FUN WITH SOURDOUGH

Bread baking can be intimidating, and if you take it into sourdough territory, things are potentially even more stressful. Truth is, when compared to “regular” bread made with commercial yeast, sourdough is very forgiving. In part because it is a slower process, and it offers a lot of flexibility in terms of timing, amount of starter, level of hydration. It is easier to accommodate to any working schedule, once you get used to the rhythm. I am set on mixing the dough from 5 to 9pm, shaping and retarding in the fridge the whole night, baking early next morning, straight from the fridge. The breads from this post were all made with the same simple formula, mostly white bread flour, a touch of spelt. After bulk proofing for 4 hours at room temperature, they were shaped and placed in the fridge to sleep and dream overnight. Then, the real fun started. I tried a few different things, as you will see. It’s great that the husband enjoys a slice of bread for lunch several days a week. Because the home bakery has been working overtime lately!

CLASSIC SOURDOUGH  BREAD
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

100 g active starter (at 100% hydration)
375 g water, room temperature
450 g bread flour
50 g whole-wheat flour
10 g salt

Mix all ingredients for the bread in a large bowl, making a shaggy mass. Let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Mix gently folding the dough a few times until smooth.

Allow it to ferment for 4 hours at room temperature, folding the dough 3 times during the four hours, no need to be precise about the spacing of folding cycles. Just make sure you fold it a few times.  At the end of four hours, shape it either as a round ball or a batard.

Transfer to a well floured banneton, seam-side up, and place in the fridge overnight, 8 to 12 hours, longer if needed.

Next morning, heat the oven to 450 F. Invert the shaped loaf, still cold from the fridge over parchment paper. Dust the surface with a little flour and slash to your liking. Or, dust with cocoa powder using a stencil.

Place in a cold Dutch oven, cover, and stick in the hot oven for 30 minutes with the lid on, and 15 more minutes with the lid off.  Allow it to cool completely before slicing.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Cocoa powder is a nice way to create contrast without affecting taste. You will not detect any bitterness or cocoa flavor in the bread, don’t even worry about it. The sourdough nature will be pretty much unaffected by the thin layer of cocoa on top. Right before baking the bread, lay your stencil on top of the shaped dough, sift cocoa all over. Remove the stencil carefully, slash the bread and bake.

You have two options here, slashing right before adding the stencil, or after. I think slashing before might be better, and that’s what I’ll be doing from now on. The other thing to keep in mind is that you need to coach your bread to preserve the design as much as possible during baking. With that goal in mind, make one or several reasonably deep slashes around the perimeter of the design, so that – all things working as planned – the bread will burst around the design, not in the middle of it. But, of course, bread has a mind of its own, and part of its charm is that you just never know…

I did not expect to have such amazing oven spring, but Polaris, my newly named starter, is absolutely amazing!  I got it from Elaine, and you can get it too (as well as the gorgeous bread lame you can see in the composite photo) with a visit to her site here. She ships worldwide, by the way.

Another way you can use cocoa powder is coupling it with a more delicate slashing using a brand new razor blade (this is really important, it must be super sharp). Coat the bread with a fine dusting of cocoa powder (or you can use a mixture of regular bread flour with cocoa for a lighter tone), then slash the pattern you like.

As you can see, I made the mistake of not coaching the bread into opening someplace else rather than the middle of my design. It was still a pretty nice loaf, but just did not look the way I wanted. Next morning we noticed a scary monster waiting for us in the counter top…

Hello there! Come here often?

😉

Now, to continue with the fun. For the following bake, I made a slightly bigger amount of dough (starting with 600 g flour and increasing all other ingredients proportionally), then shaped two small balls (using roughly 200 g dough for each). The remaining dough was used to make a batard. The small loaves were proofed in cute little bannetons, about 5 inches in diameter. This picture shows them next to the regular sized banneton.

So we had not only a scary monster in the Bewitching Kitchen, but also an alien. Never a dull moment, my friends. Never a dull moment.

One of the small rolls received a cocoa-stencil, the other got slashed in a basket-pattern. Exact same dough and time of fermentation, baked side by side in the Dutch oven. These would be excellent bread-gifts for the holidays, maybe with a special stencil design, like a small Christmas tree, stars, or bells. 

The bigger, batard, got just a straightforward slashing pattern, and upon baking, also showed its rebel personality… 😉

As usual, we enjoy a couple of slices on the day I bake, next morning the bread is sliced and placed in the freezer. Baking once or twice a month is enough to keep up with our bread consumption. But, I confess that the temptation to bake every week to try something new… is not negligible (sigh).

