Bread Interlude: Super Sourdough bread for non-bakers
As we are about to enter the fourth month of lockdown, with infection numbers still not under control and a nationwide vaccination campaign stuttering along, I feel very little enthusiasm for posting much travel content. About time for a sourdough bread for non-bakers. Instead of an exciting destination? As with my evergreen Italian souvenir, it is time to turn on the stove and make something nice.
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What’s with the pause of travel content?
My next planned trip to to the UK which is now considered a “virus variant” risk country, or in plain German, a super duper highly risky area best not to travel at all and if you return to do a hundred mandatory things that you won’t even consider a trip in the first place. Even I as a medic am slowly failing to understand the different type of risk areas and the rationale behind them. But it doesn’t matter, as very few people seem to understand what os going on and most of us get so confused by the rules that it’s best to apply common sense and try to limit our contacts as much as possible.
Anyway. I’d be a bit of a hypocrite shouting out where to travel right now, when I am cooped up at home. Although I continue to have travel content on my blog, I run this as a hobby and post what I feel like. I understand if people continue travelling if they use precautions not to take the virus into their destination. I have my plate full here, being a medic, and feel it more sensible not to travel as I need to work and cannot spend time in quarantine due to my leisure travel. Hence, I am under a voluntary quasi shuttle quarantine, meaning I go to work and then home, limiting my contacts, until a) I can get vaccinated and b) data become available ruling out virus transmission from vaccinated individuals.
This contact business includes shopping, which I usually do around 20.00 when I return from work and pop in at our local supermarket. Sometimes I get lucky and pick up lovely rustic baguettes and wholegrain pumpernickel reduced to half price. Most times the place is so shopped out that there is no bread available. As the freezer still holds various frozen food and is tiny, bulk buying isn’t an option either, so, finally, I thought ” I must get on that sourdough bread bandwagon”. Problem is, I am not a baker. I can rustle together cookies but start struggling with yeast dough and other baking things considered standard. But making bread when you need it certainly beats multiple visits to the supermarkets or eating cheaply made additive-laden factory bread.
And after an edible first attempt and a really nicely turned out second attempt, let me share my sourdough bread for non-bakers. If you bother to read on, I have tacked my fails on at the end – feel free to read so you don’t make the same mistakes!
What I am looking for in a sourdough bread for non-bakers
The bread needs to fit in my schedule. I currently work 10-12 hours a day, with at least two hours commute every day, so my days are pretty busy already. The last thing I need is a diva dough that fails if I don’t stroke it at scheduled times.
I don’t want to buy any extra equipment for bread making.
I want to be able to procure the ingredients easily from my local supermarket.
Starting sourdough bread for non-bakers
Ah, I took a slight shortcut here. Taking advantage of a colleague who’s an avid cook and baker, I asked him whether he might have any sourdough starter to share, and received a glass full of very active wholegrain rye starter the next day along with instructions to make rye bread which takes three days.
If you don’t have a nice friend with a bubbling starter, this instruction is pretty straighforward but you need about a week before you can make your first bread.
Sourdough bread for non-bakers: From levain to proving
Its really important that the starter is ready to use! It should be bubbly and active. To achieve this, it is important to feed it a few hours before making dough then keep at room temperature for at least 4 hours.
I also don’t throw any starter away when feeding it, but rather put it aside to make things like pancakes – being the good Catholic and all and generally hating to waste perfectly good foodstuff.
I use a ratio of 100% flour, 80% water and 20% active starter (levain).
So for the loaf below, I used 300g flour, 260g lukewarm water, 60g levain, and a pinch of salt. I use a cheap digital kitchen scale, adding all ingredients to the bowl and stirring with a spoon. until its well mixed. Then I let the dough rest for half and hour at room temperature. It should be rough, and shaggy now.
After 30min, it will still look much the same. I take small portions of dough up the edges and fold them into the middle. The dough is wet and super sticky at this stage, so I’m more like flipping the edges up, trying not to get the dough stuck to my fingers. See demo video here.
Then I cover it with a moist clean tea towel and let it rest at room temperature for 10-12 hours. I may repeat the folding once or twice.
The dough should have risen by at least a third after the first rise. At this stage, it is rather tricky to handle. This is not a great kneading dough! I put it on a floured surface and repeat the folding, trying to fold it into a nice ball. Then I cover that same tea towel with flour, and flip the dough into it, face down. I put flour on top, cover and prove for 3 hours or overnight in the fridge in a smaller bowl so the loaf fills at least 1/2 of the bowl.
Baking the bread
After the second rise, the dough should have risen a bit more!
Time to preheat the oven to 250C. I popped my baking vessel, an old small cocotte made entirely from cast iron in there as well to heat up.
I cover the bowl with a sheet of baking paper and a plate or a shallow bowl, flip the bowl over and hopefully get a nice clean separation from the floured cloth. The loaf is very floppy – I may try and tuck bits under, but if it sticks too much I leave it be. I test that the loaf is ready to be baked – if you dent the surface with your finger, it should bounce back.
Then I transfer the floppy loaf on the baking paper into the cocotte and make some slashes with my sharpest kitchen knife. I put the lid on, take the temperature back to 200-220C and bake for 30min. After 30min I take the lid off and let it bake for another 30min, turn the oven off, and let it cool down in the oven with the door slightly ajar.
Its ready to cut about an hour later, although some say it is better to rest the bread another night or so – but if you are like me, you would not resist a still warm freshly baked bread!
