Those huge holes are epic in the craft of sourdough bread baking. It's the highest form of accomplishment you can achieve, along with the soft crumb and crispy crust.
So what did I do right this time after months of experimentation?
Pre-heating my baking pan (Dutch oven) with my oven at 500F!
I also found more evidence of how a baking pan can affect the loaves:
The bread baked using a Dutch oven (Right) spread out and was wider in diameter and lower in height because the size of the DO was wide (9”). The cover provided the steam.
The bread baked using a skillet pan on the left (8”) rose by almost an inch more than the DO, but of course appeared smaller.
Both pans were preheated with the oven. Using parchment paper made it easy to put the dough into both hot containers.
I also did something strange—I mixed all the ingredients from the start (no autolyse) and stored it directly into the refrigerator (hoping it’ll “knead” itself. But the next morning, the dough didn’t have the window pane sturdiness I had hoped for so I did one S&F and bench rest. After 2 hours, I formed them and rested again for an hour. Did final proof for 3 hours in a basket, transferred to preheated pan and baked with steam for 20 min (again a new thing for me coz I always do it for 30 min then 10-15 min without steam). This one I baked further without steam for 25 more minutes.
But there was a difference in the crust. The DO-baked bread was crisper. And look at those crumbs. I’ve never had that much open crumb in my bread. Looks like I made it! I liked this best.
This is the best burnt-looking loaves I had so far. #Tartine copycatwannabe
Indeed persistence pays!
I put the least amount of work in this bread. No knead. No stretch & fold (S&F). Just the ingredient of TIME, allowing the natural yeasts and bacteria of the starter, which I got from Anne Beckham Gowens, to work.
* Autolyze (flour, water, levain) for 3 hours.
* Mixed the rest of my ingredients (oats, extra virgin olive oil, maple syrup, salt) and put on cold retard (refrigeration) for 21 hours
* Formed to a boulle and proofed for 6hours in a proofing basket.
* Baked at 450F x 30 min with steam then 10 min at 400F without steam.
Sourdough lingo from this blog for the newbies:
Sourdough starter - this is your fermented flour and water which has all the good bacteria and yeast from the environment. You can make one, obtain from a friend or bakery, or ask me. I can mail one to you and just pay for postage.
Levain - This is your sourdough starter that you’ve fed and ready to add as an ingredient to your recipe. This substitutes for the commercial yeast you normally put in your bread. It has the natural yeasts and good bacteria from the
Autolyze - This happens when you mix your ingredients of flour, water, and levain and leave it for at least 30 minutes to a couple of hours to allow the levain to work on the dough. Instead of you kneading your bread to form a good matrix in your dough, you allow the levain to do the work. You don’t add salt at this point because it will slow down the process.
Cold Retard - This is when you put your dough, with all your additional ingredients of salt, sweetener (I prefer natural ones like honey and maple syrup), etc. in the refrigerator to slow down the process of fermentation if you don’t want to bake the bread immediately. I have done 6 days of cold retard and the bread was good!
S&F - the process of stretching and folding the dough instead of the usual kneading. This is done by pulling the dough from one end and folding it to itself. You repeat the process from all four sides. It’s less messy because you use the same container to do the work.
Steam - put a pan at the bottom of the oven and pour water to steam the dough while baking. Spray water inside the oven when you put your bread in to bake for added steam. You can also use a Dutch oven with cover and this steams the bread from within. I found the water on the pan more reliable in producing oven spring.
Oven spring - when the dough rises further to its full size while baking in the oven. Factors that can make a good spring are: ripeness of your levain (make sure it floats on the water before using it for your dough), added steam in your oven, hydration of the dough (wet dough on a flat container will produce a flat bread), proofing (overproofing dampen your spring).
Breadmaking used to be a no-fuss task for me. I dump all my ingredients in the bread machine in the evening, set the delay timer on, and wake up to the smell of freshly-baked bread.
And then came the sourdough starter.
Suddenly, it felt like I had a newborn that needed to be fed, put to sleep, required much prepping before I could get a wonderful bread.
