The last time I made sourdough bread was probably eight years ago. I had two cultures – one from Bahrain and one from San Francisco – and the bread I made with them was OK but not spectacular, and at some point they got thrown out during one of many our post-college moves, having been long dormant in the fridge for many months. When we lived in Santee, I meant to try starting a culture from scratch, by was ultimately discouraged by the industrial zoning just a few blocks away. Fast forward to August 2008 and the creation of my 101 Things list: I added “make a sourdough starter from scratch” and “cook one recipe from every cookbook I own” to the list, and with two of those books featuring exclusively sourdough breads, it was clearly time to get started again.
Chuck helped jumpstart my sourdough renaissance with a new sourdough bread book and two Italian cultures from Sourdoughs International (which had been the source of my previous cultures as well). I’ve been on a bread-baking kick recently, so I was eager to get started, and I started to activate the culture last weekend:
I was using a brand new bag of King Arthur Flour and didn’t want to mix it in with the remaining “old” flour I had in my canister, so I weighed the flour throughout the procecss. In the photo above, you can see the foil packet that the dried started came in, and my sourdough crock containing the dried starter, 1 cup of water, and 3/4 cup of flour. After 24 hours, there were a few bubbles and a layer of water at the top before I gave it more flour and water:
After the first day, the starter was fed every 6-12 hours. At the next feeding, the bubbles were more active:
And then I split the starter into two jars so I had a backup. By the next morning, both we bubbly
At that point the starters were almost active, so I dumped out about half of the goo from each jar and gave them one more feeding (the activation process feels a little bit wasteful sometimes – I went through more than 3 pounds of flour in the activation & first loaf baking process!) .
I started the activation on Saturday afternoon and the cultures were active by Monday evening. I took one jar our of the fridge on Friday night, gave it another feeding, and awoke early Saturday morning to find it happily bubbling away, overflowing its jar. I was so excited that I forgot to take a picture of the overflowing crock, but here’s the culture I measured out to start my Pane Cafone recipe:
I added 1 cup water and about 400 grams of the 500g called for in the recipe:
Then I put the last 100g of flour on my kneading mat and worked it into the dough. After round one of kneading, the dough looked like this:
Now, there wasn’t actually supposed to be a second round of kneading, but at that point I thought: “hmmm, it’s a little weird that I didn’t put any salt in the bread…what does the recipe say?
Ooops! Two teaspoons salt…I guess I should add that.” And so I sprinkled two teaspoons of salt on the mat and kneaded the bread for another five minutes until the salt was pretty well incorporated. It looked mostly the same as after kneading round one, except with some spots of color because I used pink-speckled mineral salt.
The dough was supposed to rise for at least five hours in the initial proofing stage, and by the time we came home from lunch and shopping it had been about seven hours. As soon as we got home I punched it down:
And shaped it into a loaf on a flour and cornmeal covered peel.
I would have been far smarter to put it on parchment instead of flour, since it was quite sticky and I needed Chuck’s help to get the loaf into the oven. After another three hour rise, it went into the oven as a much larger (and slightly misshapen) loaf:
After about ten minutes, the oven spring was, as noted in the recipe booklet, amazing:
After an hour, I took it out of the oven, beautifully brown and gigantic, with a nice hard crust:
A few hours later, we sliced it open and enjoyed some delicious sourdough:
This is definitely some of the best bread I’ve ever made – the crust is wonderfully crisp, the interior is moist and springy, and it has a subtly sour flavor. Since the bread isn’t slashed before baking (an explicit instruction in the recipe), there is a separation of bread and crust from a large air pocket in the thicker part of my loaf, but otherwise I’m incredibly happy with the way this one turned out.
Next week’s sourdough adventures will feature sourdough pizza – apparently pizza dough was one of Chuck’s main motivators in buying me sourdough cultures from Italy!