BeerDude Homebrewing

FlatSourdough.jpgSOURDOUGH BREAD

The Big Lie

Perhaps you have tried to make a beautiful loaf of naturally leavened sourdough bread, only to have it come out flat. I certainly have, and flat loafs are a common problem. And this is despite the fact that we follow with great effort the recipes found on countless on-line sources that claim wonderful success. Well, I've finally found out why we fail: It's because they lie.

Lie #1, "Making sourdough bread is easy."

Not, it's not easy. But it's not hard either. It's fussy. Natural yeast is finicky, and proper handling of the dough to get good results is somewhat tricky. Like roller skating, it might be easy when you know how, but you going to fall at first and you can't learn by just reading a recipe. (I never did learn to roller skate).

Lie #2, "Put your dough (or starter) in a warm place..."

What does "warm" mean. It turns out "warm" means 75-85 degrees (F), at least in regards to natural sourdough yeast. If it's much cooler than that, things may not get started.
But no one told you that, did they?

Lie #3, "You can make sourdough starter in 5 days."

No, you can't. Well maybe if you're lucky. But chances are it will take 1 to 2 weeks, and it may go through a strange period of no growth and bad odor in the process.

The Tricks

Trick #1, Start by avoiding recipes with wet dough (high hydration).

The best artisian sourdough breads, the ones with big holes (open crumb) and good sour taste are made from wet dough. But wet dough is hard to handle and the surest way for mortal like us to end up with a flat, dense loaf. Start with recipies that aren't too wet and be thankful to end up with something edible.

Trick #2, Chill the dough before baking.

This firms up the dough so it's less likely to collapse. The basic idea is to let the dough rise in a bowl lined with a well-floured towel, then chill it overnight.

Trick #3, Use parchment paper to lower the dough into the oven.

This also helps the dough keep its shape. Right before baking, carefully turn the chilled dough onto parchment paper and then lower it into the oven.

Finding Your Warm Spot

This is probably the most important task in making sourdough bread. Find a spot where the temperature averages about 80 degrees (F) or a bit higher. If you like gadgets, get this:    

Other solutions:
It's OK if the temperature varies a bit. In my "warm spot" the temperature is 75 degrees on a cool morning and 85 degrees on a hot day. But the overall average is about 80 degrees, which is what natural sourdough yeast seems to like.

Armed with your "warm spot" and by adding the tricks mentioned earlier, you could probably tackle any sourdough recipe out there with success.
Or you can follow the recipes that worked for me ...

Sourdough Starter Recipe

All you'll need is:
Sourdough starter is made by mixing flour and water, keeping it in a warm spot, and "feeding" it on a regular basis until the natural yeast beats out all other micro-organisms. After a day or so it will begin to grow and look bubbly with increasing activity. However, it's quite common for the growth to slow or even stop for a few days with the starter giving off a bad odor. This is a sign that the natural yeast is competing against other micro-organisms. Soon the growth will recover and the bad odor will fade. Each time you feed the starter it will grow actively for a few hours and then die down. It's ready to use when it doubles it's size in 6 hours or less after feeding, has no bad odors, and has repeated that pattern for at least 3 days. Heck, San Fransisco Boudin's starter is over 100 years old, but you don't have to wait that long!

Believe me, this works! I've done this successfully 3 times.
If you follow these instructions, including the all important warm spot of 80 degrees (F), and you still don't have a good starter after 2 weeks, then there is something wrong with your Karma.

Pics/Starter.gifDay 1:
Mix well, place starter in the jar, cover loosely, put it in your warm spot, 80 degrees (F).
(Starter yield will be about 1/4 cup).

Day 2:
Mix well, place starter in the jar, cover loosely, put it in your warm spot.
(Starter yield will now be about 1/2 cup).

Day 3-14 (Do the following every 12 hours):
Mix well, place starter in the jar, cover loosely, put it in your warm spot.
(Starter yield will remain at about 1 cup).

