Monday, September 26, 2011

Sourdough Bread ... finally!

(Originally posted on September 10/2011) *Updated on September 26/2011*

I feel like there should be a drum roll here... because I am finally posting something food related, and not something excuse related.

I even have 2 projects on the go right now... One I will tell you about, and the other you have to wait until the 27th because it is my Daring Baker Challenge...

On it's final rise in my oven right now, is another loaf of Sourdough Bread. One reason I was waiting a little bit to post about my sourdough, is I wanted to actually know what I was writing about. I have wanted to make Sourdough bread for a REALLY long time, but the whole making a starter process scared the pants off me. But It really shouldn't have. It is so easy.... Basically, making a starter is putting water and flour together. This helps the little wild yeast that is living on the flour to grow into a strong colony. If you can remember to feed your dog, you can remember to feed your yeast, its not hard at all.

While it isn't hard, and your labour will be greatly rewarded with possibly the best bread to ever come out of your oven (mine was), Sourdough isn't really an instant-gratification kind of food. You need a lot of Patience, and timing. The timing is what threw me off on my second loaf (I'll tell you about it,... in this post).

The boyfriend keeps asking me why I take on these "epic food projects." And the only thing I can say is that I like the challenge. It isn't like 100 years ago my great grandmothers had prepackaged dry yeast. And even if they had access to a jar of active dry yeast (like we do today) It isn't like they could just run to the grocery store to pick some up. (by the way, I guess I should explain, that all of my great grandparents homesteaded in Saskatchewan, and things were spread far apart, times were tough and they had large families)
Plus, why buy yeast, when you already have it there in your bag of flour.

Anyway, back to the bread...
Sourdough starters are easy, I will send you over to Food Wishes, and you can obsessively watch the videos he has posted like I did, for the instructions... which I followed exactly. Just make sure you go and get yourself some Bread Flour. I don't know if it makes a difference with the all purpose compared to the bread flour, But You will be using a lot of the bread flour so it makes the purchase worth it. plus, it is the same price as All purpose anyway. (side note: Has anyone used Barley Flour? There is some at one of the grocery stores here that is local, and I'm just curious if I can use it the same why as regular wheat flour?)

Get yourself a plastic or glass container with a lid. (I use a Ziploc large entree semi-disposable). Grab a whisk, and some warm (not hot, or your yeast will die before they ever get to colonize your container), and your bread flour. Now watch Day one of Chef John's instructions... then the next day, watch Day 2 ,and keep going. Until the first loaf of bread is baked.

Smell your starter everyday. I know its weird right? But after a few days of feeding it everyday, it starts to smell just like sourdough. Which is kind of a little mini-reward, because you know it is working. As time goes on, it starts to get a little more of an alcohol smell to it. After the first week of your starter, you can put it in the fridge, and then just feed it once a week instead of everyday. My yeast get fed on Mondays (usually).

So to actually make the bread:

Dump your active starter in a large bowl, add in a cup of warm water and a cup of bread flour, and whisk just like feeding the starter. Cover with plastic wrap and poke a few holes. Let it sit at room temperature for about 8 hours, maybe more, maybe less. This is to make "the sponge". I usually do this at 6:30am just before I go to work on Friday, and then it has about 10 hours while I'm gone to sponge-ify.
So when I get home from work and relax a little, my sponge has usually more than doubled, and looks like a giant pale sponge.
Now is where the work comes in... Make sure your starter container is clean. Knock the bubbles in the sponge down, so it looks like pancake batter again. Pour this all back into your starter container. (here is the foodwishes link for you to watch)
Measure out 2 cups of Sponge into a large mixing bowl, add in 2 tsp of salt, 1/2 tsp of sugar, and 2 tbsp of Olive oil. Stir this all together, and then stir in 1 cup of flour. Once it is all combined, stir in another 1/2 cup of flour. The dough will still be sticky at this point, but turn it out onto a surface, with another 1/2 cup of flour and work it in. You will be kneading for a long time to help develop the gluten, This is the part that sucks, but just look at it like a work out. You know you are done needing when you can tear off a little piece of dough, stretch it, and it doesn't break. My first loaf, I probably kneaded for 40 minutes, just trying to get more and more flour in. All total you want to try and get 2.5-3 cups of flour into the bread. I haven't been able to get to the 3 cups, I usually just knead for about 30minutes, and get about 2.5 cups in. Just follow whatever your gut tells you to do.When you can poke your finger into the ball of dough, and the dough springs back, with hardly any imprint of your finger being there, then you are pretty much there. Chef John's instructions and videos really help, and I would definitely go back there and bookmark it whenever you have a bit of a question as to what to do next. I haven't tried any different recipes than his with my starter yet, but I know his videos work!
Put your dough ball in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and stab a few holes in it. I usually put it in the oven, but that is just because I grew up in a house with cats, who liked to get into everything ,and rising dough is much safer in the oven... You can just leave it on your counter though.

So this is where timing is so important. You kind of need to know your schedule of the next 2 days before you start making sourdough bread. You also need to know how long your yeast takes to rise. Its not hard, you just need to pay attention. I have found that you can make the first 2 rises (your sponge and your dough) fit around your schedule a little bit, but don't screw with the last one. My sponge gets about 12 hours, and my dough gets about 12 hours. The first one, while I'm at work, and the 2nd while I am sleeping. Then when I get up on Saturday morning (which is usually early, despite my best efforts of trying to sleep in on my day off, because the dogs need to go out to pee), and then I "punch down" my dough. Except you don't really punch it, just kind of push on it to deflate it.

Then stretch it into a square/rectangle shape, roll it into a loaf shape, and put it on a sturdy baking sheet that you sprinkled with some cornmeal.
Brush the top with a little water, and I cover with a damp tea towel in the oven. Chef John says you don't have to cover it, but I do anyway.
So now, you just have to wait until your loaf has doubled in size... Mine is usually about 4-6 hours. but it could be longer. Just listen to the yeast. Also, Don't push this rise too long. I did, I went out shopping, and forgot I was busy with the sourdough project, So when I baked it, it was sooooo deflated. It still tasted great, but it wasn't as pretty, and it looked more like sourdough Biscotti, than sourdough bread.

So when your loaf is finished rising, Brush the top with water (or use a spray bottle, like Chef John says... I just haven't remembered to pick one up whenever I'm at a store that has spray bottles). Get a pan with some water in it, and put it on the lower rack in your oven. Put the bread into the oven cold. Then turn the temperature to 400F (John said 425, but this is a higher altitude, and so I think you should lower the temperature of the oven and lengthen the cooking time.... don't hold me to that, I'm not an expert on the difference altitude makes in baking, I just know it makes a difference)
Every 10 minutes, open the oven, brush (or spray) with water, and rotate pan, if needed. I usually do this every time, just to keep everything as even as possible.

Let your bread cool, and then ENJOY... (seriously, you will enjoy)

One last little hint. In Chef John's sourdough series, at the end, he says that your first loaf probably won't work. Mine did, BUT because I was worried it wouldn't, and I didn't want to lose all my faith in my sourdough abilities, I added in about 1 tsp of active dry yeast when I made the dough... just to make sure I got a loaf of bread. All my loaves since then haven't worked just fine without the extra yeast. But if you want to ensure you end up with bread your first time out too, then add a little more yeast just to cover yourself if your homegrown yeast colony doesn't want to be bread yet.

I finally added a few photo's from my iPhone on September 26/2011
Sorry for the wait!

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