ONE YEAR AGO: Pasteis de Nata

TWO YEARS AGO: New Mexico Pork Chile, Crockpot Version

THREE YEARS AGO: Chocolate on Chocolate

FOUR YEARS AGO: Double Chocolate and Mint Cookies

FIVE YEARS AGO: The Story of my first Creme Brulle’

SIX YEARS AGO: Sourdough Mini-rolls

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Focaccia with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Gorgonzola

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Mediterranean Skewers

NNE YEARS AGO Fettuccine with Shrimp, Swiss Chard, and Tomatoes

GILDING THE SOURDOUGH LOAF

Two sourdough posts in a row! But this one brings back the subject to its most classic use: a rustic bread made less rustic with a razor blade and a ton of fun. Here is my baby, all dressed up for party!

CLASSIC SOURDOUGH BREAD
(adapted from Anna Gabur)

for the levain:
120g water
40g starter
40g whole-wheat flour
80g all-purpose white flour

for the final dough:
Half of the levain above (about 140g)
375g water
50g spelt flour
150g whole-wheat flour
300g bread flour
10g salt dissolved in 15g water

Make the levain mixture about 6 hours before you plan to mix the dough. It should be very bubbly and active.

When you are ready to make the final dough, dissolve half the prepared levain in water (375g), then add all flours. Save the remaining levain in the fridge for later.  Mix well with your hands until a shaggy dough forms.  Leave it at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Add the salt dissolved in the remaining water, and incorporate by folding repeatedly the dough over itself. Now let the dough ferment for a total of 4 hours, folding a few times every 40 minutes. You don’t have to be precise, but allow the full four hours fermentation to take place.

Shape as a round ball and place inside a banetton covered with a cloth and lightly floured. Keep it in the fridge overnight, from 8 to 12 hours.

Next morning, heat the oven to 450F.

Invert the dough on a piece of parchment paper and lightly, very lightly coat it with flour, then rub all over the surface with the palm of your hand. Score the guiding lines according to the desired pattern, use a razor blade to slash the dough with firm, short slashes.

Bake at 450F for 45 minutes, preferably covered for the first 30 minutes to retain steam.  Cool completely over a rack before slicing.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I love a rustic sourdough that is left untouched, opens up in the oven according to its own desire, or one that gets a very basic crisscrossed slash at the top to get things started. But I must admit it’s nice to work a little magic on the crust. However, my previous attempts failed to match my expectations. In other words, I had issues to transfer to the razor blade the image I had in my mind for the baked loaf.

A couple of weeks ago I found an online course taught by a gorgeous woman named Anna Gabur on artistic bread slicing. I asked myself, do I really need this? Not sure what happened, but before I could give an honest answer to that question, my paypal account was activated and the online class was playing on my screen. Very odd. Must be a computer virus or something. At any rate, I am very glad this odd phenomenon happened, because I loved the class, learned a lot and was very pleased with the results of my very first attempt. I followed her design very closely, but maybe at some point I’ll feel confident to come up with my own creations (fingers crossed).

Between you and me, I can hardly believe this bread came out of our own oven… I was in total awe when I opened the lid and saw the oven spring, the pattern, the crust starting to get golden. A real baker’s thrill…

I highly recommend that you get Anna’s course if you are passionate about bread baking. You don’t need to make a sourdough, any bread formula will work, as long as it’s not very high in hydration. You need some structure to be able to slash it, so high-hydration formulas won’t work as well. Also, it helps a lot if the bread gets its final fermentation in the fridge, so that its surface is tight and easier to slash. My loaf went straight from fridge to pre-heated oven, it took me less than 10 minutes to finish the slashing, and I bet most people can do it much faster.  You’ll need a regular razor blade that you will hold between two fingers, not using a lame holder. And, according to Anna, one blade should last you for about 5 loaves. It needs to be truly sharp. She makes it seem so easy, it is a pleasure to watch her in real-time making a very elaborate design on the loaf. You can also marvel at all her photos on Instagram.

The bread had excellent taste and crust, the crumb was not super open, but that was expected from a bread with a lower hydration level.

Anna has quite a few articles about bread baking written on her blog, like this one that goes over basics of artistic slashing, and this one that shares her favorite bread formula. If you’d like to sign up for her online tutorial, follow this link.    She lives in Moldova, and often has to adapt her bread baking for the types of flour she can find. I often get a bit upset with “trendy” bread cookbooks that insist you must obtain the flour that was milled 4 days ago under a full moon, otherwise don’t bother making the recipe.   All you truly need is flour, water, a bit of yeast, a touch of salt, and the right amount of passion… Anna’s masterpieces prove this point!

 

ONE YEAR AGO: Lolita Joins the Bewitching Kitchen

TWO YEARS AGO: Cashew Cream Sauce

THREE YEARS AGO: Blood Orange Margaritas

FOUR YEARS AGO: Smoked Salmon Appetizer

FIVE YEARS AGO: Clementine Cake

SIX YEARS AGO: Springtime Spinach Risotto

SEVEN YEARS AGO: The end of green bean cruelty

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Torta di Limone e Mandorle

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