Tuesday, April 11, 2017

My Sourdough Routine

Sourdough Bread Partly Made in Bread Machine
Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

When I decided to bake the bread for our household, which meant a loaf every other day, I had been dabbling in sourdough a bit.  But my mind was boggled by the prospect of scheduling the feedings and bakings around the rest of my life.  I searched the Internet to see what other folks did, and found very little that would work for me.

So over time, and with the help of some really good websites, I worked out a routine for managing the starter, the discard, and the bread.  Here's what I came up with.

General Schedule

  • Feed the starter every 12 hours.  For me, late morning and before bed are best.  That way, the starter is nice and bubbly for early afternoon breadmaking.

  • Bake bread every other day.

  • Save starter discard in a jar in the fridge and make pancakes in the morning, or just compost it.

Revive Your Starter

The first thing you need to do is get your starter into good, bubbly condition.  You've probably received it from somebody and kept it in the fridge for weeks or months.  Or maybe you took a break from sourdough, and your old starter has been in the back of the fridge for a year.  No worries.
  1. Let the starter come to about room temperature.

  2. Stir well.  It's better not to pour off the liquid because you don't want to lose any of that good bacteria.  I use a table knife to stir, because it aerates the starter well.

  3. Put 1/2 cup of starter in a large, clean jar.  A 1-quart canning jar is good.  If it has ounce measurements on the side, pour 4 oz. of starter in the bottom.

  4. Add 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water.  Stir well. Use the same kind of flour that you'll be using to bake the bread.  I use 100% whole wheat flour.

  5. Cover the jar with a breathable square of fabric that won't let insects in.  A lightweight shirt-weight material works well.  You can also cut a paper towel into a 5-inch square. Cheesecloth is too open--fruit flies will get through.  Secure it with a rubber band or by screwing on the jar's canning lid band.

  6. Store the starter in a warm place for about 12 hours.  Then repeat the process.

  7. You'll have leftover starter every time you feed it.  You can use this discard to make pancakes, muffins, etc.  But the first few discards will be very sour.  Best to compost them, because your pancakes will taste like pickle juice.

  8. Repeat these super-feedings until your starter gets a lot of bubbles in it as it sits between feedings.  When it's happy and bubbling, you can shift to normal feedings with less flour.

Whole Wheat Sourdough Starter

Feed Your Starter

If you bake bread frequently, you'll want to keep your starter fed all the time.  If not, you can store it in the fridge for a few days, and plan a day or two of feedings to revive it before you bake with it.
  1. Stir the starter to distribute the bacteria well and to aerate it.

  2. Pour 1/2 cup starter into a clean jar.

  3. Stir in 1/2 cup flour and 1/3 cup water.  Use the same flour you'll be baking with.

  4. Cover the jar with fabric or paper towel (not cheesecloth).  Secure with rubber band or jar band.

  5. Let sit in a warm place for about 12 hours.  On top of the fridge works well, unless you live in a hot climate.  Then you'll want to find the coolest part of the house for your starter, but not the fridge.

  6. Repeat this process every 12 hours.

Make Your Bread

I have found a way to bake good quality bread without heating up the house and without having to knead by hand.  I enlisted some help from my bread machine, and now I have the best of both worlds: homemade, good quality bread and a cool house.

Kneading is fun, but to produce the best quality bread, your dough has to be pretty wet.  If you have a way to knead with a machine, like a stand mixer or a bread machine, you'll get a nice loaf of bread.  If you knead wet dough by hand you'll be dealing with very sticky dough.

My way is to use a bread machine for some of the steps, but not all.
  1. Put your bread ingredients into the bread machine pan. (See recipe below.)

  2. Place the pan into the bread machine, set it for the type of bread you're making, like whole wheat large loaf, and start it.

  3. Set your kitchen timer for however long your machine takes to get to the rise part of the cycle.  Mine takes 1 hour for a large whole wheat loaf.

  4. After the machine has kneaded the bread and your timer goes off, unplug the machine and remove the pan.

  5. Put 1 cup water in a 2-cup glass microwaveable measuring cup and microwave on High for 2 minutes. 

  6. Turn the bread dough onto a floured surface.  Cover with waxed paper and let rest for 5 minutes.

  7. Form the dough into a ball and put it  into a medium mixing bowl with a little olive oil in the bottom.  Gently roll the dough around and over in the oil to coat it completely.

  8. Cover the bowl with a square of waxed paper and then a barely damp cup towel.

  9. Place the covered bowl in your microwave, with the hot water moved to the corner.  DO NOT MICROWAVE THE DOUGH.

  10. Set your kitchen timer for an hour and a half.  This will be the first rise.

  11. When the timer goes off, remove the bowl from the microwave.  Give the water inside 1.5 minutes on High.

  12. Gently punch the dough down to get any big bubbles out, reform into a ball, and let rise again in the turned-off microwave.  This second rise will be 1 hour.

  13. After the second rise, remove the bowl from the microwave and give the water 1 minute on High.

  14. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, remove the paddle, and form it into a loaf.  There are good instructions here, online.

  15. Place the dough into the bread machine pan, cover with the waxed paper / cup towel setup and let rise in the turned-off microwave for 45 minutes. 

  16. Remove from microwave, and with a sharp knife, gently slash down the length of the bread dough.  A sharp serrated knife works best.

  17. Set the pan with dough in the machine. Don't pop it in, because it will deflate the risen dough somewhat.  The stirring mechanism won't be needed.  Plug the machine in, set it on the bake-only cycle, and enter the number of  minutes you want to bake the bread.  I use 45 minutes, but you will want to experiment with this.  Start the bake cycle.

  18. Set your kitchen timer for the time you entered.

  19. When the baking is finished, remove the pan from the machine, release the loaf of bread onto a cooling rack, and let it cool for at least 30 minutes before eating.  If you're going to slice the whole loaf, let it cool completely.

Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
(Helped by Bread Machine)

3/4 cup water
1-1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. plus 1.5 tsp. maple syrup
3/4 cup sourdough starter
2 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. olive oil
2-2/3 cups whole wheat flour

In a mixing bowl, stir together the first 5 ingredients.  Pour into bread machine pan.

With a wire whisk, fluff up the flour in the bag. Gently scoop flour into measuring cups and level-off with a knife held flat.  Add to baking pan on top of the starter mixture.

Insert pan into bread machine and run it on the "whole wheat" and "large loaf" settings until it finishes kneading.  Stop the machine and remove the pan.

Transfer the dough to a floured board.  Remove the bread machine paddle.  Cover dough with a piece of waxed paper and let rest for 5 minutes.

Form dough into a ball and place in a medium-sized mixing bowl with 1/2 tsp. olive oil in the bottom.  Roll the ball around to coat.  Cover with waxed paper and a damp cup towel.  Let rise in a warm place for 1.5 hours.

Gently punch dough down, re-form ball, cover, and let rise for 1 hour.

Transfer dough to floured board.  With a floured wooden rolling pin, gently roll into an oval shape about 1.5 inches thick.  Then roll up like a jelly roll, pinching seams as you roll (2-3 times).  When rolled up, pinch the top edge onto the roll.  Place the roll seam-down, and turn the ends under so the loaf is the length of the pan.  Pinch ends underneath to secure.  Place loaf in pan, cover, and let rise 45 minutes.

Gently set pan with loaf in bread machine and set it for "bake only."  Bake for 45 minutes.

When done, turn out the bread and let cool on rack for at least 30 minutes before cutting.

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