Yup, making a sourdough loaf is a multi-day process. The good news: Compared to the two-three weeks it took to incubate a healthy starter, making bread takes just a few days. Technically, yesterday was Day 1, because I divided my starter and fed half of it to get enough to make a loaf. But who’s counting?
Whoa. First thing this morning, the starter shows no tell-tale signs of having risen and fallen over night. Few bubbles percolate on top. Below the surface, though, it is plenty active. I have barely the 3/4 cup I need. Let’s make bread!
For my first loaf, I’m using Mike’s recipe on Sourdough Home. I chose this one for two reasons. First, rather than adding dry yeast, Mike uses only the starter to leaven his bread. Second, Mike’s recipe calls for 100 percent whole wheat flour. Extra gluten is optional. I want the yeast to do the work without adding the gluten, so I’m going with the simple method.
Mike’s recipe calls for 3/4 cup starter, or 210 grams. Right away I’m in trouble. I’ve decided to go with measuring my ingredients by weight, which takes the guesswork out of how much flour and water to add. Keeps it simple! My starter weighs only 157 grams. I have to make more.
Since I already have my scale out, I measure equal portions starter, water and flour and mix them. Oops. Now I have nearly two cups fed starter. No worries! I’ll refrigerate the extra and be all ready to go with the second loaf. So I dump it all in a mixing bowl, cover loosely, and set it to incubate atop the fridge.
Here you can see the process. What can I say? I’m a visual learner, and I’m keeping this record so I remember what I’ve done, what worked, and what failed. I need photographs. Roll over each pic for the caption; click on the image to see it big.
I’ll check this incubus frequently throughout the day. As soon as I know I have active yeast that’s getting hungry again, I’ll start my loaf. For now, this is where we are. I will return later with an update, so if you’re following this process, do check back.
Three or four hours later, the starter has doubled and is rich with gassy bubbles.
Following Mike’s recipe, I stir the dough up in no time. He advises kneading the dough for five minutes, then setting it aside to rest five minutes. This, he says, gives the flour time to absorb the moisture.
After the rest period, still following his advice, I knead the dough for ten minutes, then give it the windowpane test to check that the dough is fully developed. With this test, I’m supposed to stretch a walnut-sized ball horizontally and vertically until I have a thin, translucent (though not see-through) film with no holes in it. If it tears, the dough is under-developed and requires further kneading.
Mine tears. I knead five more minutes. Three times I knead for five minutes, and each time the windowpane tears. I check the recipe and instructions. I’ve followed it carefully. Organic whole wheat flour is not processed with additives to make it uniform in texture and moisture content. That makes baking with it a craft requiring time and lots of experience. I imagine there are other variables that can cause bread not to develop quickly, so I decide I will keep at it, kneading and testing, until I get the windowpane or until I run out of time.
Upping the kneading time to ten minutes between tests, I knead and test for an hour and a half. Go ahead. Laugh! I am. I never do get that elastic, translucent windowpane that Mike says I need if my dough is rise properly and bake up to a nice crisp-on-the-outside, tender and holey on the inside loaf.
At this point, I’m also aware I may have beaten this poor dough to death with my constant turning and pulling, however gently. Out of time, I grease my bowl, form a ball and lay the dough in the bowl, turning it to coat with oil. I put the lid on the bowl and set it in the oven with the light on for that bit of warmth.
Mike says the dough should rise in one to two hours. Ha! Mine takes four to double the first time, which is par for the course for almost any whole wheat bread I have made, except the no-knead type. I punch it down, form a ball, let it rise again. This time it doubles in three hours.
As I write this, the dough is in its last rise, almost two hours gone. Mike advises making a rectangular loaf, but I want a round one, so I’ve greased my cast iron bean pot, which is just about the right size for a small round loaf, and put it back in the oven to rise a third–and last–time.
Ah. The timer just went off. The loaf is about two-thirds risen. I set the timer for 50 minutes. That should do it. I will bake the loaf tonight, because I’ve come this far, and I will report the results in the morning.
At this point, my expectations for a good loaf are fairly low, considering how long I kneaded the dough. Perhaps I’ll be nicely surprised, eh?
One of the things I love about bread making is that it reminds me to slow down, take things easy, and enjoy the moment. Is it oxymoronic to say that sourdough bread making is slow-down on steroids?