Basic Sourdough

Here is the basic recipe and method that I’ve developed to this point. It started out as a derivative of Paul Hollywood’s recipe for Basic Sourdough in his book How To Bake.

INGREDIENTS

  • Bread Flour 750g (I use #KingArthurBreadCompany, Sir Lancelot 14.2% Protein)
  • Water, Filtered 440ml
  • Levain, 500g, 100% Hydration
  • Sea Salt, 18g

The above makes two ~840g loaves prior to baking. The pre-baked Baker’s Percentage (Bakers%) of Flour, Water, Salt (including the Levain) is 100/69 /1.8

METHOD

This method will describe the process that I’d follow weekly when I was traveling extensively prior to COVID-19. I would typically arrive home about 9:30pm every Thursday and I would start the process then to be baking sourdough loaves on Sunday.

Day 1 (Evening) – Refresh Starter

I do this typically around 9:45pm to 10:00pm. See my post Feeding Cold Starter for a description of what I do to refresh my starter.

Day 2 (Morning) – Prepare the Levain

The next morning prepare the levain by taking 100g of the newly-refreshed sourdough starter and add to it 200ml/g water and 200g of bread flour (Need 500g levain for this recipe). This preparation is a 1:2:2 ratio of levain/water/flour. Cover and leave to ferment at room temperature (74oF) for 4 – 5 hours.

Day 2 (Mid-Day) – Begin Mixing / Kneading the Dough

Initial Mixing and Autolyse: Sometime mid-day begin mixing the dough. Try to begin mixing the dough an hour before you intend to add the levain. First, weigh out 750g of bread flour, 440ml filtered water and 18g of sea salt. Add a splash of the water to the salt (1-2T). Note: I use a #KitchenAid mixer with a spiral bread hook to mix/knead my dough. Slowly add the water to the flour with the mixer on slow speed (first or second notch). Adding the water slowly allows it to incorporate. After all the water is added bump up the speed another notch or two and continue to mix until a ball is formed and the dough has pulled away from the side of the mixing bowl. Normally this is about 5-6 minutes total time mixing/kneading. Pull out the dough hook. Form the dough into a nice ball at the bottom of the bowl. Cover the bowl and let autolyse for an hour.

Adding the Levain: After an hour add the fermented levain to the autolysed flour. By this time the levain is very active, pillowy and smells awesome! If you watch it you can see the CO2 bubbles popping on the surface. Using a spatula or scraper add the levain to the bowl. It will be very sticky and hard to get out fully. Try wetting your spatula to help you scrape out the levain without it sticking too much. Mix/knead the levain into the dough for another 4-6 minutes. The dough will have a nice consistency and you’ll begin to recognize when it has been mixed enough. Remove the dough hook (use a scraper or spatula to get as much of the sticky dough off as possible). Cover and let rest for another 30 minutes.

Adding the Salt: After 30 minutes add the salt and remaining 1-2T of water to the dough. I typically will swirl the salt in the water and just dump it onto the dough in the bowl. With water-moistened hands hand-knead the salt into the dough opening and closing your fingers with a twisting motion of your hand. It’s similar to grabbing the top of a jar and closing the lid motion. This pulls the dough away from the side of the mixing bowl. Reattach the dough hook and mix again for another 3-4 minutes.

Begin Bulk Proving: Immediately after this transfer the dough to a lightly-oiled tub using a plastic bread scraper. Cover the bowl with a clean, moist dish towel (prevents a skin from forming on the dough) and transfer it to the fridge to sit for 24+ hours.

Day 3 (Typically after dinner) – Weigh/Divide, Pre-Shape, Bench-Rest and Final Shaping

Sometime mid-evening take the dough out of the fridge. It will have grown a little bit depending on the temperature of the fridge. This dough is intended to make two loaves so first weigh it out and split it. NOTE: I have the gram weights of my bowls annotated on their underside using a Sharpie. This allows me to weigh the bowl with the dough inside and, by subtracting the gram weight of the bowl, have the the total gram weight of the dough. Dividing by 2 tells me what weight I need to create loaves that are equal in weight.

