Friday, February 3, 2012

Basic sourdough bread

This is the "San Francisco" sourdough from Crust & Crumb. I've made it several times now, with various combinations of rising times, flours, and loaf shapes, and it's turned out extremely well every time. Golden crackly crust that's just the right thickness; soft crumb with lots of elasticity and structure; sourdough flavor that comes through nicely in a plain loaf but doesn't distract from a sweeter bread like cinnamon raisin; enough longevity to be edible three days later if it makes it that long.

The main difference from the La Brea sourdoughs is that the starter gets "elaborated" into what Reinhardt calls a firm starter and I call a proto-dough, which sits for a day or so before you actually make the bread. This step takes some planning ahead, but it's no more than 4 minutes of active time, and I think it helps make the timing of the later steps more flexible (although I haven't tried leaving it out so I can't say for sure).

You'll need to start with some sourdough starter, which I'd be more than happy to provide. The starter can sit in the fridge for several days between feedings (feed 1 c flour + 3/4 c room-temp water to 1 c starter). This makes 2.5 pounds of dough (enough for one huge, two medium, or one large and 1-3 small loaves).

1 c starter that's been fed in the last day or two
1 c white bread flour

Knead the starter and flour together until it comes together into slightly sticky dough. It'll seem way too dry at first, but you shouldn't actually need to add any extra water. Place the dough in a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a shower cap, and let sit at room temp until about doubled (I've left it for 6-12 hr, ie overnight or for a workday). Use now, or stick in the fridge for up to a day.

3 c white bread flour (13-14 oz); or 2 c white bread flour + 1 c other grains (whole wheat flour, polenta, etc) + 1 T gluten
1.5 t salt
1 t barley malt syrup (or sugar)
1 c room-temp water
up to 1/4 c wheat bran
up to 1 c extra goodies: oats, walnuts, sunflower seeds, raisins, etc
all of the proto-dough, torn into pieces (12-13 oz)

Combine all of the ingredients and knead until warm and elastic (6-8 min in a stand mixer with a dough hook on medium, or 10-15 min by hand). It's supposed to get up to 77-80F, but mine never has. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a shower cap, and let sit at room temp until at least starting to rise (minimum 4 hr, but I've left it as long as 12 hr and it's more than doubled by then).

Prepare wherever you want the dough to rise: grease loaf pans for sandwich loaves, line baking sheets with parchment and sprinkle with semolina for free-form loaves, or flour a dishtowel and line a proofing basket or baking sheet for boules or baguettes (respectively). Transfer the dough onto a barely floured surface and divide into pieces for whatever loaves you want to make. For round boules, form the dough into a ball. For cylindrical loaves like batards, baguettes, or sandwich loaves, press the dough into a rectangle, roll or fold the sides over, pinch the seam together, and roll gently on the surface to smooth the seam. Place in your prepared proofing place (seam down for sandwich loaves or free-form loaves, seam up if you're putting it on a dishtowel. For baguettes, bunch up the towel in between the loaves, using the towel and the adjacent loaves to help guide the rising up rather than out (this is called a couche). Cover with a plastic bag and let rise until 1.5-2 times the size (ok for 3-8 hr). Bake when risen, or close the bag with a twisty tie and put in the fridge overnight.

If the loaves are in the fridge, take them out at least an hour before you want to put the bread in the oven. If they're on a towel, transfer onto semolina-ed parchment, seam side down. About half an hour before you want to put the bread in the oven, put a pizza stone in the oven if you have one and start preheating to 475F. Just before baking, cut the top of the loaves (these cuts will expand in the oven) and spray water all over the oven with a spray bottle. Slide the loaves with their parchment onto the pizza stone, making sure there's at least a few inches in between loaves, and spray the oven again. After a couple minutes, spray again and turn the heat down to 450F. Bake for 25-30 minutes total, rotating the loaves halfway through if needed. When the loaves are golden all over, turn off the heat and leave the bread in the oven for another 10 minutes to keep browning. Let cool on a rack for at least half an hour before slicing.

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