So, you've made your starter (or have sent away for a complimentary Oregon Trail starter from The Friends of Carl) and you are ready to dive head first into the wonderful world of sourdough baking? Great!
To give you an idea of what is to come, here is the first loaf I made with my new starter:
(Isn't it beautiful?) I baked this loaf of bread using the great instructions and recipe provided by Northwest Sourdough. So, with many thanks to the folks there, here comes my step-by-step experience with my first sourdough loaf in over a year.
The next morning I got up and assembled a few simple ingredients:
- 4 cups Unbleached flour (I didn't have any bread flour on hand, but if you do, by all means - use it!)
- 2 teaspoons olive oil (use whatever oil you want)
- 3 teaspoons sea salt (or you can use 1.5 teaspoons table salt)
- 1 cup warm water (not pictured)
- 1 cup "vigorous" starter (is anyone else hearing Catherine Zeta-Jones saying that?)
As you see in the bowl below, I've dumped the flour in and added my cup of starter (you could technically call it "proofed sponge" if you like, I suppose). Now in goes the oil...
Then we stir it up the old-fashioned way - with a spoon. (I used to have a reminder here about not using metal utensils with your sourdough - but I just learned at Sourdough Home that stainless steel has no effect on sourdough - so if that's your fancy - stir away!)
Now we let the dough rest for ten minutes. I learned that this is called "autolyse," for those of you trying to beef up your bread baking vocabulary. Next, add the salt and stir if for about 3 minutes. Then let it rise for 5 hours.
A tip at this point (which I gleaned from a great food blog: Steamy Kitchen) is to wet your hands rather than flour them to keep the dough from sticking. This way you will not add too much flour at this point, which could make your bread overly dense or dry.
When you are happy with your little ball of dough, place it on a portion of the surface that is not floured. Give it ten minutes to relax and stick a little to the surface. Now you can use both hands to twist the ball into a higher shape.
Ooh... I like the looks of that better, don't you? While it is resting, you can grease and cornmeal the oven-safe bowl (probably Pyrex like mine) you will be using to bake the bread in.
Place the ball (or "boule" if you're feeling fancy) into the bowl and sprinkle more cornmeal on top.
Now we cover it with a damp towel (not terry cloth) and give it another 2.5 hours to rise (or "proof" as it is called in sourdough baking). Sometime during the last hour, remove the cloth so that the dough can form a bit of a skin. And preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
Here is what my dough looked like after it had risen. While I was taking this picture, I was preheating my oven.
Next comes the one step in this process that I do not look back on with satisfaction. I feel like my slits that I cut caused the dough to fall a bit. The original article suggests cutting them like flaps. Umm... I don't know if I used the wrong knife or what. But don't sweat it, right? Even if your slices look as lame as mine the bread will still be good. Proceed onward!
Put the bowl of dough in the oven. During the first five minutes of baking, open the oven door once a minute and spray water on the sides of the oven wall. This helps create that nice crust we want, and keeps it moist in the oven during that final proofing - or "oven spring." There are no pics because this needs to happen quickly so that you don't lose all the heat out the open oven door. But this is another one of the fun parts. You will feel like a real pro as the water bursts into steam.
Take your loaf of bread around the house, photographing it to share with all your email and blogging buddies. Show each member of the household, including pets, what a wonderful baker you are. Sing; dance; exult!