I started baking sourdough bread as a weekly meditation while in a Masters program. I found it very relaxing to stretch and fold the dough, satisfying to have fresh bread, and fun to engage in little experiments to optimize my results.
For one of my final class projects I baked 7 loaves in one weekend! It was super exhausting. I graduated this May, and with all my new free time, I’ve thrown myself into all of the other hobbies/social activities I’ve neglected in the past two years. Since graduation, I’ve baked exactly 1 loaf! I completely neglected my sourdough starter, Brooke, and when I returned to her she was mouldy! There were black spots on the sides of the jar and the smell was awful!
I was so bummed. I shared my starter with a bunch of people and always told them it was so simple, and killing a starter was rare. And then, I killed my starter. Wonk, wonk.
Pity party over, time to move on. I’ve got a new starter going, and I’m looking forward to getting into baking again.
Have you ever lost our sourdough starter?
When I first started baking sourdough bread in a dutch oven, I would nervously drop the floured boule into the dutch oven, cautiously slash the loaf, cover the lid and slide the whole thing into the oven as quickly as possible. The first step in increasing my confidence in loading the bread into the oven was to use some very thick oven mitts. That worked great. However, when I saw people using parchment paper I was really happy to adopt this technique.
This weekend I made a Raisin Walnut Sourdough Loaf for a potluck. At the beginning of the year, I made some 2016 baking goals, one of which was to try adding things to my bread. At the time I had King Arthur’s Sonnenblumenbrot in mind, but was inspired by a recent IG post from Joanne Chang(of Flour fame) of raisin walnut bread to go with the latter.
Sourdough bread baked in Dutch oven. 20% whole wheat, 74% hydration.
When I first decided to bake sourdough bread, I bought a round brotform and baked my first sourdough boule in our round, enameled dutch oven. Before attempting to bake sourdough bread, we used the dutch oven mainly for soups and stews. The dutch oven has been great so far, yielding consistent results with great oven spring and a nice crust. Boules are beautiful, but not the most convenient for sandwiches since the size of the sandwiches vary as you cut along the loaf. So, we got a long brotform (Thanks Dagi!) to make bread for sandwiches. However, it didn’t fit into our round dutch oven and trying to bake the oval loaf on a cookie sheet were not so successful. There was very little oven spring as we had a hard time introducing the steam at the start of the bake.
So we set out to solve it. Continue reading
My current sourdough recipe calls for 67% (baker’s percentage) of starter. As I’ve been doing more reading, I’ve noticed that a lot of recipes call for much less starter than I currently use. I looked through ten different recipes, and found that for doughs with hydration levels around 80% (blue dots), bakers used ~ 25% of starter. For doughs that had around 65% hydration (orange dots), bakers used ~35% of starter. In contrast, my current recipe (red diamond) calls for 67%!!
It’s hard to believe that January is almost over!
I’ve made 4 loaves already this year and have been experimenting with increasing my hydration – I’m up to 75% now! I’m really surprised at the difference the 5% hydration gives – the new loaves are moist and tender, almost squishy(but in a good way!). I’m also trying new things with my leftover starter. To this end, I’ve made some pretty decent sourdough croissants. Croissants always seemed like an unattainable baking goal, so I was really happy to achieve good lamination and a great taste on these. The proofing time needs some work as I didn’t use any extra yeast and had to adapt the recipe to suit (I used Flour’s recipe for this).
With these gains in mind, my 2016 baking goals are to:
- Explore new and local flours for my sourdough bread baking
- Explore new baking methods (I currently use an enameled dutch oven, which works great but restricts me to boules)
- Add-ins! A few years ago, I lived a few miles away from King Arthur Flour’s VT bakery, and loved getting their Sonnenblumenbrot. I want to try adding things to my loaves, starting with Sonnenblumenbrot and Raisin Walnut sourdough.
- Develop a croissant process that delivers consistent results with my starter/available equipment
- Develop a waffle process that delivers consistent results with my starter/available equipment
Have you made any baking goals for 2016?
When I first started passaging my starter, I used tap water. I’ve since done a lot of reading to try to improve my skills, and found that the type of water used affects starter performance since tap water can contain inhibitory levels of chlorine. In my first experiment to test the impact of the type of water used, I split my starter into purified water and tap water (control).
There are loads of books and blog posts that detail the “proper” way to maintain a sourdough starter. However, I think the best way is one that works for your schedule. Here’s how I maintain my starter in an easy, practical way that fits into my schedule.
The person that gifted me my sourdough starter (Thanks Abbott!) suggested adding equal parts starter and new ingredients every 24 hours. The new ingredients are just flour and water. The flour I use is a mixture of King Arthur Flour (KAF) bread flour and whole wheat flour. To make refeeding easier, I keep a container of 50% bread flour and 50% whole wheat flour on the counter.