Sourdough Country Bread

Valentine’s Day special series – Sourdough Country Bread.

I love breads, I love baking them, I love eating them. Since my run in with the process of making of a Sourdough, I am totally in love with it. I feel the earthy, old school feel to it, is pure pleasure. And don’t get me started on the flavor. The best bread you will ever taste. It has its own distinct flavor profile, which you will not get in any regular commercial yeast leaven breads made from just flour and water. That is the beauty of sourdough bread. It is made from just flour, water, salt and obviously the sourdough starter. But the result is just mind blowing.

But as the Sourdough Bread has its own beauty and flavor. It has also has its own mind and mood. It is a very technical bread. The method though seem to the point, is a bit complex in the beginning, but once you get a hang of it. You will get better. Don’t be upset or give up if it doesn’t come out perfect the first time, or the second or the third, you will have to be patient with this bread, with the starter, with the whole process. It is time consuming but the results are worth it.

Firstly to even begin planning the bread, you will need a sourdough starter, for which the recipe is here.

Secondly, I will be doing a Tartine Bakery inspired Country Loaf. The method is called a wet dough method where the hydration of the dough is 75%. This bread has a great depth of flavor and you use your leaven at a younger stage where it still on the milky smelling side and not reached the sour smelling stage.

Third – After going through the recipe, go on YouTube and search for Tartine Country Loaf and see as many videos as you can. There is no point of me posting pictures of the method, because the videos will make more sense. They help a lot. But don’t just see one, see as many as you can.

Fourth – you will need a dutch oven to get the perfect loaf, unless your oven has an option of infusing steam while baking. Dutch oven will create the perfect steam, which in turn will create the perfect crust. If you are really interested in baking bread regularly buy a banneton for the final proofing of the bread. It gives it the perfect shape, the rustic look and it is a good investment.

Now finally the recipe  –

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Ingredients –

  • 450 grams all purpose flour
  • 50 grams whole wheat flour
  • 350 grams water
  • 100 grams leaven
  • 10 grams salt
  • 25 grams water

Method –

Start the leaven –

  • One day before the making the dough, discard 85% of the starter, the recipe says you need only one tablespoon for the leaven but mine is usually more than that. Feed your starter 70 grams all purpose flour, 30 grams whole wheat flour and 100 grams water. And set it aside for at least 7 – 10 hours. Ideally do it in the night, so the leaven will be ready to use in the morning. You also need to see take the weather in mind. If you are living in Mumbai, like me, where it is usually hot. During the summer it will only take about 4 to 5 hours for the leaven to be ready to use. Hot weather means faster yeast activity.
  • To check if its ready – It should have risen from its initial stage. It should smell milky and not sour and vinegar-y. If it smells sour feed it again and use it after 2 -3 hours.  For the final check, take a spoonful of starter and drop it in a bowl of water, if it floats its ready and if it drowns, then its not.

