Simplifying Sourdough

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Meet Igor.

Igor is my Wild Yeastie Beastie.  Igor makes all fluffy bread things possible.  And sometimes some not so fluffy bread things such as pizza dough and crackers.

Okay, so really, Igor is my sourdough starter.  I started him all by myself back in February 2017 (I’ll do a later post on how to start your own just so we have all bases covered here)… and now he’s a ripe little bugger 🙂  He makes crackers that taste cheesy even though they’re only made with flour, water, salt and butter.  He makes a tasty, chewy, unique pizza crust that will have people asking you how you did that.  But mostly, he’s a bread workhorse.  No two loaves will ever taste the exact same.  Don’t expect it, don’t even try for it.  Just let the wild yeasties do their thing.

That’s what this post will cover from start to finish.  Taking the intimidation out of a beautiful, homemade, rustic loaf of bread that’s free of chemicals and added sugars and oils, and as organic as you would like to make it.  HOW does one take the intimidation out of this process, you ask?  I mean, everyone makes it look so labor intensive!  Hold your tongue just right, use this tool, use that tool, put your right arm in, your right arm out, hokey pokey, blah, blah, blah.  I tried all the stuff.  I read all the websites.  I watched all the YouTubes.  I called bullshit.  See, while I was trying to figure out how to make the perfect poofy loaf of *rustic* (pay attention to that word) bread, I ran across little snippets of how mountain men, guys that could be bothered with absolutely NO tediousness, would carry starters in little leather pouches around their necks.  Which got me to thinking (most likely a shower thought to be quite honest), that all this hoopla over a basic loaf of bread that humans have been baking for eons sounds suspicious.  So let’s assume we have no time or patience for pretentiousness and pretend we’re migrating across wild terrain to reach the west and just want a freaking hot loaf of bread by the end of the day.

Ergo, I bring you Sourdough Simplified.  With pictures and everything!!  Actually, the pictures kind of ARE everything:  recipe, instructions… so pay attention.  Or just scroll to the end of the page for a basic recipe and quick instructions.  Whatever works for ya.

THE MIXING

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Start with 400 grams of water.  I use spring water.
Don’t use chlorinated city water

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Pour into large mixing bowl
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Check your starter.  Is it active?  Fluffy and bubbly?
If so, you’re ready to rock
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Measure out 1 Cup of your super-active starter
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Add to water in mixing bowl
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Stir well until Igor is well dissolved
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Measure out 700 grams of flour.  I sometimes use completely all-purpose, sometimes a combination of whole wheat and all-purpose, sometimes sprouted, home-ground flours,
including spelt.
Above is a combination of store-bought organic all-purpose and organic whole wheat.
Always, always, always go for the organic flours.  Wheat is a heavily sprayed crop — not good food.
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Pour the flour into the water/starter combo
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Mix together using your hands or a spatula.  I start with a spatula and finish with my pitty-pats cuz it combines it better.  If you need to add a drizzle more water, feel free.  This is free-range science
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With the ratios of water and flour, this is what your dough will look like.  Sticky, but not super loose.  I’ve never had luck with the really wet doughs so I altered my recipe to suit me.  Alter yours to suit you as you work your way through this process.
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Cover your flour/water/Igor mixture and ignore it for 30-60 minutes.  60 is best, but sometimes I’m in a hurry.  And generally impatient.  Anyway, this is the “autolyse” portion of your bread making program.  That’s just fancy talk for “the flour is soaking up the water and creating gluten.”  Whatever terminology you want to use, just leave it alone.  No touchy.  Walk away.
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Before you completely walk out of the kitchen though, grab a small bowl or a cup and measure 50 grams of water into it.
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Measure out 1 tablespoon of salt.
A lot of the places I did my research said to ONLY use kosher salt.  I’ve found this to be a whatevs situation.  I use grey Celtic salt on a normal basis, but have also used just plain ol’ un-iodized sea salt and pink Himalayan salt.  I don’t even own “regular” salt and wouldn’t recommend eating it anyway.  But my point here is… 1 TBL of salt.  Pick a salt.  Any salt.
Just not iodized.
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Add to the water
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Stir well and let dissolve while your dough is doing that autolyse thing.
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Now that your dough preparation is complete, time to feed the beast so you have a happy starter for future use.  I usually use 114 grams flour to 114 grams water, but again… free-range science here.  As you can see, today we are going with 118 grams of each.
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Add flour to the starter that wasn’t used in your most recent bread making foray.
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Measure out the exact same weight of water as you did flour
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Pour in water
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Stir well with a spatula
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Plop the cheesecloth hat back on and leave on counter to be fed again tomorrow.
NOW you can walk out of the kitchen until your hour is up.  You probably have 55 mins to go 😉
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Time’s up!  It’s been an hour.  This is what your flour/water/Igor mix will look like when you uncover it.  No big shucks, right?  Correct.  Not yet.
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Remember that salt water we made and set aside?  Give it a stir and dump it in.
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Get in there with your hands and pinch and fold that salt water into your dough
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This is what it will look like after everything is combined.
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Cover with a tea towel and walk away for 1/2 hour
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Oh, look, you’re back.  This is what your dough will look like after 1/2 hour.  Minus the funky light halo thingie from my flash.  Ignore that.
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This will be the first of your “4-point folds.”  You will do these folds every half hour or so for 3-5 hours.  I usually just do them until I’ve lost interest in doing them and am ready to bake.  Honestly, I’ve never actually timed it out.  Probably sometimes 3 hours and sometimes 7 and everything in between.  Sometimes I’m right on that every half hour thing and sometimes I don’t get around to it for an hour or more.
Free-range science.  It doesn’t matter.  What is going on INSIDE the dough at this point is way more important than what’s going on outside it.  Those little yeasties are in there replicating and farting and fermenting.  THAT’S the important part.
Okay, so 4-point folds.  As you can see on my first fold here, the dough is pretty wet and gooey, but beautifully stretchy and holds together well.  Reach your hand in under the top edge of your dough and pull up.
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And flop down over the top
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Spin your bowl a 1/4 turn, place your hand under the new top edge of your dough… and pull up
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And flop that part onto the center of the dough
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Spin the bowl another 1/4 turn (same direction as last time, please), repeat above steps.  Reach hand underneath upper edge of dough, pull up…
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Annnnnnnnddddd flop down.
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Last time… 1/4 turn, reach under, pull up…
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And flop down.
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Now just kinda give it a spin to where all those folds are on the bottom and you’ve made a spherical like structure.  Once again, your dough will not be as angelic as mine looks with it’s pretty light halo.  Don’t even aspire to it 😉
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Cover your bowl and go entertain yourself with something else for a bit.
But once again, come back every half hour or so and do that 4-point fold over and over and over again.  This is basically your kneading process, but instead of standing there and beating the snot out of your dough all at once for 25 mins or so, you’re just letting it get it’s ferment on and revisiting it every once and again.  I recommend sniffing it frequently.  But I may not be the best judge.  I sniff everything.