Dividing the Dough / Pre-Shaping and Bench Rest: Weigh and divide the dough into two loaves. Shape it into rounds on the counter top using a bench scraper and your hands. Cover with the moist towel for about an hour and let the dough come up in temperature and relax.

Final Shaping and Transferring to Bannetons: After the dough has had a chance to warm and relax do the final shaping of the dough. Transfer your shaped loaves to a well-floured banneton seam-side facing up. Place your bannetons back in the fridge. Cover them with the moist towel to prevent a skin from forming on the underside of the loaves. Leave in the fridge for 12 hours or so. More to come in a later post on how to shape your loaves.

Day 4 – Bake the Bread!

After 12 hours in the fridge the loaves should be ready to bake. An hour or so prior to baking place your Dutch ovens into the oven to preheat at 420oF Convection (around 445oF Conventional). Once the ovens are preheated, remove the loaves from the fridge. Turn out each onto a piece of parchment paper, score with a lame or serrated knife and carefully place into the Dutch Ovens so as not to burn yourself. Cover and return the heated Dutch Ovens to the oven to bake for 35 minutes lids covered. After 35 minutes remove the lids and bake uncovered for an additional 5-10 minutes to your preferred level of crust darkness. Once complete, remove your baked loaves and allow to fully cool on a rack. Internal temperature of your loaves should be >200oF and tapping on the bottom should be “hollow” sounding. If you listen closely you should hear the crust “talking to you” as it crackles while it cools. Enjoy!

NOTE: Before using the remove from the Dutch Oven method I was finding that my loaves were darker on the bottom than I preferred. I’ve now started removing the loaves from the Dutch Ovens once the lid-on baking has completed. I put them on a cold, heavy pizza stone to complete the bake (removing the hot Dutch Ovens at the same time). My heavy pizza stone insulates the very bottom of the loaf and keeps it from getting too dark. I have yet to have this stone crack from putting in the heated oven while cold over the past 6 months.

Sourdough Croissant Experiment

As you’re aware I’m on the quest for Sourdough Bread, Croissant and Pastry Perfection. I am on the path, farther than I was when I started….but nowhere near where I’d like to be!

But it’s a journey and NOT a destination.

I decided on this last batch to test a couple hypothesis:

  1. I have too much straight dough in my batch and not enough butter contact
  2. There are too many layers (if that were even possible)
  3. The dough is too warm when I bake

To test the first hypothesis I decided to trim my dough as I folded rather than my trim at the very end before cutting and rolling my croissants.

RESULT: I lost about 25% of my overall yield. Instead of getting 12 croissants I ended up with 9! Ouch! That said, I did bake the trimmings. Not as satisfying as a croissant!

What I’m going to try next time: Slice the folded dough edges and not “trim it off”. I’m going to try to expose the layers and allow the butter to move all the way to the edge.

To test the second hypothesis I decided to fold less by doing only two “letter” folds.

My method to this point has started with two butter layers when I added the butter block into the dough. In essence, the butter rectangle was 2/3 of the dough rectangle at the beginning. I’d then do three “Letter” folds. That would be 2 x 3 x 3 x 3 = 54 layers. Sometimes I did and initial “Book” fold so it was 2 x 4 x 3 x 3 = 72 layers. This time it was going to be 2 x 3 x 3 = 18 layers.

RESULT: Better lamination / separation on my cross-cut was much better. Much clearer separation of the layers than on a previous batch.

I liked the direction this path is taking me. Next time I’m going for 12 layers. I’ ll start with a single block of butter inside the dough, perform a “Book” fold and then a “Letter” fold (e.g. 1 x 4 x 3 = 12 layers).

Thirdly, I thought that the lack of separation may also have been because my butter was too warm (I baked immediately after my proofing). I thought I would prove first THEN put into the fridge overnight and bake the already proven croissants!

RESULT: Butter all OVER the pan. Took waaaaaaay too long to bake resulting in my bottoms being done before the tops. Additionally, the insides was “doughy” and moist (see pic above).