And then the parenting woes came when some days, I felt like I got it right, and then on other days, I was a complete failure.
Today, I just had about it.
Enough is enough.
I want to go back to the good old days when I just feel my way around baking bread. So I took out my basic white bread recipe from my Breadman manual and after asking Baker Google, I got the conversion ratio for my sourdough starter in lieu of the commercial yeast. One cup of sourdough starter will replace one packet of yeast, which I supposed would be 1-2 tsp.
For repeatability purposes, I decided to also weigh the ingredients even though I used cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons.
Basic White Bread
Water - 1 cup (257 gm)
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) - 1 tbsp (13 gm)
Maple syrup - 1.5 tsp (12 gm)
Dry skim milk powder - 1.5 tbsp (9 gm)
Salt - 3/4 tsp (6 gm)
Bread flour - 3 1/3 cups (445 gm)
Sourdough starter - 1 cup (198 gm)
I took out my starter from the fridge and weighed. It was about 240 gm. I decided to observe if it would ripen even without having been fed for a week.
After 4 hours, it floated on the water. So my “Doughy” is really like a baby. Because I fed it before putting to sleep, it woke up bubbly and happy.
This will become my routine. I fed the remaining starter in a 1:1:1 ratio with flour and water, and put it back to the fridge for the next baking day.
I dumped all my ingredients into the bread machine pan and used the dough setting. After 1 hour and 30 minutes, I formed the dough and put in the proofing basket. After 1.5 hours, the dough lifted to my desired fluffiness (2 banneton lines). When I pressed my finger on the dough, it felt like a soft marshmallow, and the dent lifted back up slowly.
No fancy scoring this time. Just a single stroke slightly off-center at a 30 degree angle with the lame.
I didn’t use the bottom rack pan with water for steaming but instead, just used the Dutch oven.
I also didn’t increase the heat to 500F but decided to preheat at 425F and bake at 400F because I used EVOO in my ingredient to prolong shelf-life and soften the bread crumb. I noted that the oil gives a different taste when baked at a temperature higher than its smoking point.
I baked the bread at 400F covered for 40 minutes. Then took it out from the Dutch oven and laid it on a flat pan. At this point the bread looked pale with some brown areas.
I sprayed the crust with my water-salt-EVOO mixture (1/4 cup:1/4 tsp:1/4 tsp ratio) before putting back into the oven. After 5 minutes, I sprayed the crust one more time. That is supposed to render crispiness and a golden color to the crust.
I think I found my new routine and my desired daily bread.
And if I want a crustier more basic sourdough bread, I’ll just take out the milk, maple syrup, and EVOO from the recipe, increase baking temperature to 450F, and decrease baking time to 30 minutes before spraying with water-salt-EVOO mixture.
I guess if you’ve survived parenting beyond teenage years, you’d know how to bake a sourdough the low-key way.
My original recipe for sourdough bread gave me a soft crust. My family and I were quite happy with that until I saw other sourdough breads in the Perfect Sourdough facebook group.
That challenged me to learn the craft of traditional sourdough bread baking. And do you know what that entailed? Watching lots of youtube videos and even enrolling in Teresa Greenway’s Udemy course Sourdough Bread Baking 101.
In the process, I had to buy some needed tools and equipments to up my craft:
1) Digital weighing scale because not all cups are created alike so the volumes can vary and can also be affected by how packed your flour is, and the kind of flour you use. So if you want consistency in your consistency (I love that word pun), then yes, please invest in a scale. Teresa recommended the KD8000 Baker’s Math Scale. I’m very happy with it.
2) A proofing basket because you want to see
those ridges on your bread even just for once, right? I bought this two-pack Banneton basket and put plastic shower caps over it. I know that’s cheating but I don’t want to clean off the flour each time. I just like the design imprinting on my bread not the bread sticking to it.
3) Scoring Lame because without it, scoring is lame. I’ve used knives with poor results. I know this is just a regular Gilette blade which you can stabilize with a chopstick. But the leather covering makes up for the price.
