Oh bread. Our relationship hasn’t always been perfect. I used to consume whole bread baskets at restaurants before my meal would arrive. I used to order soup as a reason to eat more bread. And in recent years I have tried to banish it from my life like a dead beat boyfriend, but I keep coming back. It’s my first love, and while I’ve tried, I really cannot live without it.
I no longer daydream about bread the way I did when I was younger. My thoughts of bread are not about consuming tangy sourdough slathered with butter, or a grilled cheese sandwich anymore. Now I’m constantly thinking of ways to improve bread I’m baking. Constantly reading about other bread bakers techniques and hydration ratios. And constantly thinking about my sourdough starter.
Around thanksgiving-time last year I bought the Tartine Bread book with the goal of mastering bread. I read page after page about their process and ingredient choices and then I got to the nitty gritty recipe part. It required a starter, and all I had were packs of yeast in the cupboard. disappointed that I could not fake a sourdough loaf with what was on hand, I did what I had to do – grow my own starter. It was a very simple process, almost to simple. mix together equal weights of flour and water, cover, and let sit at room temperature until it bubbles start to appear (several days).
This all seemed somewhat disgusting yet intriguing to me. This paste I made was basically going to pick up the natural yeast/bacteria in the air and magically become a bubbly, foamy sourdough starter. I went to check on it several times a day making sure it was staying a beige color; any pink or green tint is a sign that it has been contaminated with a bad bacteria and the starter needs to be discarded. It finally started to grow – literally – by day three, and it was time to “feed” it for the first time.
To feed your starter, you basically pour half of your patience and hard work down the drain and add back to it equal parts (in weight, not volume) of flour and water. Tartine recommends that you feed your starter with a 50% 50% mix of white and whole wheat flour. I try to do this as often as possible, but you can use all white or all whole wheat if that’s all you have on hand. You should do this every day or two. As you grow a starter you will notice that it falls after it rises, and as soon as it falls you should try to feed it.
This is what a starter looks like about 8 – 10 hours after feeding:
It have been feeding the same starter for 10 months now. People have suggested I name it, since I brag about it like its my first-born child. I must say, I feel very accomplished that I have kept it alive this long! I attribute this to keeping it in the fridge between feedings. If you keep it in a cool environment, you can go longer between feedings (and as a bonus, the cold improves it’s flavor) even up to a week or so.
I use my starter for many things now. Not only does it make an awesome loaf of sourdough bread; but pizza crusts, focaccia, and even cinnamon rolls have an amazingly deep, complex flavor if you add just a tablespoon to a recipe that uses instant yeast as well. But let’s be real, you grow your own starter to make bread – so here is a fabulous recipe I have adapted from the Tartine Bread book. This recipe has about 5% less water than the Tartine recipe, and it makes it much easier to work with and shape.
If you have any questions about this recipe, bread, or starting your starter feel free to ask me. There is a lot of theory I have read about bread baking, hydration of recipes and methods that I’d be happy to share. Also, I’m submitting this to yeastspotting.
1000 g flour:
850 g White Bread Flour
150 g White Whole Wheat Flour
700 g Water, room temperature
200 g Leaven*
25 g Salt
- Make Leaven at least 4 hours before starting bread by taking 100g bread flour and 100g whole wheat flour and mixing with 200g water and 1 Tablespoon of your starter.
- Check Leaven to see if it ready by dropping a small amount in a bowl of room temperature water. If the leaven floats, it is ready to be used.
- Mix bread: Start with 650g of the water (reserve the rest along with the salt) and add the 200g of the leaven in a very large bowl. Mix together with your hands until it is homogenous and there are no lumps.
- Add all the flour. Mix together with your hands. It will look somewhat shaggy, and will stick to your fingers so make sure to not be wearing any jewelry, especially rings.
- Once the mixture has come together, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for at least 30 minutes. This step helps the gluten begin to develop.
- After the first rest, mix the salt and remaining water together, then add to the dough. Once again use your hands to mix. It is best to squeeze the dough between your fingers to incorporate this addition. At first it will look like the dough is breaking apart, but keep going and it will turn back into a nice consistency.
- Transfer the dough into a very large clear container, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (around 80 degrees).
- After an hour of rising the dough should have increased more than double in size. Wet your hands with warm water and reach into the container to pull the bottom of the dough up and over top 4 or 5 times. Doing this replaces the kneading that usually goes into bread making. (This is also the same technique I use for croissants)
- repeat this ever half hour or so for 4 hours, making less folds towards the end (you do not want to deflate all the air). At this point you can successfully refrigerate the dough over night (the process is called “retarding” – not a joke), or continue to the next step.
- Generously flour a work surface with All-purpose flour and dump the dough out onto the flour. The dough will be very loose. Cut the dough into two pieces and let rest for 30 minutes to an hour. Prepare a proofing basket (or bowl) by lining it with a clean kitchen towel and sprinkling a mixture of rice flour and all-purpose flour on it.
- After the dough has rested, flour your hands and get to work shaping your loaves! The best way to do this is to gently flatten the dough, and then fold the top third of the dough down towards yourself, followed by folding the left and right sides in towards the center, and then the last bottom piece up and over. Think of it like you’re making a burrito.
- Next cup the dough ball’s sides gently with palms up and pinkie fingers closest together, and the majority of the surface of the dough still on the work surface, pull the dough towards you gently to create a skin on the outside of the dough. You want there to be tension in the skin, but you do not want to pull it hard enough to rip this outer layer.
- next, take this ball and place it in the proofing container that is lined and floured seem side up.
- repeat with second half of dough.
- let this rise in a warm area for about an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 500° F with a dutch oven inside for at least 30 minutes before baking.
- When you are ready to bake, take the bottom part of the dutch oven out of the oven and carefully place one of the loaves in the pot seam side down.
- make very shallow slits in the top of the dough (I prefer to make a square pattern) and cover with the top of the dutch oven.
- Place the sealed dutch oven in the oven and lower the temperature to 450° F
- Bake the loaf for 25 minutes, remove the lid of the dutch oven (be careful! it’s very hot!!) and continue baking for about another 30 minutes.
- You can test the readiness of the bread by “knocking” on it for a hollow sound.
- Last, carefully remove from the oven and let cool for about 30 minutes. I have found cutting into it too soon can sometimes mean that the center is still a little doughy.