It’s funny to think how far in the past just two weeks feels since self-isolating started in New York to #flattenthecurve. The homestead projects I had started out of curiosity now seem to be a lifeline to normalcy. As we each proverbially sit and stew in our collective homes, I have the need to ferment. Behold the magic of sourdough.
Ironically, I had this need to work with fermentation as a 2020 New Year’s resolution. I sourced a starter from a friend and fed the batch with little progress toward baking. I was learning the process and ingesting lots of hours of YouTube tutorials, but never finding the time to make progress. Then I stumbled into this warped reality we all have found, where Covid-19 has us all hunkered down at home. The time I want to experiment with myriad techniques in the kitchen and art studio is now. I find we are all embracing the primal need to make food. This is the time to befriend The Bread Bakers Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. Enjoy a little culinary literacy.
The starter or mother culture passed on to me was fed with equal parts of flour and water to double the original quantity. That fermented for four hours and doubled in size as you see in ball jars above. The next step to begin a Basic Sourdough Bread is to build a Firm Starter. Mixing roughly 1 cup of the starter, otherwise known as barm, one cup of flour, and enough water to form the dough into a ball. Lightly oil a bowl and the ball of dough, cover and allow to ferment at room temperature for 4 hours. Since time has no meaning for me now, I’m game, but recognize that over 8 hours have been spent coddling this culture. Several makers name their starter to give it more character- just like a pet. By this point, we agree that this barm is Sweet Melissa and she will lead us through this epidemic.
After the four-hour ferment is complete, cut the dough into ten segments, place on a lightly greased pan and allow to rest for 1 hour. Time to shine the light on my Unicorn, the Kitchen Aid mixer workhorse extraordinaire. I am lazy when it comes to mixing dough, so my Unicorn takes all of the hard chores off my list. I measured 20 ounces of flour into the bowl, added 2 teaspoons of salt and started to mix each segment of the firm starter into the bowl to achieve a the final dough mixture. This run on a low setting with a dough hook for 4 minutes.
The Final Dough is finally achieved. It has the appearance of a French Bread Dough, smooth, yet sticky surface and an internal temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly coat a bowl and the dough with oil, cover and let this ferment for an additional 4 hours. That’s right, it’s a good thing I’m not leaving my house. Sweet Melissa needs me–or I knead her!
Once the final dough has fermented an additional 4 hours, it is time to split the dough in half and form into the final shape that will result in the baked loaf. For a beginner, Chef Reinhart advises to gently shape the dough into boules. This basically means, form them into two balls and, guess what. Let those babies proof for 3 more hours! Since I was so invested in this project, baking bread after midnight was simply part of the game.
The fun part of baking bread is scoring the dough before it hits the heat of the oven. These score marks allow gases to expand and stretch the dough versus bubble and deform the shape. I prepared the oven with a baking stone on a low rack and an iron skillet on the upper rack. These items were heated up to 550 degrees. I heated a cup of water to boiling, then placed the pan of bread directly on the baking stone. The cup of water was poured into the iron skillet to help produce a steam bath for the development of crust in the oven. After 30 seconds, I sprayed the oven walls with a water bottle. I repeated this process twice in the hopes of finding a crust similar to that of my favorite bakery breads.
Although the entire process takes an entire day of care, the results are amazing! After just 15 minutes of baking in the oven, all of that flour, water and time produced two fabulous loaves of bread, truly made with LOVE.
Once the baking time was complete, I allowed the bread to rest on a rack for 45 minutes. A few slices were gobbled in moments once they were cooled. So much for a labor of love. Let the late night smorgas-bread commence! If you find this helpful, let me know your experience. We are all in this together. Get creative and cook happy ❤