My sourdough bread for non-bakers schedule
So, I tend to work full time meaning I leave the house at 06.45 and return home between 18.00 and 20.30 depending on my work load that day.
I take my starter from the fridge in the morning and feed it, then leave it standing at room temperate. 12-14 hours later, when I return from work, it should be ready to use. I test it and make the dough, autolyse for roughly 40minutes, then two rounds of turning. The dough will rest and do the first rise (or bulk fermentation) overnight at room temperature.
I will shape the bread (5-10min) in the morning before leaving for work and out it in the fridge to prove. When I come home from work, I pre-heat the oven and my pot and after 10min, I put the bread in. After 30min I take the lid off, but with a self-timing oven the bread can finish baking even when I sleep. Fresh bread with dinner! This works well with my current combination of rye starter and wholewheat flour. As I start to involve higher percentages of rye flour, I may increase proving times.
What you need to make sourdough bread
As I mentioned above, I did not want to buy tons of extra equipment or ingredients. Basic kitchen equipment is fine.
- A 1l glass to keep the starter in – old preserves glass with a screw cap. I put a rubber band around the sides to see how much my starter is rising.
- kitchen scales
- Mixing bowl for making and proving dough, plus a smaller bowl of second proving
- a clean tea towel preferably made from linen – mine are a cotton and linen mix and work fine
- a large spoon
- a cast iron pot with lid that’s temperature proof to 250C. I have an old small cocotte from Le Creuset I bought 20 years ago when it was on some sort of promotion. It is in two parts and the lid doubles as a frying pan – a perfect piece of my equipment for nearly 30 years of my single kitchen! It was too small even for my 300g of flour loaf, but the cosmetic loaf creases aside, it worked fine. I would say it has to be a lightly lidded cast iron pot.
A basic sourdough bread is made from three ingredients only, flour, water and salt. That’s the beauty of it! Any flour is fine although it probably helps to start baking with plain flour and then add other flour like rye or spelt or whatever you prefer. I have also been told to feed my rye starter with rye flour only so I’ll stick to that. If you make your own starter, use wholemeal flour, never use a superfine flour i.e. cake flour for the starter (called type 405 or 550 in Europe) .
So far I used whatever my nearest supermarket has on offer, which is
- organic wholewheat flour (no type as the whole grain is used)
- plain rye flour type 1150
- spices: I plan to experiment with these in the future, in particular fenugreek, cumin, fennel and aniseed – and maybe some more adventurous spices like nutmeg and za’atar.
Our supermarkets also have organic spelt as spelt is very trendy ingredient in Germany. But I am not a fan of spelt at all. I tried spelt bread several times and every time it tasted like cardboard brick, so I pass on that.
Nice to haves and I probably will buy them
- Dough scraper. Especially with a high hydration dough like the one I made a dough scraper will be super nice -a and its cheap
- Razor blades or scalpels to slash the loaf. Super cheap too. I got a few cheapo single use scalpels knocking around so I will try them first once I want to get good looking bread.
- The last one is an investment but I ordered a 4-litre cast iron cocotte with a stainless steel knob from Le Creuset. I think it is called the signature collection in Europe and is equivalent to this one in the US: www.lecreuset.com/round-dutch-oven. The price is nuts, but I found a new one on sale for under 150Euro so I bought it. The much frequented online auction sites are a good place to look as even a slightly knackered pot will be okay as long as it closes tightly – you’ll be lining it with baling papers so its not a problem if it has a few dents. If the pot is anything as good and durable as my small cocotte, its a good invenstment as I cook every day and I do not have any large pots yet.
My sourdough bread for non-bakers bloopers
Of course. My first attempt was not so successful. I produced a rock-hard bread that stuck to the sides of my steel pan like superglue. I scraped most of it off and toasted it and it was delicious. A few hours soaking restored the pot, too.
What went wrong?
I think I used too much starter to begin with.
Then I kneaded my first dough vigorously just because I could!
The bulk rise went fine, so, quite hopeful, I kinda shaped a loaf, adding more flour and over-proofed it for a straight 12 hours at room temperature. Not only did it look a bit too fluid, it had also turned into an amoeba-like mess that I scopped into my oldest cheapest cooking pot and baked. It did not rise during the bake at all and stuck to the pot because I could not be bothered to use baking paper.
Still – it did not turn into a total fail as whatever I salvaged tasted quite nice. I toasted the flat bits of baked dough I scraped off with a bit of butter along with my vegan salami conventional bread sandwich. As you can see, it did have some structure and it tasted pretty good (but chewy) and was much preferable to the 80-cent “ciabatta”. Despite using all-purpose Type 550 wheat flour (what I had in my cupboard)
I spent an hour or so on the internet looking for advice after this quasi fail. I found this video particularly useful. I also used online resources of the Kitchn and The Clever Carrot to troubleshoot.
And now – are you ready to go? Would you bake your own bread, and if so, what are your reasons?
Have you used any books to make your own bread? I am still looking for good books, i.e. non-faffy, making beautiful bread and other baked good as well as have gorgeous pictures!
The sourdough described here contains gluten and may not be suitable for people who are gluten intolerant. Also it contains calorie sand can make you fat. Always use appropriate protesction when handling hot equipment. Other than that, this post contains some links all of which lead to other websites and non-affiliate. For further information please refer to the terms and conditions of this web site.