I was beginning to think I was never going to get this post written and some of you may have been wondering as well. So without further ado let’s return to the “Sourdough Mystery Tour” (as one of my readers dubbed it.) If you have missed my previous sourdough posts you can find them here and here. While I have been baking sourdough bread at least once a week since the second or third week in January I had yet to get a loaf that I was completely happy with. It seems it has taken longer than I expected for Trixie (my sourdough starter) and I to get acquainted. I am ecstatic to tell you that, while it is not perfect, the last loaf I baked was darned GOOD!
Rather than make you painfully read about each of my not so good loaf (pictured above) stories, I decided to just highlight some of the things that I have learned along the way.
The Recipe: I started with this recipe for basic white bread and have continued to use the same recipe throughout. A couple of things that I think are important to mention about this are:
- It is best to feed the starter several hours before making the bread. This will assure that the starter is active and will give better rise during the proofing time.
- The amount of water in the recipe should be taken as a estimation only, as it is dependent of hydration level of the starter. If a starter is super thick (less hydrated) the recipe will require more water than a starter that is thinner (more hydrated). It is best to add the water in small amounts and mix it in until the dough is the proper consistency.
Proofing Time and Temperature: Proofing is the time that the dough will take to rise. During this time the sour flavor also develops.
- The amount of time it takes the dough to double in size is largely dependent on the temperature. Since our house is cooler (between 65 and 68 degrees F) this time of year it has been taking 12 or more hours for the dough to proof. I am sure this amount of time will be shorter during spring and summer when the weather is warmer.
Baking: How to bake the bread so that the inside was not doughy but the outside was not burned or rock hard was my biggest challenge. I eventually learned that the bread needs to be baked in moist heat. Here are the methods I used to create moisture in the oven.
- Placing a cast iron skillet in the bottom of the oven and adding water to it. This seemed to work to some degree but as I mentioned I was not getting the results I hoped for.
- Baking the bread in a cast iron Dutch oven was recommended but I do not own a cast oven Dutch oven (at least one designed to use in the oven).
- Eventually I realized that I had something that might work as well as a Dutch oven. It is a stoneware roasting pan. It is made by Pampered Chef. I have had this dish combination for probably 25 years and while I occasionally use the pieces as individual baking pans I can’t remember ever using the two together as a roaster.
- Stoneware, like cast iron, can withstand the high temperatures required for baking sourdough bread.
- It is necessary to preheat the baking dish along with the oven before baking the bread.
- Having the lid on the baking dish creates steam as the moisture cooks out of the bread.
This is the results of baking in my stoneware roasting pan. The inside was fully cooked and wonderfully chewy. The outside was crusty and a little too dark for my liking so I will still be experimenting with reducing baking times and temperatures until I get it right.
Planning: While making the bread doesn’t require a lot of direct contact it does require that certain things be done according to a timeline. So far this is what has worked for me.
- First thing in the morning (between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m.) feed Trixie.
- Wait at least 3 hours but probably no more than 5 hours to mix up the bread (between 10 a.m. and 12 noon).
- Allow bread to proof until at least double in size. Since this has been taking 12 or more hours the bread may not be ready to bake until I am ready to go to bed. If it has doubled in size I before I go to bed I put it in the refrigerator to slow it down over night. If it has not doubled in size I leave it on the counter to continue proofing overnight.
- The following morning I preheat the oven with my stone roasting pan with lid in it for about 40 minutes.
- I then remove the roasting pan and lid and place parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, sprinkle corn meal, then place the bread in it.
- I cut a slit in the top of the bread. I put the lid on the casserole dish and put it in the oven I check the bread for doneness at about 45 minutes. If it looks done I then test it with a thermometer. If the temperature is at least 208 degrees F the bread is done.
In the past I have had a hard time justifying the expense of purchasing sourdough bread and while I will forgo that expense by making my own this experience has given me a whole new appreciation for these artisan breads and great respect for those who create them.
Before I close I will leave you with a link for a recipe for sourdough cinnamon rolls that I made at my husbands request because they turned out really well.
Thanks for reading and please share your thoughts in the comments section below.