My friend Ilene has been waiting so patiently for me to post my sourdough recipe. It’s not some huge secret, not at all. In fact, it’s incredibly simple. I’ve been putting it off because I wanted to take photos, do some step-by-step illustrated tutorial, maybe even some video. Ha. Like that’ll ever happen.
So, Ilene, this one’s for you — the quick & dirty version of my sourdough recipe. Maybe one of these days, I’ll get my act together enough to do a fancy tutorial… but don’t hold your breath!
1 cup active sourdough culture
1 cup filtered water (chlorine in normal tap water makes the sourdough critters not so happy)
1-2 teaspoons salt
Whisk those together to distribute the starter & salt in the water. (I love using my Danish whisk for whipping up sourdoughs!) Then whisk in about 3 cups of flours. This is where you get to use your judgement and gain a little experience in how the dough should feel. It should be shaggy — not nicely balled together but not goopy, either.
Let the whole shebang just sit & rest for a bit, maybe 10-15 minutes. Then begin kneading, either by hand or in a KitchenAid (or similar) for 5-10 minutes. (Go for the shorter time if using mechanized kneading and longer if by hand.) Place in an oiled bowl and cover. I used old ice cream tubs, the square shaped ones with their loose-fitting lids, and put a sticky note on top with the time I placed it in the bowl, followed by the times I should be back to stretch & fold. It would read something like this:
1:00 — started
2:00, 3:00, 4:00 — knead
6:00 — knead & shape & preheat
6:45 — slash & bake
So, I’d come back and “knead” about every hour for the first three hours, then I’d let it sit undisturbed for another couple of hours. Then, a final light “knead” and shaping. Let sit, covered, for about 45 minutes while the oven is preheating to 450. Once that last stretch of time is up, slash the top with a razor or serrated knife, and pop that sucker in the oven.
Ah, but that’s not all.
First, the “flours” referred to above. Whole wheat tended to take a bit less flour while white took a bit more. If you’re going half & half — which makes a nice rise but still gives you that heartier wheat taste, right about three cups should be right. But it also depends on the humidity, how closely you measured the water, how old/fresh the flour is, and so on. If going for 100% whole wheat, you can add a couple of tablespoons of vital wheat gluten to help with the rise. I even tinkered with adding a couple tablespoons of honey but found I could do just fine without either of those “helps”. And making beautiful bread with nothing but flour, salt, and water did my purist heart good.
The “kneading” you’ll be doing after you place it in the tubs/bowls to sit will not be the kneading you are accustomed to. It’s the “stretch & fold” technique. There’s a nice video of that technique here: Breadtopia’s No-Knead Method page. But, of course, you all know I’m too lazy for even that, right? What I do is to quickly oil my hands, turn the tub upside down and catch the blob of dough in my other hand. Then turn my hand sideways so that the dough falls on either side, effectively stretching itself out somewhat. Then I fold it in thirds underneath and turn the blob 90 degrees. I repeat so that it’s now stretched & folded in a different direction, but again folding underneath, so that the top remains smooth and all of the creases are on the bottom. Finally, I push upwards a bit from the center bottom and tuck under all around the edges so so I end up with nice, smooth ball of dough and pinch the remaining crease on the bottom. Shove it back in the tub until next time. As you “knead” it in this way, you’ll notice the dough getting stronger. That’s a good thing. You’ll have a hard time getting it to “fall” on either side of your hand so just give it a pull to stretch it out. I know some of this may be difficult to visualize for those who have never done it so I promise to try and take some photos next time I have activate my sourdough.
When it comes time to shape the dough, I oil a piece of parchment paper that I place on my pizza peel. The dough ball is placed on that, then I gently shape it by “tucking under” the sides with the sides of my hands, all along to make sure any crease are hidden on the bottom and shaping it into the desired shape as I go — all while on the peel/parchment. I have a lame (nutty French word for a razor blade holder made just for slashing bread) that I use for the slashing. Which directions and how deep to cut is a very interesting subject to research, by the way. Before I had the lame, I used a serrated knife and it worked just as well. But the lame is cooler.
I baked on a stone, sliding the dough from the peel onto the stone, using the parchment. A big cast iron skillet was placed on the bottom on the oven and I put a couple cups of hot water into it right before I closed the door. That steam really helps the crust. Try some with steam, some without, and see the difference yourself. Cool stuff. After the steam had done its thing and the crust had set well, maybe 20 minutes into the baking, I slide the parchment paper out so that the bread is then resting directly on the stone. I also rotate the bread at this time, 180 degrees, to ensure even baking. Once the interior temp comes up to about 200-ish, I pull it out and let it cool on a rack. (Probe thermometers are cheap and a great tool to have.)
Whew. That sounds pretty complex, doesn’t it? But I promise you it isn’t. It’s one of those things that sounds daunting but, once you see it and try it, it’s the most simple thing in the world. I really need to just suck it up and do the fancy tutorial, huh?
In the meantime, just remember the simple recipe:
1 cup active starter
1 cup water
1-2 teaspoons salt
3 cups flour(s)
And have fun experimenting from there! I’d love to hear how you do!