A Simple Sourdough

A simple sourdough is possibly the most rewarding loaf for a baker. It connotes a certain degree of autonomy in that a successful rise does not depend on commercial yeast or other artificial leavening agents. The rise comes from the care and nurturing of the baker as she coaxes the sourdough starter to maturity. Then, with a bit of patience and persistence, the starter is encouraged to do a little more magic by combining it with flour and water, developing the gluten in the dough, and letting the friendly yeast and bacteria celebrate in their new environment up until their glorious end in the a hot oven.

So, perhaps I am romanticizing a bit about sourdough, but the truth of the matter is that it is alive. Baking is simply controlling the amount of life and growth that is occurring through helping the populations of yeast and bacteria reach their peak when the bread is finally ready to go into the oven. The art of controlling and accommodating that life is what sourdough baking is about. It takes a little patience and practice, but the results are more than worth it. Well-crafted sourdough breads have a subtle nutty, creamy, and simultaneously tangy flavor, amazing oven spring, and beautiful crumbs. The following is a straight forward sourdough recipe that allows you to appreciate the joys and subtleties of sourdough baking. Nothing fancy, just a simple sourdough.

The following recipe is adapted from the Norwich Sourdough found at Wild Yeast (http://www.wildyeastblog.com/2007/07/08/my-new-favorite-sourdough/), a beautiful online bread blog that continuously inspires me.

Simple Sourdough

Yield: 2 kg (4 small or 2 large loaves)

Ingredients:

900 g all-purpose flour
120 g whole rye flour
650 g water
360 g ripe 100% hydration sourdough starter
23 g salt

Mix the flours, water, and starter together until just combined. Cover the dough and let it rest (autolyse) for 30-50 minutes.

Add the salt and continue kneading until the dough reaches a medium level of gluten development. Transfer the dough to an oiled container and ferment at room temperature for 2.5 hours, with folds at 50 and 100 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Divide it into four 500 g pieces or two 1000 g pieces. Preshape the dough pieces into light balls.

Sprinkle the balls lightly with flour, cover loosely with plastic, and let rest for 15 minutes.

Shape into batards and place seam-side-up in a floured couche or linen-lined bannetons.

Slip the couche or bannetons into a large plastic bag or cover with plastic wrap and proof at room temperature for 2 – 2.5 hours. Alternatively, the loaves can be proofed for about 1.5 hours at room temperature, then refrigerated for 2 – 16 hours and baked directly out of the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven, with baking stone, to 475F.

Turn the proofed loaves onto a semolina-sprinkled peel or parchment. Slash each one down the long axis of the batard.

Once the loaves are in the oven, turn the heat down to 450F. For 500g loaves, bake for 12 minutes with steam, and another 15 – 20 minutes without steam. For 1000 g loaves, bake for 15 minutes with steam, and another 25-30 minutes without steam. The crust should be a deep brown. Then turn off the oven and leave the loaves in for 5-10 minutes longer with the door ajar.

Cool completely on a wire rack before eating.

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