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.
I make my starter using Michael Pollan’s recipe, which I document here: https://halicopteraway.com/2020/03/29/no-yeast-no-problem-how-to-bake-bread-when-theres-no-yeast-on-hand/
I use this recipe from the NY Times: https://cooking.nytimes.com/guides/59-how-to-make-sourdough-bread
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
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.