Dough – 

  • If all the things check out and your leaven is ready to use. You prep for the dough.
  • In a bowl weigh the 360 grams of water and add the leaven. The remaining leaven is your starter now, don’t discard it, continue feeding it.
  • Mix the leaven in the water till its partially dissolved.
  • Add the flours, and mix it with hand till there is no dry flour remaining. Cover it  with a kitchen towel and leave it for 30 minutes. This is called the autolyse period, basically good time to increase the gluten development.
  • After 30 minutes – add salt and 25 grams of water. Mix by pinching the dough between your fingers. Keep mixing and pinching till it forms a nice dough. Remember it will be wet and sticky as its a wet dough.
  • Now we do the SF – stretch and fold. Transfer the dough in a separate bowl, wet your hands, and pick the dough from one side and stretch it (softly) and fold it on the other side. So it should be a total of four SFs on all four sides. That will be one turn. Cover and let it rest.
  • Bulk Fermentation – For the next 4 hours, keep doing the SFs every 30 minutes one full turn each time. As the time will progress you will see the dough getting smoother, stretchy and tighter, showing the development of gluten and gas in the dough. If the dough is till loose, continue it for one more hour.
  • After 4 hours, transfer the dough on a clean surface/counter. Do not flour it before. After the dough is on the counter. Sprinkle some flour on the top of the dough and with a dough scraper lift the dough and put the flour side down.
  • Sprinkle flour on top and around the dough. With the help of the dough scraper, shape the dough in to a tight round by taking the scraper and pulling the dough towards you from down. Same time twisting it and making it into a round with your hand. (Hence the video for reference).
  • Do it a few times and don’t over do it, or else the top of the dough will tear. You will have to the shaping all over again.
  • Bench Rest – Cover and rest for 30 minutes to give the gluten some rest.
  • After 30 minutes your dough should be thick like a pancake especially from the edges, then its ready to shape. If it is flat and tapered from the edges, re – shape it one more time and give it a 30 minute bench rest.
  • Generously dust flour in the banneton.
  • For the final proofing – sprinkle flour on top of the dough and invert flour side down. That will be the top of the bread. Now shape it according to your banneton, mine is oval, so flatten the dough a little in to a rectangle. Make sure you don’t flatten it a lot or all the air will escape.
  • Stretch the sides of the lower part of the dough which is towards you. Roll the top, pinching the side turned with every turn. After rolling it fully, pinch the seams together, and give it a gentle roll, shaping it into an oval.
  • For round shaped banneton – Make a rectangle, fold the bottom half way to the center. Fold the right side on the left and left on the right side, like an envelope. Finally cover seams with folding the top side. Pinch the seams and invert it and with the sides of your palm rotate the dough from down creating circles, thus shaping it into a round.
  • Generously sprinkle flour on the top side of the dough. Invert the smooth flour side on your hand and place it in the banneton, seam side should be facing upwards. Sprinkle some more flour on the top. Cover and let it proof for 4 hours or leave it overnight in the refrigerator.
  • If placed in the refrigerator, let it come to room temperature before baking.
  • 20 minutes before baking – preheat the oven to 230 C and put the dutch oven with the lid inside the oven to preheat.
  • After 20 minutes, carefully remove the dutch oven from the oven. Gently invert the dough on a parchment paper, score the bread, and carefully without burning your hand, place it in the dutch oven.
  • Bake for 20 minutes with the lid on, this creates the perfect the steam, which therefore creates the perfect crust. After 20 minutes, remove the lid and bake for 20 minutes more for the crust to turn a beautiful golden and auburn color.
  • When baked, remove from the oven, remove it from the dutch oven and then let it cool on a wire rack for an hour. I can only wait for 30 minutes before I start slicing the bread and eating it.
  • The exterior of the bread will have a nice crunchy crust. The interior should have these webs which is basically the air bubbles in the bread created during the process. The web should consist of big and small bubbles. It will be a little chewy compared to the commercial yeast leavened bread but that is how it supposed to be.

You can see the webs in the bread I made below, though it is not where I want it to be, but as I said the process is slow and it will take time to perfect this bread. So don’t give up.

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The Sourdough Starter

Recently my new found love is baking bread. Bread is such a simple yet a complex thing to bake. But I am not talking about your regular commercial yeast leavened bread. I am talking about the ancient old technique but tastes out of this world bread. The process is long and time consuming. But once you harness it, then the long and time consuming process becomes therapeutic. The results are mind blowing. A slice of bread wont taste the same again. From the bland and no flavor regular loaves that we regularly eat to this wonderful, rustic looking, packed with immense flavors bread is what you will crave everyday. So how do you get this bread – the main ingredient – Sourdough Starter.

Sourdough Starter is a starter with wild yeasts which are already present in the environment. They enter the starter and start producing the wonderful flavors that blow your mind when you eat the bread. I wont go in the scientific reasoning as even I don’t know much about it. But I am learning. I will begin with the most basic know-how. How to start the starter, how to continue feeding it – yes feeding it because it is a living breathing organism that you are giving birth to (well not literally giving birth, but you get the idea). You will have to take care of it every day, well almost.

Here how it goes –

Ingredients –

All purpose Flour

Whole Wheat Flour

Water

Method –

To begin first you need to understand the ratio of the starter which will be constant throughout – 1 : 1

Equal amount of Flour and Water. So if you are taking 100 gms of flour, you mix 100 gms of water. I tend to divide the flour to a ratio of 70:30, between all purpose flour and whole wheat flour. You can go ahead with 100% all purpose flour also. But the whole wheat works for me better. So I take 70 – 75 gms all purpose flour and 30 – 25 gms of whole wheat flour.

Second take a good clean plastic/glass medium to large size container with a lid, which will also fit in your refrigerator.

Day 1 – In a bowl you take 100 gms of flour 70:30 all purpose flour : whole wheat flour. Add 100 gms of water. Mix. Cover and leave it aside for 24 – 48 hours at room temperature. Mostly you will see some activity within 24 hours thanks to our Mumbai weather. As the wild yeast start accumulating in the starter, it will show tiny bubbles and will have a vinegar-y smell.

Day 2 – First feed – As the yeast are living organisms, and as all living organisms need food, so you know what needs to be done. Yeast feeds on the sugars in the flour and release carbon dioxide, which makes the starter or dough rise and create beautiful air holes or webs in the bread. If you don’t feed the starter enough, the yeast will die and so will all your efforts. So it is extremely important to feed your starter everyday.

For the Feed – Take the starter and discard 3/4 of it away. Add 100 gms of 70:30 Flour and 100 gms of water and mix, cover, and leave it at room temperature.

