Bread Diaries Day 4: Sourdough

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My bread fascination began with a book named Sourdough.

It’s not a book about how to bake the most amazing sourdough. It is a book about a depressed engineer who lives in San Francisco and begins baking sourdough as a hobby. [spoiler alert] the sourdough starter then takes on a life of it’s own and swallows the city via an exclusive alternative food market. A little weird, and very SF.

It’s a book that resonated deeply with me, though I’m not sure what that says about myself. Maybe it means I’m just really into fresh-baked bread.

Regardless, since then I’ve baked a number of loaves, but it took nearly 2 years to fire up my own sourdough starter and bake my own loaf. Here another book comes into play.

Enter Cooked by Michael Pollan.

His beautiful exploration of sourdough and leavening bread from wild yeast was honestly poetry (clearly I am a bread nerd), and I felt a strong desire to say NO to big agriculture and industrial food production and just make my own sweet loaf of bread using my own natural yeast. That and it’s the middle of COVID lockdown and most stores are out of commercial yeast anyways. A mix of romanticism and practicality spurred on my sourdough baking adventures.

The process:

I make my starter using Michael Pollan’s recipe, which I document here:

I use this recipe from the NY Times:

The recipe is highly detailed with great step by step pictures and instructions. It makes a lovely whole wheat loaf.

  • I autolyse (let my flour and water rest together) overnight before mixing in the starter
  • My first time, I use all-purpose flour. The second time, I use bread flour. Bread flour leads to noticeably better results and gluten development.
  • My ratios are as follows: 100g of levain, 350g white bread flour or all-purpose flour, 150g rye flour, 375g water
  • I let bulk ferment (the first rise) for ~5 hours and then proof (the second rise after shaping) for 1.5 hours. I then put in fridge overnight before baking
  • I use a food scale to measure out everything, because honestly it makes life SO much easier, and making bread is all about precision.
  • I use a pre-heated Dutch oven in the hopes of getting a great oven spring

The results

To be honest, my loaves taste great but are not aesthetically pleasing.

What could be improved:

  • My dough is too slack and sticky. I’m either underproofing or overproofing, leading to poor gluten development. They are so hard to shape, and they lose their shape before going in the oven.
  • Poor rise and oven spring. My loaves are all just a little flat, even though the texture inside is good.

What goes right:

  • Wonderful springy, moist crumb
  • Great sour flavor
  • Brown, crunchy crust

As I keep practicing, I know I’ll have a better understanding of how long to bulk ferment, and how much I should work my dough. It’s possible that my starter also has very high acid content, which is inhibiting gluten development. My loaves certainly aren’t beautiful now, but they are delicious. And I guess that should be a win in my book.

3 thoughts on “Bread Diaries Day 4: Sourdough”

  1. Pingback: Beginner artisan sourdough bread | Halicopter Away

  2. Hi Hali, I got your blog from your father. I started making sourdough from March. I baked more than 10 sourdough loafs. I am getting better to deal with sticky doughs. Besides reading your blogs, I also watched many YouTube video about sourdough. My loaf always little flat and I still cannot score it easily. My latest 2 loaf didn’t turn out as good as before. It was little sticky and not as many holes as before. I cannot figure out the cause. Unless it is the damper Alabama weather. I also tried your other bread recipes, they are easier and always turn out pretty good. Anyway, thanks for all info, Happy baking!

    1. Hi Vivian thanks for dropping by and trying different bread recipes! Sourdough can be very tricky and depends on many factors. Is your starter consistently doubling in size in 4-8 hours? I’ve found that a strong starter is the foundation to a good loaf. It also sounds like you may be over proofing, which could lead to a flatter, denser, and stickier loaf. Lately I’ve been using a modification of a no knead recipe by King Arthur Flour. It’s very hands off and requires little handling of the dough and has consistently produced great results. You can read about my process:

      You’re proofing times may differ a little from mine depending on heat and humidity, but I hope this helps! The dough is also lower hydration so it’s easier to handle.

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