I may have added tools in my kitchen but I subtracted ingredients in my sourdough recipe as a result of this sourdough education. Apparently, you bake traditional sourdough bread with a sourdough starter, all-purpose unbleached flour, water, and salt. That’s all. And you bake it at 450F.
No wonder my breads always come out pale and soft and not the crusty golden ones I see online.
With much practice and experimentation, I got better and got deeper into the flour of things. It’s a joy and an obsession that’s hard to brush off. The quest for the perfect sourdough gets more elusive as you get better. I don’t know why. When the crumb is soft, the crust is not crispy enough. When the crust is crispy, the scoring is not pretty enough, and so on and so forth.
And when finally one day I felt I got it, I had to experiment with other types of starters, namely rye, brown rice, and spelt. And the process starts all over the again.
I guess you can say, the evolution goes on.
I’m not fond of eating cakes but I used to bake it for the fun of decorating it. Here are some of my creations.
But after a while, I had to abandon it because it was such a pain to finish a whole bundle of sweets. I’m no sweet tooth. In fact, when I was young, I had a sour tooth, if ever there was such a term for someone who craves sour food to be dipped in a bowl of salt.
I ate calamansi for snacks (it’s a tropical fruit which is small and tastes like a crossbreed of lemon and lime). I also adored sour, unripe mangoes dipped in anything salty like soysauce, salt, or fermented fish.
After discovering my love for sourdough, it was natural to get creative with this very simple bread. I call it simple because the ingredients are so basic: bread flour, oil, water, salt, and natural sweetener, which for me is not sugar cane but maple syrup. But the resulting bread is so soft, you think I added a bunch of milk and eggs in it. And even when it had been more than three days in the refrigerator, it still stays soft.
Anyway, when the school where my daughter attends asked for cake donations, I refused to
bake cake but volunteered my sourdough bread instead. To make it extra fancy and special, befitting a Cake Walk, I made raisin sourdough bread and pumpkin-shaped sourdough bread.
Below are some pictures from this creative stint.
I wish I knew how the raisin bread tasted because it was my first time to have baked that. Hopefully my gut instinct was right.
The pumpkin bread hopefully paired well with the chimichurri-pumpkin spice dip.
But for the love of art, I think this was worth the effort and very satisfying.
After reading all these posts about spelt and semolina flour, I decided to play with my sourdough starter.
I fed it with 1 cup scant spelt flour instead of the usual unbleached all-purpose flour and half cup of water.
But it did not activate as usual. See bottles below. The three layers of fluid level indicate these babies are still hungry. Or perhaps hangry because they won’t budge to my stirring.
So I experimented with different feeds to see whether the spelt is truly the culprit and to see what would satiate their hunger... and the winner is 3/4 unbleached all-purpose flour and 1/4 spelt, vs. 1/2 unbleached apf and 1/2 spelt (came second), vs 3/4 spelt and 1/4 unbleached apf. Lean is mean. Looks like, spelt made my baby Doughy hungry...
Now the ultimate test whether this spelt-laden sourdough starter would work was to make a dough and put it in the refrigerator for overnight fermentation.
When I checked on my refrigerated doughs, I was surprised to see depressed doughies.
With all-purpose flour feed, they are usually happily lifted the next day. So I dusted their middles with 1 tsp of dehydrated starter.
Let’s see if that will jumpstart these kiddos.
After folding and unraveling their tight and air-free matrix, and giving them a cardiac-massage-like kneading, the baby doughies felt more cushiony but I knew they still need some aeration. Had to put them in a warmer place so my dehydrated starter can activate these cold-hearted doughies.
Photo above is now showing some bubbly activity. Glad I didn’t have to call Baker 911... yet.
And the dehydrated starter kicked the dough back to life! This baby’s about to jump off the bowl. lol!
Success at resuscitating the sour dough starter!
In the Philippines, where I was born and raised, pandesal or saltine bread is a local favorite. Instead of dinner rolls, we prefer breakfast buns because lunch and dinner are meant to be eaten with rice, the staple carbohydrate source, much like potatoes and bread in the other regions of the world.
When we moved to the east coast, I missed this food so much. I spent the first few months in the kitchen baking these wonderful buns, and had quite a success.
