I seem to have settled into a bit of a (flexible) routine with my sourdough! I have yet to try a new recipe, as I continue to get a feel for this one. I’m also anticipating a shift in the process once the weather really turns to fall/winter and the ambient temp in my apartment drops a bit. (Let’s be honest, though, in a Brooklyn apartment with radiator heat it’s never very cold, and it’s completely out of my control.) Here’s what I do (this got so long!).
The day before I want to bake bread, I begin this process.
- Take Constance out of the fridge and let sit for about an hour. During this time I do a bunch of arithmetic, asking myself the following questions to determine how much to feed her:
- How many loaves of bread will I be making? (240 g per loaf)
- What else might I want to make with the starter? (pizza for dinner? more crackers? most of those recipes are fine with discard, but I figure they’re also fine with at-peak starter too)
- I add up all the amounts of starter I’ll need, add 113 g (so I have Constance to put back in the fridge), then round generously up to a nice whole number. This is the amount of starter I will want mixed up.
- After the hour at room temp, I put a container on my scale, zero it out, and pour all of Constance into the container (I use a 2-Quart container, as I consistently make at least 2 loaves and this gives me room for that—and even a third loaf if I want—with plenty of room for the starter to double.)
- I subtract the weight of Constance from the total amount of starter I’m going to need. I take the difference, divide it in two, and then add that amount of water and flour to the starter. Mix it up well and let it sit for about 5 hours.
- So far, in 5 hours it’s been fully doubled, so it’s ready to be put into baking! If it wasn’t doubled I’d give it another hour. If in that time it still wasn’t doubled . . . I don’t know what I’d do. I haven’t had that issue yet.
Next up, the actual bread process. To prepare I get out my big 6-quart container, scale, bread flour, whole wheat flour, and my room-temp filtered water. (We leave our Brita on the counter at all times.)
- Now I start mixing up all the things I’m planning to make. Into the big container goes the amount of starter I need for all the bread I’m making. Then the water, and I mix it up so it’s all incorporated. Then I weigh in the flours. I am still using this recipe, in the scaled-down size that I wrote about here.
- Per the recipe I let it sit for about 35 minutes, loosely covered (I’ve called this autolyse, but I’ve since read that a true autolyse is done without starter in the mix, so technically this is just, um, a sitting before adding salt.) While it’s resting I weigh out the salt for the bread. Then I weigh out and prep anything else I’m going to bake. Finally, I weigh out my 113 g of Constance and I feed her 113 g AP flour and 113 g water. I put her back in her container and let her sit at room temp for about an hour before putting her back in the fridge for another week! If there’s a little extra starter left, I chuck it.
- Once the timer goes off, I come back and pinch in the salt, give it some stretch-and-folds, and then put the lid gently on and set a million timers: I set a timer for every 30 minutes for the next 3.5 hours.
- Every time the timer goes off, I wet my hand under the tap, and I do a series of stretch-and-folds. I love doing them but I try not to go overboard, but I do more than 4 as I rotate around. You can definitely feel the dough get stronger and rise more as the time goes on. In the last half hour I prep my proofing containers: my banneton and a normal round Ikea bowl, each with a tea towel in it, sprinkled with a 50/50 mix of rice and regular flour.
- When the last timer goes off, I shape the loaves. I split the dough up by weight (I’m terrible at eyeing it) and shape each loaf on the counter. I plunk the loaves into the proofing containers, fold the towel over them, cover with plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge for an overnight rise.
The next day, it’s time to bake. Generally I’ll have waited around 17-19 hours from when I put it in until I bake. I have also done 13 hours. I do a little press-test and the dough always comes back, slowly, which I guess means it could go for even longer, but I’m happy with the bread I get out of this so I’m not messing with it too much yet.
- I put my Le Creuset Dutch oven (oval shaped) and my Lodge Combo Cooker into the oven on a middle rack, with the other rack on the level directly below that, and preheat the oven to 500°F. This takes about half an hour.
- While the oven is preheating, I cut parchment paper to approximate size (one an oval, one a circle) and then crumple them up repeatedly, until the paper is more flexible. I got this idea when I copyedited this cookbook, and it’s so simple and so smart! (Actually, it’s best if I cut the parchment before I put the vessels in the oven so that I can get more accurate on sizing, but eyeballing it is fine.)
- Things happen quickly in this next step, so I try prepare everything (I always forget something): I get down the AP flour and a small sifter/strainer. I have my lame handy, and my peel out. If I’m going to do spinny cuts, I get down my cake decorating turntable.
- I get one loaf out and open up the towel. I place the parchment over the bowl/banneton, then my peel, and I flip the whole thing over so the dough and towel comes out. It’s always been super easy to just lift the towel off the dough.
- Dust with AP flour and smooth it out. Cut boldly, going pretty deep with the cuts if I want them to really show up.
- I don these heatproof gloves to make touching the Dutch oven and combo cooker easier. Pull a vessel out of the oven, remove the top, slide the dough on the parchment in, put the lid back on, and put it in the oven. Put a large cookie sheet on the lower rack directly below the vessels. Reduce the oven temp to 450°F.
- Repeat with the second loaf.
- Set a timer for about 32 minutes. I’m playing with this number and think I could start going a touch longer.
- When the timer goes off, remove the lids. Ooh and ahh at the shape the bread is taking. Set a timer for about 19 minutes.
- Take the bread out and marvel!
Once I typed it out it was clear it was so very many steps, but all it really requires is time spent at home. The 4 hours of bulk fermentation is the most annoying, because I need to be present and available regularly. However, I’ve seen some recipes where you do ALL the stretch-and-folds in the first hour and then let it sit at room temp for bulk fermentation for a few hours before putting in the fridge, and I’m thinking of trying that soon.
The bread has been so delicious of late, with a nice soft crumb. I think it might be on the slightly underbaked side, hence my comment about increasing the time it cooks while covered (if left to cook longer uncovered it gets very very dark, and I’m into the dark crust but not too dark). No significant complaints, though, and the oven spring has been amazing!