THE RISING

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This is what your dough will look like after many, many hours and many, many folds.  As you can see, it really doesn’t look too much different.  It has gotten a bit poofier (you’ll be able to feel the differences as you do your folds), but if you’ve ever baked bread with commercial yeast before, this particular picture may come as a shock to you.  It’s okay.  The magic happens later.
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Pre-heat your oven to 500* F
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Take your beautiful, EMPTY, cast iron Dutch Oven, lid and all, and plop it into that pre-heating to the temperature of magma oven.  This is important.  You need a Dutch Oven and you need it HOT.  Really hot.  (I’ve tried the clay cookers — was a resounding failure, for me anyway.  If you’ve tried them and like them, more power to you.  I had a tasty brick from that one).  And don’t go at this without a lidded vessel.  The lid makes the magic happen.  Get a lidded Dutch Oven.  Just do it.  And make it HOT.
Did I mention, make it HOT??
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Now, prep your rising vessel.  Some places say use a basket or this that or the other.  I tried this that and the other and what I found works best for me and my oval Dutch Oven that I got specifically for baking bread (I have a round one, but cutting and eating the round bread annoyed me) is my ancient enamelware roasting pan lined with parchment paper.  Once again, mountain men and miners and cowboys.  They didn’t buy special rising baskets and fru-fru tools to make their bread.  They used what they had on hand.  Improvise.
I only use the parchment because I’m lazy.  You’ll see…
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Dust the dough ball with flour, pick it up and dust the other side.  If you want to give it a quick fold here, feel free.  Just make sure that before you shape it and put it in your rising vessel that it has a thin layer of flour on the outside.  Don’t make your flour layer too thick or it WILL get burny and not tasty.  Makes for an interesting *looking* loaf, I’m just not fond of the overall results
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So… just kind of make a ball.  In my case, an oval ball.  Make sure the edges are all pinched together on the bottom, but really, the dough is such a “wet” dough that that’s not a difficult task.  As you can see, there’s the light flour layer all over the outside and it’s now resting comfortably in its parchment lined enamelware.
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Cover Igor-bread’s final resting place with a tea towel, place on the stove of that pre-heating oven (or another equivalent nice warm spot), and just leave it there for an hour.
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This is what your dough will look like after an hour.  I gave it a couple pokes with my finger so you can see that there has been significant rising, but probably still not what you’re used to from commercial yeast.  Patience, grasshopper.
At this point, remove your lava-hot Dutch Oven from the oven.  Remove the lid.
Grab one corner of your parchment paper, and the diagonally opposite corner of the paper from that first one and transfer the whole shebang to your hothothot pot.
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Using a razor blade or super sharp knife, score the top of your loaf.  It’s not absolutely necessary, your bread will do what your bread will do.  It WILL pop open somewhere, scoring it just gives you the control over where it pops.
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This is how I score mine.  Kinda leaf-like.  It pleases me.  If you want to make a square shape on yours, go for it.  If you want parallel lines, go for it.  If you want to skip it entirely… go for it.  It’s BREAD for crying out loud.
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PUT THE LID ON
Yeah, I’m yelling.  Don’t mess up this one little step and no matter what you’ve done previously, you will still end up with a pretty awesome loaf.  Put the damned lid on.

