Sourdough bread-making methods, The Sourdough Journals
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Eighth loaf dives then finishes on an upswing

This is the first time I’ve had plenty of starter in the fridge from the get-go. The starter is cold and has not been fed for a few days. How might that change rising times? What other effects might it have on the bread-making process? I’m about to find out.

After measuring out the ingredients, I mix them by hand, then put them under the dough hook on my stand mixer. With the speed set on 2 as before, I set my timer for five minutes and step away. I’ve other things to do! I don’t walk far, though. I use the time to measure out the remaining sourdough starter, feed it appropriately and stir it up, feeding the yeastie beasties.

When the timer goes off, I turn off the machine, set the timer for five minutes more and let the dough rest, per the instructions for 100 percent whole wheat sourdough bread on Sourdough Home.

After the rest, I check the dough. It feels quite wet and sticky. With the machine running, and the timer set for another five minutes, I add one tablespoon whole wheat flour. When the timer goes off, I roll a walnut-sized ball of dough and gently coax it into a rough rectangle for the windowpane test. This may be the best windowpane I’ve managed yet, and on the first try!

The dough is ready for the first rise. While the machine worked its lumbering magic, I oiled my small mixing bowl with two teaspoons olive oil. Now I stretch and pull the dough a bit as I shape it into a ball, then drop it rough side up into the bowl and roll it to coat the top and sides with oil. There! All done and ready to rise in the oven with the light on.

If your kitchen is warmer than my San Francisco kitchen, you may not need this step–turning the oven light on–but that bit of warmth is just perfect for encouraging the yeast to grow at a nice pace in this cool city.

When I punch it down, the dough is incredibly soft, light and warm and smells sweetly of yeast. I shape it quickly into another ball, lay it in the bowl and set it back in the oven for the second rise. Two hours later, the dough has doubled, but boy, does it look strange, as though it had turned itself inside out.

Did I handle it too roughly when I worked it back into a ball shape earlier? When I deflate it this time, despite my care, the dough tears. I sprinkle a little flour on my board and knead the dough for a few minutes to develop elasticity. Then, shaping it into a loaf as best I can, I lay it to rest in the cast iron bread plan.

Another funky looking loaf, despite having kneaded it before shaping

Another funky looking loaf, despite having kneaded it before shaping

My last loaf was flat on top. I suspect that may have been because I did not do a cold-rise. This time, I loosely cover the pan and set it in the fridge to rise slowly overnight. We will see if that helps this one to rise well.

After twelve hours in the refrigerator, the loaf is about half risen

After twelve hours in the refrigerator, the loaf is about half risen

The dough has risen well overnight. We’re about halfway there, but once again, it is strange-looking, with cracks and fissures on top.

I place the pan in the oven and set the timer for one hour. Disappointingly, when I return I see only a little rise. Hour after hour, I set the timer, and each time, the loaf barely rises. Then just as it reaches the rim, I add another hour, thinking, “At last!” But no. Instead, when I return, after five hours rising, the dough has fallen.

Dough, which had risen even with rim one hour before, has fallen

Dough, which had risen even with rim one hour before, has fallen

Well, it’s still perfectly good dough, even if the hungry yeast are dying back. After preheating the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, I bake the loaf a little longer than before–forty-five minutes this time–hoping to get that 210 degrees America’s Test Kitchen says I need. That extra five minutes gets the internal temperature over 200 this time, but not all the way to 210. I settle for that and place the loaf back in the hot pan for five minutes before turning it out on the cooling rack.

Another funky-looking loaf

Another funky-looking loaf

The photographs look so dull that I slather a little butter across the top, hoping to make the loaf a little more appealing, and snap another shot. Sliced, it looks a little better, and the taste! Oh my. Forget how it looks, or that it didn’t rise very much. This is good sourdough bread. Just the right amount of tang and whole wheat goodness.

The loaf looks better sliced, and get a load of that crumb, shiny inside the holes!

The loaf looks better sliced, and get a load of that crumb, shiny inside the holes!

You can’t see it in my iPhone pix, but the holes have that wonderful bit of gloss you get with a good sourdough bread. The bread isn’t high or pretty every time–yet, but the flavor and texture improve with every loaf.

Taking another look at the America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) page, I decide to  follow their instructions for the next loaf. Almost. I’m committed to making 100 percent whole wheat sourdough, and their recipe calls for unbleached flour. They differ from Sourdough Home in several ways, too, one of which is to add the salt after the hydration rest period. They also recommend a 20-minute rest period, not the five minutes I’ve done.

Another factor that may have affected this loaf: I used cold starter that had not been refreshed for more than twenty-four hours. ATK specifically tells us to use recently fed starter–no longer than twelve hours before making dough. Looking back at the Sourdough Home page, I see that Mike implies, if he doesn’t specifically state, refreshing the starter within twelve hours before making dough.

Looking back is good. Now for looking forward: One day, I will have made so many loaves of whole wheat sourdough bread that I will know just by looking, touching and smelling what the dough needs to make a perfect loaf of bread. I may be ninety before that day comes (Heaven forbid!), but it will come.



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