What I learned is that I will NOT be doing that in the future! The croissants were too cold and it was hard for them to get baked all the way through. Next time I’m going to roll the croissants and place into the fridge overnight. I’ll THEN take them out and prove them for about 2.5-3 hours at room temperature, add an egg wash and then bake.

OVERALL RESULT: I was able to test my hypothesis and learn. I’ve a direction for where I want to go next. I’m further down the path than I was at the start. Success!

Oh… and they are STILL delicious! The one in the cross-cut pictures above fueled this post!

Feeding Cold Starter

Before COVID-19 I traveled extensively for my job and wasn’t in a position to feed my starter every day. I came across #BakeWithJack and started watching his videos on bread making. Episode 71: SOURDOUGH – The Scrapings Method, No Waste, No Discard describe a method that I’ve been using (modified) since.

The method involves leaving a remnant of starter in the fridge and feeding it the night before you want to bake. His method leave as little as 25g of starter in the pot. If he needs 150g of starter for his recipe the next day he simply adds a 1:1 ratio of water and flour to the pot (e.g. 75g of water and 75g of flour for 150g total needed for the recipe).

I do a similar thing. Where I differ is that I tend to have a little more in my jar and do discard some each time.

My method is to take my jar out of the fridge and add a 1:2:2 mixture into my new jar. That is, 50g of starter, 100g of filtered water and 100g of my 50/50 starter feeder. I then cover this with a moist paper towel and let sit overnight. NOTE: In a previous post I mentioned that I keep a jar of 50% Whole Wheat flour and 50% Bread flour mixed that I use to feed my starter.)

The next day I will take about 100g of this “happy” starter and use it to make my levain. Normally I’m baking about two loaves on the weekend. I need 500g of levain for that recipe and build it using a 1:2:2 ratio (e.g. 100g of the starter plus 200ml/g water and 200g of bread flour used in the recipe).

My starter is now 3+ years old and gives me consistent results. Hope this helps! If you’ve a different method I’d be happy to hear what you’re doing! Send me a comment!

My Most Important Baking Implement

So I’ve a question… “What do you think is my most important baking implement?”

I’ve asked that particular question to a number of folks over the years and I’ve heard answers from my convection oven, my mixer, dutch ovens, various pans or knives. All of these answers, while important to me are not the one I’m thinking of when I pose the question.

Never has anyone ever responded “a pencil” (or the modern equivalent of my computer).

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

I take copious notes (and pictures) of my bakes. I write down my variables and try to control and repeat what works. I download pics of other bakers’ bakes and take notes on their methods. A couple of years ago I started following the Great British Baking Show with Paul Hollywood and Mary Barry. As a result I began to use the British-method of measuring by gram weight rather than volume for my recipes. Recently I was watching #Masterclass of #DominiqueAnsel on his method for making Sourdough Croissants. In the lesson he described how daily he has his head bakers from each of his restaurants world-wide text him a picture of their croissant cross-sections as a method of quality-control.

Note-taking is important to me for learning and getting better.

Since I began being serious about my note-taking I’ve iteratively and incrementally improved my bakes. My notes and pictures (and recently Facebook’s “Your Memory from 4 Years Ago” notifications) bear this out to be true. I have learned, become better and (more importantly) consistent in my bakes.

I’ve a long way to go. Perfecting Sourdough Bread, Croissants and Pastries I’ve come to realize will be a rest of my life journey…. But what a tasty one to embark on!

Feeding Your Sourdough Starter

One of the things I’ve found out about sourdough and baking is that there is a cadence and rhythm to baking.

One of those cadence and rhythms is the feeding of my sourdough starter each morning.

Here’s how I maintain my starter.

First I remove about 100g of starter from my crock. I do this by putting my cross on the scale and taring it out (making the scale say 0g).

Next I scoop out 100g of starter (scale now reads -100g).

Then I add 50g of water (I use filtered water from my fridge that I have in a bottle that is now at room temperature).

I then add 50g of my feeder flour (50/50 mix of #kingarthur Whole Wheat flour and Bread Flour) which brings my scale back to 0g.

