Sourdough!

So I’ve been baking bread for a while now. And I just love it. It’s the most relaxing hobby I have, and I get to make it for friends and family, which really feels wonderful.

But I’ve been quite stumped by sourdough. Naturally I bought a copy of Tartine, the modern bible for sourdough bread baking, and I read it over and over. I researched for hours on the Internet and watched countless videos on YouTube. I did everything I could possibly do as a beginner sourdough bread baker, except the most important part, which was to go ahead and start the process.

Getting my starter started took another month of research (I’m not kidding) – what flours to use, which method to follow, what should my feeding timetable look like etc. I was left with no option but to begin the process. I simply couldn’t read another book or watch another video. I felt like a stalker. Sourdough, I realized, needed me to get in and get my hands dirty, try and fail if I have to, but definitely try.

Finally I decided to follow the starter method from The Perfect Loaf. I’m a subscriber of his Instagram feed, and his photographs are so beautiful. But what really got me to start was a fellow blogger, Indian Food Rocks, whom I’ve been following for years. She had posted a video of using her discarded sourdough starter to make dosas! Ingenious. And she recommended using The Perfect Loaf’s starter. I did, and after 3 failed attempts, one finally stuck.

My daughter has named her Tiffany. 🙂 Isn’t she lovely?

Sourdough loaves are made from wild yeast – bacteria that’s present everywhere. Good bacteria. This wild yeast gives the bread more complex flavors than what you’d get from a normal bread made with commercial yeast. This is the good stuff – earthy, sweet, sometimes sour. Starters can be made from different types of flours or a mixture of them. Maybe one day I’ll graduate to making a rye starter, or a ragi one – but for now I just stuck to bread flour and water. If you follow the 7 step starter plan, and once the starter is active, you’ll only have to feed it once a week (or more if you bake more often).

So now we have the starter started, I moved onto incorporating all the research I had done and came up with a checklist and a game plan! Yes, the whole thing was very intimidating to me. So I’m going to post that checklist here for you, just for you to see it’s not really so difficult.

This is obviously super basic. I will go into each step into more details here. This formula follows the essential Tartine method, though I’ve used a different starter and different quantities of flours and flour types.

The above is a checklist of the steps involved in making the sourdough. But, here’s another list of the equipment you’ll need:

  • Mixing bowls
  • Pastry scraper
  • Plastic wrap
  • 2 plastic bags
  • Sharp blade/ lamé/ sharp knife
  • 2 proofing baskets or mixing bowls or similar containers for proofing – with liners or clean dish cloths for lining
  • Dutch ovens or heavy cast-iron or other heavy bottomed pans with fitted lids
  • Spatula
  • Oh, and this isn’t equipment but you’ll need rice flour for the liners and proofing baskets

Day 1 – preferably evening. What you’ll need for today, for the leaven:

  • 1 Tablespoon active starter
  • 75 g bread flour
  • 75 g water

Test the starter. Drop a spoonful of starter in water. If it floats, it’s ready.

Make the Leaven – mix the tablespoon of starter, the 75g water and 75 g bread flour. Mix well, cover and keep aside at room temperature overnight.

Day 2: today has a lot of steps. I started at about 10 am and finished by 5 pm, so make sure you have time. Not all of that time is active, but you’ll still have to be around. What you’ll need for today:

  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 525 g water, at room temperature
  • 700 g bread flour

Mix the salt with 50 g of the water and stir to dissolve. It won’t completely dissolve, that’s ok.

In another bowl, mix together the remaining water (475 g) and all the leaven from the previous night. Use your fingertips to dissolve the leaven into the water – it’s okay if it’s slightly lumpy.

Now mix in all the flour. Use your hands to pinch and mix the dough until thoroughly incorporated. The dough will be shaggy and dry.

This stage is known as Autolyse. It’s where the enzymes from the flour start breaking down the starches and proteins. And the water gets absorbed into the flour. Leave the flour aside, covered, for 30 minutes up to 4 hours. I left it for an hour and it looked like this.

Now mix in the dissolved salt. The dough will be quite wet but continue pinching and squeezing the water into the dough and distribute the salt water as much as possible throughout.

Now let’s start the stretch and fold. Begin by lifting the top part of the dough, stretch it upwards and then pull it down towards the opposite or bottom side. Repeat the same stretch and fold with the left, right and bottom “sides” – first stretching the dough upward and then over to the opposite side. Cover and let it rest for 1/2 hour. This is the first stretch and fold.

Repeat the same method every half hour until you have completed 6 stretch and folds (a total of 2 1/2 hours). The dough will now be soft and lovely. Just lovely.

When you have finished the 6th stretch and fold, leave the dough covered for an hour. The dough will look all puffy but won’t necessarily double in size. Mine had huge bubbles as well. That’s fine.

Now flour your counter and turn out the dough very gently to avoid removing all those beautiful bubbles. Use a pastry scraper to divide the dough into half, approximately the same size.

Leave covered for 10 minutes.

Now take a floured pastry scraper and gently push under the dough. Turn it around the curve of the dough like you would when turning the steering wheel left when you drive. Continue doing that a few times. The dough will start getting rounder and more taut.

Cover and let the dough rest for 30 minutes. While they are resting, prepare the proofing baskets or mixing containers. Line each basket with a cloth and heavily dust the cloth with rice flour. I actually rubbed rice flour into the cloth. The more rice flour you rub into the cloth, the less chance of the dough sticking to the dough.

Now it’s time to shape the dough. Flour a part of your countertop and flour the top part of the dough and gently flip it over onto the floured countertop. So now the floured surface of the dough is on the countertop.

Grab the bottom part of the dough and stretch and fold up to the center. Do the same for the left and right side of the dough. Repeat the same with the top part of the dough but now use your thumb to seal and roll the dough right side up. Click here for a great video for pre-shaping and final shaping methods.

Repeat for the other piece of dough. So now both pieces are right side up and looking great hopefully.

Now gently pick up each piece and flip into the floured, lined proofing baskets, so the seam-side is facing up.

Put each basket into a plastic bag, large enough not to restrict the dough. Close and seal the plastic bags with a rubber band. Put the plastic bags into the refrigerator for an overnight proof. (Alternatively you could leave the proofing baskets outside at room temperature for 4 hours and then continue to the next baking part.)

One of them looks a bit wrinkly in the bottom – I have to work on my shaping technique.

Leave the dough in the refrigerator for 12-15 hours.

Day 3

Put the Dutch oven or cast iron pan with lid (a Lodge combo cooker works well too) into the oven and preheat the oven to 260 deg C/ 500 deg F.

Once the oven is preheated, carefully remove the Dutch oven. Take off the lid. Remove one proofing dough from the refrigerator and gently flip and place the proofed dough into the pot. Score the loaves as you’d like, with a sharp blade or knife.

Cover tightly with the lid and put it back into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes.

Reduce temperature to 230 deg C/ 450 deg F and bake for a further 10 minutes.

Now remove the lid of the Dutch oven and continue to bake for a further 20-25 minutes.

Remove the loaf carefully with a metal spatula. Cool completely on a wire rack for an hour. Admire those beautiful loaves!

Enjoy 🙂 look at that gorgeous crumb

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