Quarantine baking: Make your own sourdough, seriously, you can do it

Use your extra time at home to tackle homemade sourdough

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I know a few people who are joining the working-from-home ranks with a grumble, but I am not one of them. This is an exciting time to be a foodie! Forget about the empty shelves at the grocery stores for a minute. Yes, we may all be making substitutions in the coming weeks, but think of the opportunities. Recipes that were previously only for special occasions or long, empty Sundays are in our grasps — on a workday, no less. Take advantage of the few extra minutes in the morning not having a commute gives you and get an old favorite on the table.

For me, time equals bread and with its long resting times before baking, sourdough bread is a great project for a day spent at home. This Christmas, I was given a packet of Alaskan sourdough starter by Frontiersman Sourdough and it opened a whole new world for me. I scoured the internet for weeks, searching things like, "How often do I feed my sourdough?" and "How to make sourdough sour." I watched all the videos, bought fancy flours, a kitchen scale, bannetons, a dough scraper. I've made sourdough bread every week for the last three months, and I've learned quite a lot — and it turns out, almost nothing at all.

I'm a proud baker, and a flawed one. I substitute ingredients, I skip steps. When a recipe doesn't come out right, I throw it away and try a new one. The sourdough a-ha moment happened for me this weekend. After weeks of trial and error, I came back to this recipe and actually followed it: no cutting corners, no skipping resting times. Would you believe it? It actually works.

EXTRA-TANGY SOURDOUGH BREAD

(From King Arthur Flour)

Prep: 15 minutes

Bake: 30 minutes

Total: 23 hours, 45 minutes

Yield: Two loaves

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup (227 g) ripe sourdough starter

1 1/2 cups (340 g) lukewarm water

5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

DIRECTIONS:

Combine the starter, water, and 3 cups (12 3/4 ounces, 362g) of the flour. Beat vigorously for 1 minute.

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Cover, and let rest at room temperature for 4 hours. Refrigerate overnight, for about 12 hours.

Add the remaining 2 cups (8 1/2 ounces, 241g) flour, and the salt. Knead to form a smooth dough.

Allow the dough to rise in a covered bowl until it's light and airy, with visible gas bubbles, 5 hours (or even longer), depending on how active your starter is. Gently deflate the dough once an hour by turning it out onto a lightly floured work surface, stretching and folding the edges into the center, and turning it over before returning it to the bowl.

Divide the dough in half and shape into two loaves and place it on a greased or lined baking sheet. Cover with greased plastic wrap (I use a clean shower cap) and let rise until very puffy, around 2 to 4 hours, but could take longer.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Spray loaves with lukewarm water and slash them.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a very deep golden brown. Depending on your oven or your loaves you may have to bake longer. I typically bake for 25 to 30 minutes, cover with tin foil, then bake another 20 minutes or more, until the internal temperature of my bread gets hot enough. (I'm usually looking for an internal temp of 205 degrees at least.)

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Cool before slicing and store at room temperature.

This bread has no preservatives, so eat it right away, or store at room temperature. Don't have a sourdough starter? No problem. You can find them online, but if you'd like to make your own, you can do that, too. And don't let this recipe scare you off — there are plenty of recipes that use your discard starter, no wasted ingredients.

SOURDOUGH STARTER

(From King Arthur Flour)

INGREDIENTS:

To begin your starter:

1 cup (113 g) whole rye or whole wheat flour

1/2 cup (113 g) cool water

To feed your starter:

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Scant 1 cup (113 g) unbleached All Purpose Flour

1/2 (113 g) cool water (if your house is warm) or lukewarm water (if your house is cool).

DIRECTIONS:

Day 1: Combine the flour with the cool water in a 1-quart non-reactive container. Glass, crockery, stainless steel, or food-grade plastic all work fine for this.

Stir everything together thoroughly; make sure there's no dry flour anywhere. Cover the container loosely and let the mixture sit at warm room temperature (about 70 degrees) for 24 hours.

Day 2: You may see no activity at all in the first 24 hours, or you may see a bit of growth or bubbling. Either way, discard half the starter (4 ounces, about 1/2 cup), and add to the remainder a scant 1 cup flour, and 1/2 cup water.

Mix well, cover, and let the mixture rest at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 3: Begin two feedings daily, as evenly spaced as your schedule allows. For each feeding, weigh out 4 ounces starter; this will be a generous 1/2 cup, once it's thoroughly stirred down. Discard any remaining starter.

Add a scant 1 cup (4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, and 1/2 cup water to the 4 ounces starter. Mix the starter, flour, and water, cover, and let the mixture rest at room temperature for approximately 12 hours before repeating.

Day 4: Weigh out 4 ounces starter, and discard any remaining starter. Repeat feeding your starter (as described in "Day 3").

Day 5: Weigh out 4 ounces starter, and discard any remaining starter. Repeat feeding your starter (as described in "Day 3"). By the end of Day 5, the starter should have at least doubled in volume. The starter should have a tangy aroma. If your starter hasn't risen much and isn't showing lots of bubbles, repeat discarding and feeding every 12 hours on day 6, and day 7, if necessary.

Once the starter is ready, give it one last feeding. Discard all but 4 ounces (a generous 1/2 cup). Feed as usual. Let the starter rest at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours; it should be active, with bubbles breaking the surface.

Remove however much starter you need for your recipe — typically no more than 8 ounces, about 1 cup. If your recipe calls for more than 1 cup of starter, give it a couple of feedings without discarding, until you've made enough for your recipe plus 4 ounces to keep and feed again.

Transfer the remaining 4 ounces of starter to its permanent home. Feed this reserved starter with 1 cup of flour and 1/2 cup water, and let it rest at room temperature for several hours, to get going, before covering it. If you're storing starter in a screw-top jar, screw the top on loosely rather than airtight.

Store this starter in the refrigerator, and feed once a week.


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