Now that I discovered sourdough bread, I thought, why not combine the health benefits of sourdough with the yummy-goodness of hot pandesal.
After a couple of trial and error, I was finally satisfied with this new take on pandesal. Let me call this the pandesour pullout bread or sourdough pandesal.
It’s very easy to make. I used the same dough recipe that I had for sourdough bread with some modifications in the ingredients. I included measurements in grams for accuracy and also some alternative options.
SOFT BREAD RECIPE:
1 1/3 cup (245 gm) well-fed and bubbly sourdough starter
1/4 cup + 3 tbsp (105 gm) water
1 tbsp (15 gm) canola oil
1 tsp (5 gm) salt
1 tsp (5 gm) maple syrup or sugar
1 2/3 cup (245 gm) bread flour (for softer crumb) or all-purpose flour (for cheaper alternative)
1) Pre-heat oven to 375F.
2) Combine all ingredients and knead for 10-15 minutes.
3) Shape into one big round dough and place in a bowl. Cover with an oiled cling-wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
4) Take out from refrigerator and form dough into small round balls. If you want more uniform shapes, feel free to use a cookie cutter, or alternatively, roll the dough into a log and cut into 1-inch size.
5) Put the rounded doughs in a baking pan or Dutch oven. Let rise until these double in size.
6) Sprinkle with plain bread crumbs before baking in the oven for 35-45 minutes, depending on how brown you want the crust to appear. Don’t forget this last step in the process (sprinkling on bread crumbs) because that’s how this bread can make its claim as a pandesal. Without it, it’s just plain old breakfast bun or dinner roll. It’ll have some identity crisis of sorts (as though it hasn’t had one already, being a sourdough bread and pandesal rolled in one).
7) If using a Dutch oven, keep the lid on to keep the crust soft. If using a baking pan, put another pan at the bottom of the oven and pour water for steaming.
For those who want an even softer and more sour crumb, you may substitute water with kefir milk. Research shows that kefir milk prolongs shelf life of sourdough bread. You may need to adjust flour and water depending on the consistency of your kefir milk.
Let me know how your kitchen experiment turns out!
Post your comments below.
After the weekend of college move-in, we came to a quiet home. No more firstborn daughter who incessantly sings and plays musical instruments. Sigh.
My pets were hibernating in the refrigerator for this anticipated weekend travel. So I told my husband, “Let’s have the regular bread for tomorrow because Baby Doughy will require some hours to activate.”
It was late in the evening and a miracle that we were even home considering the flight delays and the cancellation of our original flight.
Thank heavens for my well-travelled husband who knows the drill when it comes to these kinds of airport mishaps.
We were able to get into another flight and safely home, without our luggages. “It’s the last thing we needed anyway and probably the only time when we don’t welcome having those luggages home,” my husband said.
True. Those four luggages contained all of my firstborn’s things for college, and contained nothing but laundry and empty space on the way back home. I definitely don’t miss the dirty clothes.
So back to my empty bread basket.
What a surprise to hear my husband say, “Oh, no. I won’t eat anything other than sourdough bread. I’ll wait it out.”
I did a double take and stared at him. Did he really say that?
He smiled. “I’m now a sourdough snob.”
I took out the two mason jars of sourdough starters from the refrigerator and started feeding the babies. Wake up! Daddy misses you.
Of course, I overfed them again and ended
up with six bubbly jars the next day. I must have missed them too because I got creative this time.
I bought some prosciutto and olives, made a pesto sauce and decorated the largest bread to make her look like a diva.
O, diva! Isn’t she lovely?
I think I may have awakened the sourdough monster within me. After this, I don’t think I‘ll be able to settle for plain, old sourdough bread again without getting creative every now and then.
Sourdough makeover, here we go!
HOW TO DEHYDRATE SOURDOUGH STARTER:
If you’re a cheapskate like me who doesn’t want to throw away any of her sourdough starter, but doesn’t want to end up with tons of mason jars of starters idly lying around waiting to be fed, you’d consider dehydrating those babies and putting them to sleep.
I was an anesthesiologist in my other life so putting someone to sleep and making sure they wake up is engraved in my DNA.