Now you will ask why do you discard 3/4 of it away. Because if you don’t, then you will keep feeding 200 gms of flour and water everyday, and then at the end of the week you will have more than a kilo of starter, and end of the month more than 5 kilos. So to keep it in a decent quantity, you discard at least half of the starter every time you feed it.

Day 3 – Feed – Same drill – Discard 3/4 – Add 100 gms of 70:30 Flour and 100 gms of Water. Cover.

Day 4 – Feed.

Day 5 – Feed.

Keep feeding till you notice the starter to double in size in six hours. Then you can use the starter.

How to use the starter – Feed the starter the previous night and use it in the morning. And make sure you have some starter left to continue feeding it.

What to do when you are not using the starter – Feed it, keep it for an hour at room temperature and then leave it in the refrigerator.

Few points here –  In cold temperature the yeast becomes dormant. It doesn’t die but the activity levels are really low. You do have to feed it once a week, to make sure it stays alive.

For that you remove it from the refrigerator, after 1 hour, don’t discard the starter just add the feed. Let it do its work. Then from second day onward, discard and feed, leave for an hour and store it again in the refrigerator.

After being dormant, I don’t use the starter immediately. I feed it a few times to get it really active.

Smell –

The smell of your starter is really important.

It will be smelling vinegar-y, alcoholic and probably really bad. Eventually it should subside with regular feedings.

Ideally the starter should smell milky and flowery especially after you feed it. But it should smell the same when you add it to the dough. A little sour smell is fine, cause it is supposed to be a sourdough. But very little.

Feed the starter for at least 10 days before using it. If the temperature is too warm and you see a skin forming on the starter or the smell getting bad. Feed it every 12 hours or maybe more.

For reference please see YouTube videos to get an idea on the process.

I assure you once you start this process, you are going to love it. You will see a whole new side to the bread world that you probably knew existed but being a part of it is a different feeling altogether.

So start your starter and I will post a bread recipe within ten days so you can use it.

Just to let you know my starter is now 6 months old. There is a bakery in USA whose starter is 67 years old. So I hope you understand the commitment you are getting yourself into. Nevertheless if you are an ardent baker especially if you love to bake breads, I think this is something you need to have in your pantry.

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Christmas Star Cinnamon Bread

As I have mentioned in the previous post – I am in the holiday mood and I absolutely love baking during this time. So mixing my current obsession bread and my long lasting obsession of baking Christmas-y goodies, I have made Christmas Star Cinnamon Bread – which is a cross between cinnamon roll and bread. It looks amazing. The major reason I wanted to make this was because I love the way it looks. It looks complicated but it is extremely easy and takes very little time.

Christmas Star Cinnamon Bread

Bread

Ingredients –

  • 3 1/2 cup flour
  • 40 gms butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup castor sugar
  • 3/4 cup slightly warm milk
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon instant yeast

Filling –

  • 2 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup castor sugar
  • 30 gms butter, softened

Method –

  • Warm 1/4 cup water in a cup, make sure it is not hot. Add a tiny pinch of sugar, and the instant yeast (instant yeast and dry active yeast are different, please check the package). Mix until yeast is dissolved and leave it aside for 10 – 15 minutes till it is foamy.
  • Using a stand mixer with dough hook attachment combine 40 gms butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla. Mix for 1 minute. Add the yeast and then the flour. Mix for 5 – 7 minutes till the dough is elastic and check the gluten development by doing the window pane test.
  • If you are kneading by hand, then mix in the same format but knead with your hand for 10 – 15 minutes.
  • Window pane test – take a small piece of dough and stretch it. It should stretch without tearing, forming a thin layer and if you see it against the light it should feel like you are looking through a fogged glass.
  • After the test, rest the dough in a bowl for 1 hour or until double in size covered with plastic wrap.
  • In a small bowl mix the cinnamon and sugar, and keep it aside.
  • After an hour, shape the dough again, weigh and divide it in to four portions.
  • Take the 1st portion, roll the dough until its thin and place it in a greased cookie sheet.
  • Brush soft butter on it and generously sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top.
  • Roll the 2nd portion of the dough, and place it on top on the 1st. Repeat the butter and cinnamon sugar. Continue layering by rolling the 3rd and repeat butter and cinnamon sugar. Roll the 4th and place it on top.
  • Taking a plate or a big bowl, lightly place the round side on it, to indent a large round, so you can cut the excess dough and make a proper circle with a knife.
  • Taking a 1 – 2 inch cookie cutter, make a slight indent in the center but make sure you do it lightly.
  • With a knife cut equal 16 portions, starting from the outside of the indent line till the outer end, leaving the 2 inch round center as it is. Take two portions and twist them outward individually, joining them at the end.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 180 C. Bake for 20 minutes.
  • Melt the remaining butter of the filling and as soon as the bread is baked, brush the top lightly with butter.
  • Serve warm.