THE BAKING

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Remember that 500 degree oven that’s currently turning your kitchen into your own personal Hades?  Yeah, leave that on 500*, slide your COVERED Dutch oven in that bad boy, and set the timer for 20 minutes.

Tick Tock Tick Tock…  (pssssssstttttt… this is where the magic is happening.  UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES DO YOU OPEN THAT OVEN FOR THE FULL 20 MINUTES).
I’m not kidding.  Go catch up on iFunny or something.  But don’t touch the oven.
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20 minutes are up.  NOW you need to open the oven, and remove the lid.  See the magic poof (okay, so normal people call this “oven spring,” I just happen to prefer the term “magic poof”)?  What has happened is those wild yeasties gave it their all in their final few minutes of life and farted their little butts off in the steamy lidded coffin of your Dutch Oven.  Don’t question it, just appreciate it.
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Set oven to 425* F
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Set timer for 25 minutes and slide that uncovered Igor goodness right back into that hot box.
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25 uncovered minutes later, you have this20170723_225653[1]
Slide off onto cooling rack and leave it alone for absolutely no less than 1/2 hour.  Although an hour is better.
And sniff it.
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Your final product

Okay, so to recap:

a)  I’m lazy and never remove my dough from the mixing bowl I started with until it’s time for the rising of the dough.  Also lazy in that I let my parchment paper do the heavy lifting.
b)  I’m cheap and see absolutely no need for special equipment for something that was being made since long before “special equipment” was even a term.
c)  Sourdough is truly not a difficult process, though it can be time consuming if you let it.  I will do another post on overnight sourdough that takes care of itself while you’re at work (or just reading a book) and then all you have to do is let it rise and bake it.
d)  This will be the best bread you’ve had.  Like ever.  And all it is is flour, water, and salt.  And wild yeasts that feed on flour and water.  They are what give you all the flavor.  Love them.  Pamper them.  Allow them to thrive and they will not disappoint.

Now the short and sweet version:

400 g water
1 C sourdough starter
700 g flour

50 g water
1 TBL salt

Place 400 g water in a large mixing bowl, add 1 C starter and stir until dispersed.  Add 700 g flour to that mixture and bring together into a sticky dough.  Cover and set aside for an hour.
Place 50 g water in a small bowl or cup.  Dissolve 1 TBl salt in that water.  Set aside until you come back in an hour.
Feed your starter.
After an hour, revisit your autolysed dough and add the salt water to it, pinching and kneading in until you have a smoothish/wetish dough.  Cover and walk away for 30 minutes.  Come back to your dough and do a 4-point fold.  Cover and walk away.  Repeat that 4-point fold process every 1/2 hour or so for 3-7 hours, or until you get bored with it.  Preheat oven to 500* Fahrenheit and place your cast iron Dutch Oven in that preheating oven, lid and all.
Prepare your rising vessel.  Either by flouring it well or lining it with parchment paper.  Flour the outside of your dough and form into a ball.  Place, seam side down, into your rising vessel, cover and leave it alone for an hour in a warm cozy spot.
Remove your flaming hot Dutch Oven from your oven and remove the lid.  Transfer your risen dough to the super hot pot, score the top of the dough, and replace lid.  Bake at 500* for 20 minutes.  DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DURING THIS TIME.
When 20 minutes is up, open the oven, remove the lid, admire the magic poof (oven spring), slide the bread back into the oven uncovered, reset your temperature to 425* F, and set the timer for 25 minutes.  After 25 minutes, remove the loaf to a cooling rack and let cool for at least 1/2 hour.  More is better.
Cut open, butter prolifically, eat and enjoy.

 

 

 

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2 comments

  1. I’ve recently gotten into breadmaking and am so excited that you took time to document the process as well as you have! The rustic crust on the bread and the crumb look divine. I’m anxiously awaiting to see how to make a starter … I mean Igor!

    Like

    • LOL — are you sure you’re not my mother in disguise?? She keeps anxiously awaiting that step too… even though she has a perfectly good starter sitting right here! I will be making sourdough pizza and bottling kombucha today, but will also start the starter today. In order to get the right amount of pics of *every* step of the way for the starter, it will take at least a week. Which means I need to make a sacrificial current Igor too, to show what happens when things go horribly, horribly wrong.
      Which puts us at about next Monday for the post.
      Feel free to follow me here or on Facebook to receive auto updates, or just check back.
      And thank you so much for your lovely comments — I feel like I should give you some sort of door prize for being the first commenter on my new site 😀

      Like

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