Remember! - Ignore any periods where there is a lapse in growth or bad odor. It will soon get better.
Starter is ready when all three of the following are true:

Maintaining Your Starter:
Starter Discards:

When growing the starter, the only reason for discarding some of it is to prevent ending up with a whole bucket load.
You can use discards in the following ways:

Sourdough Bread Recipe #1Pics/Bread20230923.jpg

This recipe is almost fool-proof, and it really works! - I've done it twice. The good news is that you can bake it anytime on bake-day. The bad news is the total process takes more than one day. It's based on the following link - I adjusted quantities to yield a single small loaf:

You'll need a 4-5 quart dutch oven or roasting pan, and a small proofing basket with a cloth liner. Proofing baskets help determine the shape of the loaf. Instead of a proofing basket, I  use a medium-sized mixing bowl and a tea towl. For the small loaf from this recipe a bowl that is 7 inches wide and 4 inches deep is just right.

To keep the dough from sticking to the liner of the proofing basket, it's best to use rice flour or corn starch. Do not use regular flour because the gluten in the flour will absorb moisture from the dough and glue itself to the cloth! Think: gluten = "glue-a-ton".

The Night Before - Leaven (or "Levain", if you want to get fancy):
Mix well, cover, put in your warm spot overnight, 80 deg (F).

Also The Night Before - Replenish and Feed Starter (for next time)
Mix well, cover, put in your warm spot overnight, 80 deg (F).
Next morning - move to refrigerator for storage.

Dough Day, 8:00 am - Mix and Autolyse:
Mix leaven and water for about a minute.
Add salt and mix again for a few seconds.
Add flour and mix to form a somewhat wet and shaggy dough.
Cover and rest in your warm spot for 1 hour.

9:00 am - Dough Development:

Wet your hands to avoid sticking to the dough.
Grab one side of the dough and stretch it until it is about 10 inches long. It's OK to pull on the other side of the dough with your other hand.
Drop it over itself to fold it, then rotate the dough a quarter-turn.
Repeat for a total of 5 - 7 stretch-and-folds (click here to see video).
Cover and rest the dough in your warm spot for 1/2 hour.

Repeat the above "stretch-and-fold, then rest" cycle 4 more times, which will take a total of 2 hours.

11:00 am - Bulk Fermentation (1st rise):

Cover and place the dough in your warm spot for 2 hours.

1:00 pm - Shape and Proof (2nd rise):

This time don't wet your hands but use flour to avoid sticking to the dough! (You want to keep the dough from getting too wet).
Perform one last series of stretch-and-folds to build up the height of the dough.
Place the dough on a slightly floured surface.
Rotate and pull the dough toward you several times to form a ball and build surface tension.
Dust the shaped dough-ball with flour.
Drape a tea-towl over your proofing basket. Sprinkle the towl generously with rice flour or corn starch.
Gently place the dough up-side-down on top of the towl and into the proofing basket.
Cover the dough with the corners of the towl, then rest in your warm spot for 2 hours.

3:00 pm - Cold Retard:

Place the dough in the refrigerator overnight.

Bake Day (next morning):

Preheat oven to 400 deg (F), with dutch oven inside.
Place a cookie sheet on the rack just below the dutch oven. This will help the bottom of the loaf from getting too hard.
When the oven is hot enough, cut a piece of parchment paper about 1.5 feet long.
Carefully turn the proofing basket and dough unto the parchment paper, then carefully remove the bowl and towel.
Optionally slit the top of the dough in a cross pattern. (Dont try this at first, because it may cause the dough to collapse.)
Using the parchment paper as a sling, lower the dough into the dutch oven, spray with water, then cover.
Bake for 30 minutes with cover on, then 15  minutes with cover off.
Remove loaf from oven, spray bottom of loaf with water, then let cool on a rack for 1 hour.


I'm always experimenting with ways to shorten the overall time and improve the results. Here are some things I'm working on:
Here's an example of my goal - A one-day recipe with great open crumb (Oh, how I'd love to have those skills and results!):

Sourdough Bread Recipe #2

 ... coming soon ...

Comments welcome: