After many experimentations, this is my simplest recipe for sourdough bread.
35% Sourdough starter/levain
62% filtered water
How to convert this baker’s percentage to measurements so I don’t discard any starter? Read on.
Preparing the levain:
The evening before I bake, I take out my starter from the refrigerator. I have trained Baby Doughy to thrive on prolonged fasting. I only feed him whenever I bake, which can be as often as every three days or as infrequent as three weeks. He doesn’t care.
Sometimes, I feed him with an equal ratio of 1:1:1 (starter:water:flour) if I want a small batch or 1:2:2 (starter:water:flour) for a bigger batch.
For the 1:1:1
I add 150 ml of warm filtered water (microwaved for 30 seconds) and another 150 gm Bob Red Mill’s all-purpose flour to my 150 gm stored starter = 450 gm
I bottle 150 gm of starter and refrigerate for my next batch and use the 300 gm for my levain for the recipe.
For the 1:2:2, I simply double the amount of water and flour, and refrigerate 150 gm for future use. That gives me 600 gm of levain for my recipe.
It takes 12-18 hours for this levain to ripen. I draw a line in my container with an erasable marker and put a time stamp. Once the volume doubles, I do the float test.
How to do the Float Test:
Scoop a small amount of bubbly starter and drop in a glass of water. It if floats, then you’re ready to prepare your dough for baking.
Converting the baker’s percentage:
I transfer the levain in my mixing bowl (zeroed to weigh my final levain amount). Sometimes the original 450 gm may only yield less. So weighing is important.
To get a 35% levain in the recipe, I divide the amount of levain with 0.35 and this gives me the flour amount.
Say, I still got 450 gm of bubbly levain,
450 gm/0.35 = 1,285 gm all-purpose flour
From the flour amount, I can compute for water and salt.
1,285 gm x 0.62 = 797 ml water
(this gives me 62% hydration)
1,285 gm x 0.02 = 26 gm salt
Final recipe is as follows. I strongly recommend weighing your ingredients. Cups tend to vary (so the cup measurement below may not yield the desires result). Volume of flour depends on type. You get more consistency with your results when you weigh your ingredients.
450 gm levain (about 2 cups)
1,285 gm flour (about 5 1/2 cups)
797 ml water (about 3 1/3 cups)
26 gm salt (5 1/4 teaspoon)
I mix everything and store in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours, allowing the bacteria and yeast to naturally “knead” and ferment the dough.
Doing the Window Pane Test:
To check if my dough has developed a good gluten strand, I stretch and fold 4-8 times. If the dough holds firm and doesn’t tear easily, then I move on to forming my dough into loaves or boules and proof them.
Proofing the Dough:
I sometimes use proofing baskets or loaf pans for the final rise. I wait for 30 min to 2 hours (again depending on whether I’m rushing or not).
I pre-heat the oven to 450F when I sense the dough is almost there.
Doing the Poke or Press Test:
I like to bake my doughs on the rise, meaning, it is not overproofed. The dent from my poke/press test still springs back and does not remain dented.
Just 5-10 minutes before I bake the bread, I also pre-heat the Dutch oven or baking pans.
If I used proofing baskets, I tilt the dough into a parchment-lined container for scoring. If I used tin loaf pans, I usually pre-line these with parchment papers before proofing for ease of transfer to pre-heated baking containers.
I score my dough just before I transfer them to the pre-heated Dutch ovens then cover it before putting inside the oven. This ensures the bread steams from within and rises. If I do an open pan baking, I put another pan at the bottom with boiling water for external steam. I lower the baking temperature to 425 and bake for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, I take out the cover (for Dutch ovens) or take out the pan of boiling water from the bottom (for open baking), and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
This would give me about 2-3 loaves of baked bread (about 800 gm each). I freeze some, sell, or give away as gifts.
If I want to bake just one loaf, I only use 50 or 75 gm levain. Using the formula above, it’s easy to come up with the flour and water measurement.