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Posts Tagged ‘baking sourdough at home’

bagl 004

I was reading some of the comments to yesterday’s post, and it made me reflect on my first attempts at sourdough baking.

If you’re new to baking with a sourdough starter, please let me reassure you – it isn’t scary.  Don’t be put off by all the numbers and detailed instructions out there, adhering to them really isn’t as critical as some of the more diehard bakers will have you believe.

Let me explain.

A lot of sourdough bakers take it all very seriously – they measure their ingredients to the last gram, set up spreadsheets to crunch numbers to determine hydration percentages, measure the dough temperature and the ambient room temperature, control the amount of steam during the baking process – and so on.

This makes a great deal of sense in a commercial bakery situation – loaves need to be consistent in size and shape, and even the slightest variation in a batch can impact on quality and profit.

But if, like me, you’re just baking at home, for fun, sourdough baking can be an adventure.  Even after nearly five years of breadbaking, my loaves will still turn out a little bit differently each time.  That’s because I’m not overly concerned about exact quantities, my ambient kitchen temperature changes with the seasons, and my proving times vary depending on whatever else is happening in our lives.

My preferred dough is at 74% hydration purely because that lets me work in round numbers for the ingredients.  It doesn’t really matter or make a great deal of difference (and I probably wouldn’t notice) if the finished dough was 72% or 76% – the baked loaves would still be delicious and my sons would still devour them.

So please don’t be put off by the thought that sourdough baking is an overly technical exercise.  It really doesn’t have to be, and it’s great fun to play around with quantities and ingredients to see what works and what doesn’t.

Let me try to explain what I do in simple terms, so that those of you who are considering it can get a clear picture of the process in your mind:

Step 1: feed your starter on flour and water.  Make sure to use a good bread or bakers flour, which is higher protein than plain (AP) flour.  Keep feeding your starter and giving it time to digest its food.  You’ll know it’s ready when it’s all bubbly and frothy.

Step 2: in a large mixing bowl, mix together the starter, water, flour and salt.  I add oil to the dough because I like the taste it imparts on the finished loaf.  Let it rest for about ten minutes, then turn it onto an oiled bench and give it a knead.  Now turn it back into the mixing bowl (which has been scraped out and oiled), cover it and allow it to rise.  This might take three hours, or it might take thirteen.  With experience, you’ll instinctively know when the dough is ready, but to start with, let the dough rise until it’s almost doubled in size.

Step 3: turn the risen dough onto an oiled bench, divide it up, and shape it however you choose.  This is the really fun part, where you can turn the dough into almost anything – from pizza to epi to loaves.  You could make stuffed rolls like I do every week, or work the dough into a tray and dimple it into foccacia.  Let it rise again while you preheat the oven.

Step 4: bake the dough.  Once it’s baked, let it cool, and then scoff it blissfully!

Lastly, don’t be afraid to stuff up. Every time you bake a loaf which is a bit ordinary, you’re one step closer to baking one that is perfect!

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