep it alive.  While you are fermenting your starter- feed your it morning and night.  Here's how you feed your starter:
At each feeding - 
  • Remove 1/4 cup of starter and discard it.
  • To your remaining starter, add 1/4 flour, 1/4 cup water, and a pinch of sugar.
  • Stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, cover, and place back in your storage spot.  
As the starter ferments it will get bubbly and have a sweet smell.  If a brown liquid forms on the top that's A GOOD THING!  It's called the Hooch and it's alcohol caused by fermentation.  Simply stir it back into the starter when you feed it.  After 8 days you can cook with your starter or you can place it in the refrigerator.  If you keep it in the fridge, it needs to be fed once a week.  To feed once a week, remove 1/2 cup of starter and either discard or bake with it, feed with equal parts flour, water, and a pinch of sugar, stir, cover, and place back in the fridge.  If you choose to keep it out of the fridge, it needs to be fed once a day.

To bake with your starter:
24 hours before you are ready to bake, remove 1/2 cup of starter from the refrigerator and feed it with 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup water, and a pinch of sugar.  Place in your warm, dry storage spot (I keep mine in a kitchen cabinet).  Before placing the remaining starter back in the fridge, feed it with 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup water, and a pinch of sugar.  Stir to mix, cover, and place back in the refrigerator.  
Feed the starter you are going to use to bake WITHOUT REMOVING ANY STARTER twice on the first day 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup water, and a pinch of sugar.  Feed it again on the second day right when you are ready to add it to your recipe.  You should always bake with starter that has been just fed.  Add the amount of starter you need to your recipe and add the remaining starter to your starter in the fridge.

*Note- when you feed your starter, it should get bubbly and after a few hours look frothy.  If it does not bubble up, you can add a pinch of yeast to revive it (again, I am not a traditionalist here).  If it looks pink or orange and has a foul odor then it's dead and you need to discard it, but most of the time, it can be very easily revived.  If it is BROWN that is GOOD!  BROWN IS GOOD!

Perfect and Simple Sourdough Bread

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp. butter, softened
  • 3 tbsp. honey 
  • 2 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sourdough starter
  • 4 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 8 tsp. vital wheat gluten
  • 2 1/2 tsp. dry active yeast
  • 10 ice cub
Place ingredients in the bread machine in the EXACT ORDER LISTED and set to the dough cycle.  When the dough cycle is done, coat a medium sized non-metal bowl with oil, or a banneton lightly with flour and set aside. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide in half.  Take one mound of dough and form it into a tight ball.  The easiest way to do this is to place the dough on the counter and pull it towards you, turn it one quarter turn, then pull it toward you, and repeat until you have done four turns.  Then, using the side and heel of your hand, shift the dough in small circles so that it tightens into a tight ball.  Turn the dough upside down into the banneton or oiled bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30-60 minutes.  Repeat with the second mound of dough.  While the dough is rising, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  If you are using a baking stone- which is recommended- preheat the stone in the oven.  Coat a pizza peel lightly with semolina flour or cornmeal, or line with parchment.  Turn the risen dough CAREFULLY out onto the pizza peel.  Carefully slash the top of your dough with a VERY SHARP knife, taking care not to deflate it.  Open your oven and toss the ice into the bottom of your oven (NO THIS WON'T HURT IT!! This will create steam in your oven and give your bread a crispy crust and chewy inside).   Carefully slide your dough balls out onto the baking stone using a pizza peel.  Bake 20-30 minutes or until the internal temperature of your bread reaches between 190 and 210 degrees when measured with a meat thermometer (this is REALLY important for good texture).  Allow to cool slightly before cutting into it...although I know it will be hard to wait!  

Until next time, happy and HEALTHY cooking!


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