You’d need a well-fed sourdough starter like the one on the top photo, a baking brush, and a palette to paint your starter on (I use the thin, transparent chopping board; thicker ones don’t work well. Some use wax paper).
You don’t need to be an artist to produce these neat brush strokes of sourdough starter on your palette. Seriously, those are rough strokes. I have to confess, I am also a painter. The consistency of sourdough is somewhat like acrylic paint so make thin swift strokes with your wrist. Put your palette in a dry place. I put mine in the proofing drawer. I never knew I had one until my daughter pointed out to me.
When I have more than two palettes, I leave the rest on top of the gas burner (with the burners off!) and they dry faster than the ones in the drawer. Just make sure you don’t have spiders and other critters that would leave their footprints on your masterpiece.
Once they dry, they separate themselves from the palette. I transfer them in any container ready to be pulverized. Some don’t do this and leave the dehydrated flakes as is. I found it easier to activate and incorporate with water when it’s in powder form.
So I use my ever reliable 10-year-old blender to pulverize these kiddos. Tilting and shaking the container makes the process faster.
And then you’re ready to put the dry starters in ziplocks and tightly sealed containers to be stored indefinitely (as one blog claimed). I put a date on mine so I can track activation time.
The photo below shows clear containers but I put these in opaque, light-proof cans and store in a cool, dry place like my pantry.
HOW TO ACTIVATE DEHYDRATE SOURDOUGH STARTER:
Once you’re ready to bake again, mix 2 tbsp of dehydrated sourdough in 1/4 cup warm water. Then add 1 cup flour and 1/2 warm water (feeding recipe) to the mixture.
Pour into two mason jars. Make sure the lids are loose for air to escape. Then store in a warm place. I put mine on the shelf above the microwave/oven. These two jars can make a 1-lb bread.
If you want more starters for future use, just measure out 4 oz of these well-fed bubbly babies and add more of the flour and water (feeding recipe ratio as above) and distribute to more mason jars.
You should end up with 4-5 bottles in two days.
Dehydrate some, refrigerate others, and give away the rest.
FIRST: Make sure you have enough well-fed sourdough starter. How do you know if they’re well-fed? They look bubbly and happy and about to break loose from their bottle cribs.
TWO WAYS TO BAKE SOURDOUGH BREAD:
1) Bread Machine
In my experience, there was nothing significant with using any of the above methods except time and effort. Choose what makes you fly!
I prepared the one on the left by manually kneading the dough, while the one on the right was prepared with the aid of my bread machine,
HERE ARE THE INSTRUCTIONS:
To make with a breadmaker
Add the ingredients in the tin with the kneader in place.
1/4 cup and 3 tbps water
1 tbsp vegetable or canola oil
1 tsp iodized salt
1 tsp sugar or maple syrup
1 1/3 cup ripe (fed) sourdough starter
1 2/3 cup unbleached bread flour
1 tsp active dry yeast (may remove for denser bread: rising time may be longer)
Set the bread machine on dough setting. Mine runs for one hour and thirty minutes.
Once completed, transfer into a baking pan.
Score the top of the risen dough with a sharp blade as desired and dust with flour (this step may also be done after rising).
Let rise for 30 minutes.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 375F for 45 minutes. You may use a Dutch Oven and bake covered all throughout for a real soft crust or put water in a baking pan and stick it at the bottom rack. Others paint the top with egg white wash (water plus egg white).
To make by hand using the same ingredients and corresponding measurements:
Pour the sourdough starter into a large bowl.
Add the maple syrup or sugar, salt, flour, and yeast and mix.
Add the oil and gradually mix in the warm water.
Knead well on a lightly floured surface for 10 minutes, dusting with flour as needed.
Put in a baking pan lined with parchment paper and a dusting of flour.
Leave in a warm place, like a microwave oven or toaster oven, to rise for 45 minutes or until the dough doubles in size.
Score with a sharp blade on the surface of the dough as desired and dust the top with flour.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 375F for 45 minutes. You may use the same steaming technique described in the previous section for a softer crust.