Slow and Sourdough

If you're anything like me, sourdough is a special bread that I purchase every once in awhile from a bakery or big box store.  Well caramelized crusts scored decoratively by experienced bakers that hide an open, jaw pinching yet delicate crumb inside.  Sourdough is like the nice blazer in my closet, I break it out for those times when I need to be just a bit fancier.  

The true nature of sourdough bread is not one of technical skill and years of training in the finest baking schools.  Sourdough is simple (three ingredients), approachable and delicious enough to be the staple bread in your home.  The only virtue of sourdough that holds many of us back is time.  Good sourdough is not a mix, let rise for an hour and bake kind of bread.  The best sourdough I've done took three days before it was ready to bake.  My current go to formula is mixed the day before it is baked. Sourdough takes some planning but mostly the ability to wait for the process to work its magic.

The key to sourdough bread is in the starter.  If you don't have an active starter, take heart.  Many legit bakeries will give you a bit of their starter.  Social media has made it a breeze to find out if any of your friends have one going.  But even if you cannot find a ready and mature starter, your own starter is literally 5-7 days away.

Sourdough starter:
Day 1 morning:
20g bread flour
20g whole wheat flour (or rye)
40g water
Combine, loosely cover with towel and let sit at room temperature for 12 hours
Day 2 morning:
Discard 40g of starter.  To the remaining starter add:
20g water
20g bread flour
Combine, loosely cover with towel and let sit at room temperature 8-12 hours
Day 2 Evening:
Discard 40g of starter.  To the remaining starter add:
15g water
15g bread flour
Combine, loosely cover with towel and let sit at room temperature 8-12 hours
Day 3 Morning:
Discard 40g of starter.  To the remaining starter add:
15g water
15g bread flour
Combine, loosely cover with towel and let sit at room temperature 8-12 hours
Day 3 Evening:
Discard 40g of starter.  To the remaining starter add:
15g water
15g bread flour
Combine, loosely cover with towel and let sit at room temperature 8-12 hours
Day 4 Morning:
Discard 40g of starter.  To the remaining starter add:
15g water
15g bread flour
Combine, loosely cover with towel and let sit at room temperature 8-12 hours
Day 4 Evening:
Discard 40g of starter.  To the remaining starter add:
15g water
15g bread flour
Combine, loosely cover with towel and let sit at room temperature 8-12 hours
Day 5 Morning:
Discard 40g of starter.  To the remaining starter add:
15g water
15g bread flour
Combine, loosely cover with towel and let sit at room temperature 8-12 hours
Day 5 Evening:
Discard 40g of starter.  To the remaining starter add:
15g water
15g bread flour
Combine, loosely cover with towel and let sit at room temperature 8-12
hours


Your starter should be ready to be used in baking at this point.  If you feel like it could use another day or so, go ahead and feed it again.  Trust your instincts. *Tip:  You don't need to keep a lot of starter on hand.  I only keep about 20-25 grams or so.  My typical formula uses 100 grams of starter.  So I feed my starter 50g water and 50g flour (a total of 100 grams).  When I take what I need for my formula (100g) I should still have 20-25 grams of starter remaining.  As long as you don't use all of your starter (and feed it appropriately) it will last forever!

It seems like a lot of work but you are only actively participating for 5-10 minutes during the feeding.  If you keep your starter at room temperature, you will need to feed it daily.  I only bake once or twice a week so I keep my starter in the refrigerator.  It can stay cold and unfed for 10-14 days!  I bring it out the night before I need it, feed it appropriately and let it stay at room temperature overnight.  The next morning, I measure my starter, flour, water and salt and get ready to bake!

Sourdough Bread
100g sourdough starter
350g warm water
450g bread flour
50g rye flour (or more bread flour)

Combine all ingredients and mix until no dry flour remains.  Cover and let rest for 30-45 minutes.
Sprinkle over dough mass:
10g salt
25g water
Pinch dough to incorporate salt and water thoroughly. Cover and let rest for 45 minutes.

1st fold:
Pull from the bottom of the dough mass, stretch the dough and fold to the opposite side.  Rotate bowl and continue folding 4-5 times.  Cover and let rest 30-45 minutes.

2nd fold:
Pull from the bottom of the dough mass, stretch the dough and fold to the opposite side.  Rotate bowl and continue folding 4-5 times.  Cover and let rest 30-45 minutes.

3rd fold:
Pull from the bottom of the dough mass, stretch the dough and fold to the opposite side.  Rotate bowl and continue folding 4-5 times.  Cover and let rest 30-45 minutes.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured counter.  Pre-shape by flattening dough, pulling the top 1/3 to the middle and "stitching" the right side to left of center and the left side to right of center.  Fold the bottom third over the middle and roll over so the seam is against the counter.  Cover and let rest 30-45 minutes.  

Shape the dough but repeating the previous steps.  When the seam is against the counter, tighten the surface by pulling the dough ball towards you, dragging your pinky fingers against the counter.  Give the dough quarter turn and repeat until the top of the dough has developed strong tension.  Place dough in a banneton or a colander lined with a towl and floured heavily.  Cover with a towel and put in refrigerator for 12-36 hours.

Preheat oven to 500F.  Place a dutch oven in the oven and allow to heat for 1 hour.  Remove dough from refrigerator and place on parchment paper.  Score the top and place in in dutch oven.  Cover with lid and bake for 25 minutes.  Remove lid and reduce oven temperature to 450F.  Continue cooking uncovered for 20-25 more minutes.

Remove from dutch oven and allow to cool completely before slicing.
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