Current Sourdough Method

Dan, Gabriel, and I arrived home a couple hours ago from a single-night camping trip to Gambrill State Park. Some friends, who have a son about 5 months older than Gabriel, camped there as well at a nearby spot. The boys have only met a few times, but played really well together. We all went for a hike this morning and the boys mostly rode their balance bikes and had a blast. It was really nice to be outside, enjoy cool weather, spend time with friends, see the beginnings of leaf color changes, and check out a bit from the crazy news of the President having COVID-19.

Before we left yesterday, I woke up early to bake a loaf of bread I’d prepped the day before and put in the fridge overnight.

I’ve been making sourdough bread for something like ten years, on and off, but it’s always been a bit hit or miss. It would often end up tasty and with good texture, but fairly flat. For the most part, I’ve followed the method in Tartine pretty closely, though I added in use of the stand mixer for kneading several years ago instead of relying just on the folds during the first rise.

I’ve been inspired to experiment with new recipes/methods by everyone’s success at making sourdough since COVID-19. I’ve always assumed the source of my inconsistency came from either 1) not using an active enough starter or leaven or 2) not being patient enough with the rises and moving on to the next step before the dough had reached the appropriate proof-ness. Since reading many other methods, I’ve also discovered that I probably was also not paying enough attention to shaping of the dough.

For now, I’ve settled on a new method that consistently produces pretty good results. I still feel like I could get a little more rise during the final baking, but at least my results are improved and pretty consistent.

The method I’m using generally combines the steps/timing of the Community Sourdough recipe from The Domestic Man with the quantities/proportions from Laura at Radical Roots. It goes like this:

Ingredients:

  • 425 g room temperature water
  • 200 g starter
  • 650 g flour (I currently use hard red wheat flour from Migrash Farm in Maryland. Fresh flour is such a game changer.)
  • 15 g salt
  • Dusting of corn meal

Equipment:

  • Bowl
  • Dough scraper
  • Bench knife
  • 9″ banneton
  • Large Dutch oven

Method:

  1. I keep my starter in the fridge, and take it out and begin feeding it at least nightly for 1-2 nights before the night that I plan to prep my starter. Sometimes, I’ll feed in the morning and then at night the day before I prepare the dough to get it more active.
  2. I feed my starter the evening before I plan to prepare the dough, making sure that I will have enough (200 g) for the recipe in the morning.
  3. In the morning, in a large bowl, combine water and starter. Add flour and mix with hand until just mixed, scraping off the excess from your hands with the dough scraper. Let sit for at least 15 minutes.
  4. After 15-30 minutes, add salt and mix in with hand. I squeeze the dough between my fingers. Then I do a series of folds.
  5. Every 30-60 minutes for 2-3 hours, do a series of stretch and folds, pulling one side of the dough up and over the rest of the dough, rotating the bowl about 90 degrees and doing again 5 or 6 times.
  6. After the dough has risen a bit and is more relaxed, pre-shape the dough for the bulk fermentation. Here is one of the shapings I was referring to that I hadn’t paid enough attention to previously. I’m going to quote The Domestic Man here, including the video he referenced: “Using a dough scraper or a rubber spatula, invert the dough onto a dry (unfloured) counter. Do some stretch and folds, then flip the dough over. It’ll be super sticky, that’s fine. Wash the sticky dough from your hands, but don’t dry them – you want wet hands for the next step. Also wet your bench scraper. Face the edge of the bench scraper towards you, then place it under the far side of the dough, and roll the dough towards you. The stickiness will create resistance that will make surface tension on the dough, and help form it into a ball.  Here is a good video demonstration (note that the video creator is using bread flour, and all-purpose flour will be stickier than in the video). Do this a few times until you have a pretty good ball, the plop it back into the bowl.” This had been described in Tartine, but the video really helped me.
  7. Plop the ball of dough back into the bowl and let it sit on the counter for 4-5 hours, covered with a wet towel or plastic wrap.
  8. Do another shaping. Put a small amount of flour on the counter and dump the flour onto it. I do this shaping the same as I did the previous one. [Note: I’m considering adding a bench rest after some initial folds in here before the final shaping, but haven’t done so yet.]
  9. Dust cornmeal in a banneton and rub it in. Plop the dough, seam side up, into the banneton. Cover with a plastic bag, and put into the fridge.
  10. The next morning, take the banneton out of the fridge. Put the Dutch oven in the oven and heat it to 500 degrees. After 30-60 minutes, take out the Dutch oven. Turn the dough out of the banneton into the Dutch oven. Score it. I’m currently using a lame I got on Amazon. I do a plus-sign, or a single score with two cross-scores. Put the lid on the Dutch oven, place back in the oven, and change temperature to 450. Bake for 25 minutes.
  11. After 25 minutes, remove lid and bake another 20 minutes.
  12. Remove from oven and Dutch oven and place on the stove or a cooling rack.
  13. After at least an hour, enjoy!

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