Thursday, May 6, 2021

Back to Basics Sourdough

What is more comforting than a back to basics, simple loaf of sourdough? If you have time on your hands (at least a few hours worth for active labour and a few days for resting) and a decent starter, this delicately tangy, chewy crust loaf can be yours with really very little effort! My sister hardly waited for it to cool before grabbing a big slice!

Well, happy May! I don't know if it's just me, but time seems to both crawl and fly by when lockdowns are involved - suddenly I have 10 times the work to do and almost none of the time to do it. Luckily, the school year is winding down and Summer is almost here, so while it may be crazy now I'm hoping good weather and more social opportunities will be around the bend.

Because I've been every so slightly busy these days, my breadmaking has transformed into low-effort, long rise affairs where I can simply mix, cover and rest, rest, rest until baking day. Luckily, sourdough is built for just that purpose - and you can mix up a few doughs and bake them throughout the week for always fresh bread with ever-tangier crumbs. This particular loaf arose from my sister's hankering for a sourdough boule while I was writing final exams. After promising her that everything would be baked off after the last test was in the books, I mixed up the levain and let it get to work. After the dough came together, it was pretty much hands off, save for the few stretch-and-folds along the way. A scorching hot Dutch oven was my baking vessel of choice and resulted in a blistered crust with a few open air pockets throughout. 

I say this a lot about bread, but if you have no self-control around carbs, the aroma of this one when it cools will tempt you beyond belief! I think this boule survived an hour on the cooling rack before the knives came out, leading to the round getting ever so slightly squashed. While the appearance may have suffered a bit, once the chunk was smeared with butter it didn't matter - the whole thing was gone within a week and the next batch already resting. The recipe is basic for a reason, and is a keeper in this household - I would love to try it in a real banneton one day too.

Back to Basics Sourdough
Lightly adapted from Alexandra Cooks
Makes 1 round loaf 
300 g lukewarm water
100 g active (recently fed) sourdough starter (100% hydration)
  1. In a large bowl, combine the water and starter, mixing well.
  2. Add the flours and stir to just combine into a shaggy mass.
  3. Cover and rest for 30 minutes
  4. Sprinkle salt overtop of the dough and stretch and fold the dough to incorporate. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
  5. Repeat the stretch and fold technique 4 more times, each 30 minutes apart.
  6. After the last stretch-and-fold, cover the bowl with plastic (a shower cap is great for this!) and let rise at cool room temperature for 12-14 hours, or until the dough has nearly doubled in volume and you can see bubbles throughout the dough and on the surface.
  7. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a tight ball, pulling it lightly against the counter to create a "skin".
  8.  Cover lightly with a towel and let rest 30 to 40 minutes.
  9. Line a shallow bowl with parchment and sprinkle the bottom with cornmeal. 
  10. Lightly re-shape the ball to re-tighten the outside skin and place the ball, seam-side-down, in the bowl. 
  11. Cover bowl with a clean tea towel and place in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours. Your dough may not rise much or at all - this is fine.
  12. Place a (preferably) cast-iron Dutch oven in your oven and heat oven to 500ºF. 
  13. Remove your sourdough from the fridge. Open the towel. Place a sheet of parchment over the bowl. Place a plate over the parchment. With a hand firmly on the plate and one on the bowl, turn the dough out onto the parchment-paper lined plate. [Video guidance here.] Carefully remove the bowl and towel. Carefully remove the plate. Brush off any excess rice flour. Use a razor blade to score the dough as you wish. I always do a simple X. Grab the ends of the parchment paper and transfer to the Dutch oven. [Video guidance here.] Cover it. Lower oven temperature to 450ºF, bake covered for 30 minutes. Uncover. Lower temperature to 400ºF. Bake for 10 minutes more or until the loaf has darkened to your liking. Transfer loaf to a cooling rack.
  14. Cool. Let loaf cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting.


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