Adventures in Sourdough Bread BakingPosted: April 24, 2016
Guys, I’ve done it. I’ve finally taken the plunge into learning how to bake my own bread. I’ve tried baking with yeast in the past and have had so many mixed results that I quickly gave up. I’ve read many accounts that baking with sourdough culture is actually easier to get a good rise out of your baking, and I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it could be.
Recently, I’ve embarked on a food adventure with Michael Pollan. The netflix documentary series “cooked” was so beautiful and awe inspiring that I picked up the book. The chapter on sourdough bread lends such respect to one of our most basic foods – bread – that I had just to go through my own journey in order to learn how to create it, just like Pollan did.
Kaelin, over at the ruby apron, hosted a sourdough bread baking workshop two weeks ago. She took great care in explaining the many steps involved in sourdough bread baking. Trained as a chef in Ireland, she learned how to perfect her loaf across the sea. Once she got home, she had to re-learn her sourdough culture, modify her technique to fit with her kitchen. The recipe below is credited to Kaelin, who adapted this recipe from Tim Allen at Ballymaloe Cookery School to use with local flours.
Kaelin was selling all the essentials needed to make sourdough bread. I committed and even bought a chunk of her culture. I named him Sam the sourdough culture. He is now a new fixture in my kitchen.
Next, knead the dough using the bread hook attachment on your mixer. Set it to medium-low and let the dough knead for about 10-15 minutes. You’ll know that it’s ready once the ball pulls away from the sides of the bowl and bread hook can hold the weight of the dough.
Cover the dough with saran wrap and leave it to rest on the counter for 3-4 hours, or you can pop it in the fridge to rest overnight. I tried to do all of the steps in one day, and I found that it was a little overwhelming. If I make the dough the day before and let it rest overnight in the fridge, you cut down the work and waiting time significantly.
The next step is the shape the dough. At first, when you transfer the dough to your counter, it will look like this. Using a bench scraper, turn the dough over onto itself. Do this every 5-10 minutes until the dough begins to form a tighter ball.
Next step is to let it rest again. Line a breathable mesh basket with a clean tea towel that has been sprinkled with flour. Gently transfer the dough to the basket, fold the ends of the tea towel over the dough and place in a plastic bag. At this point you can either leave to rest on the counter for 3-4 hours or you can pop it in the fridge overnight again.
Now for the baking process. Kaelin uses a Lodge cast iron combo cooking pan with a lid to bake her dough. It is essentially a deeper-set cast iron pan with a lid. Rather than going out and buying another piece of equipment to bake my bread (I was already accumulating quite the hefty tab during that class), I decided to try and use my tagine to bake the bread. It worked brilliantly. It trapped the heat and steam of the bread inside exactly like the combo cooker would.
Here are the steps for baking: Preheat your oven and pan to a whopping 500 degrees. Quickly tip the dough into the pan and score with a knife – be careful not to burn yourself. Cover with the deep pan or tagine lid and pop back into the oven. Cook, covered for 10 mins at 500. Turn oven down to 450 and bake for another 5 mins. Next, take the lid off the top and bake for another 5 mins (still at 450). Turn the oven down to 400 and bake for another 10 mins. The best way to test if the loaf is fully cooked is to tap the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, you’re good to go!
Here it is. My first gorgeous loaf of sourdough bread! This loaf had it all, delicious texture, a great crust, and it wasn’t too sour. I was very impressed with the flavour. My only qualms were with the flour. This loaf was 70% white flour, and 30% whole grain.
If you’ve been following this blog for you a while, you know how I feel about white flour. Pollan drove home my feelings about it in “Cooked”, when he went deep into the history of white flour and the health problems it has caused for those eating it. Quite simply, white flour is bad for you. Eating white flour has been linked to a host of chronic diseases, as well as the rise in gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease across the globe.
When you eat whole grains on the other hand, you’re getting all of the health benefits of a diet rich in fiber and protein. This is why I started using John’s flour from Gold Forest Grains. You can taste and feel the difference when eating fresh milled, whole grain flour. I haven’t had to pick up a bag of white flour ever since.
Experimenting with a whole grain sourdough loaf was not without its challenges. My first loaf was a thick dense brick that was overly sour and chewy. I was completely disheartened, but I wasn’t willing to give up on my sourdough adventure yet.
Luck had it that I read a passage in “Cooked” right as I was grappling this problem. Pollan had encountered the same issues with his whole grain sourdough loaves. He, however, came up with a brilliant solution to solving his problems!
To combat the extreme sourness he came up against, he retarded his dough int he fridge overnight for the first rise. I tried this as well.
Next, Pollan put his thinking cap on and determined that the major factor preventing his loaf from rising as it should was the wheat germ and bran that gives whole grain flour its incredible mouth feel. He had sifted it out so that it doesn’t break the gluten during the loaf’s first rise.
While shaping the loaf, he incorporated the germ and bran back into the loaf to maintain the health benefits of the flour without compromising the rise. I followed the same steps as above for the baking process and what came out the oven was a revelation. A delicious 75% whole grain loaf that was not too sour and had great rise. I was so thankful that Pollan took the legwork out of it for me. Now I make my loaves just the way he did, and they come out tasty every time.
Whole Grain Sourdough Bread (Recipe modified from Kaelin Whittaker from the Ruby Apron)
You will need:
340g sourdough starter
250g Gold Forest Grains Red Fife Flour
90g Highwood Crossing Organic All Purpose Flour (If you have to use AP, you may as well use the good stuff, eh?)
Begin by building up your starter. Add 150g of whole grain flour and 150g water to the starter and mix well. It will take about an hour or two to become active. Test if your starter is active by adding a heaping teaspoon to a glass of water. If it floats, you’re good to go. If it sinks, wait a little longer, as it is not quite active enough yet.
To make the dough, sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Reserve the bran and germ into a separate container and set aside. Add the other ingredients and, using the paddle attachment on your mixer, incorporate all of the ingredients. (I used a wooden spoon and it works just as well!)
Knead the dough using the bread hook attachment on your mixer. Set it to medium-low and let the dough knead for about 10-15 minutes. Be careful not to set the mixer to high as you can break the gluten! You’ll know that it’s ready once the ball pulls away from the sides of the bowl and bread hook can hold the weight of the dough. Cover the dough with saran wrap and pop it in the fridge to rest overnight. This is called retarding the dough.
To shape the dough, use a bench scraper to turn the dough over onto itself. Do this every 5-10 minutes until the dough begins to form a tighter ball. On your last 2 turns, reintroduce the reserved bran and germ into the loaf, making sure to cover as much as the loaf as possible.
Line a breathable mesh basket with a clean tea towel that has been sprinkled with flour. Gently transfer the dough to the basket. Fold the ends of the tea towel over the dough and place in a plastic bag. At this point, you can either leave to rest on the counter for 3-4 hours or you can pop it in the fridge overnight again.
To bake, preheat your oven and pan to a whopping 500 degrees. Quickly tip the dough into the pan and score with a sharp knife – be careful not to burn yourself. Cover with the deep pan or tagine lid and pop back into the oven. Cook, covered for 10 mins at 500. Turn oven down to 450 and bake for another 5 mins. Next, take the lid off the top and bake for another 5 mins (still at 450). Turn the oven down to 400 and bake for another 10 mins. The best way to test if the loaf is fully cooked is to tap the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, it is cooked throughout.
Let cool on a metal wire rack. Avoid cutting into the loaf too early, as you may burn yourself and let some precious steam escape.
Slather with butter and enjoy. Share with your family and watch them devour every crumb!