Sometimes I’ll add the starter that I just removed to another bowl and use it to start a levain or poolish for making a recipe. Other times I’ll add it to pancake batter; sometimes it’s discarded and just a “cost of doing sourdough”.

I’m making sourdough bread frequently enough that I’m not bothered by the discard. I’ve another cold technique I’ll share that I also still follow. I used that technique exclusively when I traveled extensively prior to COVID-19.

More on that in a later post!

Let Me Introduce Myself

My name is Jim… or you can call me “Bear”.

Bear was my callsign when I flew F-4’s and F-15E’s in the USAF.

  • I like to cook and have recently been really focusing on my baking.
  • I’m on a quest to perfect sourdough bread, croissants and pastries.

My intent is to share my love of baking and my journey to becoming a better baker.

Someday I’m going to not have a “job” and I will be able to devote much more time and attention to my baking than I currently am able to dedicate. When that time comes I’d like to possibly start a business. Until that time you’re welcome to come along on my journey of discovery. I’ll share my ups and downs as I go; both triumphs and those “Well, THAT was a learning experience!” moments!

Feel free to connect with me. I love to connect with folks that share my love of baking, that are learning and experimenting and that don’t mind sharing their experience(s).

My hope is that in a year or so I will have made new friends, learned how to be a better baker and brought smiles to those who I’ve had the privilege to walk this journey alongside.

Bourbon Cherries

OK… I’ve started a blog about baking and perfecting sourdough and my very first post after introducing myself is about Bourbon Cherries!

Why do this?

  • It’s the height of cherry season
  • I made a batch yesterday
  • They go GREAT with cheesecake (which I made earlier this week).

INGREDIENTS (per pint jar)

  • Cherries (300g)
  • Bourbon (240ml)
  • Sugar (60g)
  • Cinnamon Stick
  • Orange Peel

METHOD

  1. Mix the bourbon and sugar together and heat on the stove to fully dissolve the sugar
  2. While they are heating add a cinnamon stick and the peel of an orange
  3. When the mixture is heated and sugar is dissolved (I go to about 140oF) add the cherries and cook for about 5-8 minutes. Remove from heat.
  4. At the same time sterilize pint jars in boiling water bath along with their Mason Jar lids
  5. Using a strainer pull out about 12-13 cherries and add them to your sterilized pint jars
  6. Add a new cinnamon stick and some of the orange peel that you have in your mixture
  7. Fill up the remainder of the jar with cherries. You should be able to get 25+ cherries in each jar
  8. Fill the jar with the bourbon liquid making sure that you cover all the cherries
  9. Wipe the top of the jar to remove any liquid, top with the Mason lid and screw on the ring finger-tight

NOTICE: This method is NOT canning!

The lids will seal as the jars cool. Refrigerate and store until ready to use. I made some this last year and the last of my jars from last summer went on cheesecake this past Saturday. Delicious and yes… boozy! Enjoy!!

Cheesy Sourdough

The other day I decided that I’d like to make some cheesy sourdough.

I’ve been experimenting with my technique for bulk fermenting as well as looking at how to make more dough at the same time in my kitchen.

This was a follow-on experiment I’d done with making four loaves at the same time. Two of the loaves were Batards and the other Boules. Each of them used a different technique for bulk-fermenting. One set I used a 24-hour retarded bulk ferment and the other a 6-hour ferment at 74oF.

Anyway…. fast forward and I used the 6-hour method for the dough for all four loaves and THIS time decided that two of the loaves would be regular sourdough and the others would be “cheesy”.

The first was a Cheddar-Jalapeno and the second Asiago.

I folded in the add-in at the end of the bulk ferment. Wasn’t a bad idea … just think that maybe folding in the ingredients during the bulk would have been a better idea. THAT would have meant dividing the dough during the bulk-ferment (or deciding on a single flavor).

The bread was delicious though! Very pleased with the flavor profiles, mouth-feel, crumb structure etc. I’m going to continue experimenting with “cheesy” sourdough for sure!