Sourdough for Working People

I like sourdough bread. I like baking. I also work full time and have a family. Thanks to others on the internet, my inherent laziness, and some happy mistakes, we've come up with a pretty decent way to make good sourdough bread at home with a minimum of fuss.

This recipe is based on the terrific tutorial at: The Clever Carrot

I've made several different artisan type breads over the years and found a couple of  real "go to" recipes that I like. Unfortunately I've never had the patience to work out a decent San Francisco sour dough. In a previous life I spent a lot of time in SFO and brought home bread as often as I could. I'd always wondered how I could recreate that bread in my kitchen.

Fast forward a few years and a lot of blogs and books on the subject, along with at least three failed attempts. Finally, I stumbled across the aforementioned blog from The Clever Carrot and things started to click. One or two mistakes later we had a real winner. Some folks have asked if I could get them the recipe. So.. I decided to write it down in case it helps anyone else out.

Tip #1 - Want a Bread Lame? Make One on the Cheap

I looked on Amazon for these. They were too expensive. Then I saw in a YouTube video that showed you how to use a dowel and a double bladed razor to make your own... so I did. It's perfect and cost me a trip to the local Walgreen's and the hobby shop.

Tip #2- Goodness Takes Time

Everything in this recipe revolves around harnessing the virtue of time to create wonderfulness. From the starter, to the bulk fermentation process, and even waiting to eat the end product... there's a LOT of waiting involved. Once I embraced that fact, things started to work much better for me. (I'm hoping that I will eventually embrace this concept in parenting as well... hoping).

Tip #3- Plan to get up early, be a SAHM, or do this on the weekend

As with many things, the best results take some time. The good news is that you don't need to babysit this stuff... just give it time to work. 5 minutes today, 3 minutes tomorrow and 20 minutes the next day and you're there.

You need a Starter

This seems to be the part that freaks everyone out... myself included. Everyone wants the starter that's been used for the last 40 years in that tiny bread shop in small town coastal Maine (or whatever). That's all well and good but what I found is that once you start messing with it in the micro-climate that is your kitchen... that all changes.

Tip #4- Don't sweat the starter

Get one, buy one, make one... it doesn't matter. Just have one and it will morph into your own crazy concoction of microbes and bacteria. It will be unique to you and your kitchen. And it will be awesome!

The starter is flour and water... and time. It will pull the microbes and yeast from the environment and work it's magic. Treat it like you might a pet. Feed it when it's hungry and keep it comfy and it will make you happy.

Tip #5- Plan a couple days ahead

The best thing I learned from The Clever Carrot is that I can have this stuff work overnight for me. Referencing her "Winter Baking Schedule" I realized that I don't have to fret about this. Much like slow smoked BBQ, I can sleep while the magic happens. That's one of the best things I have ever read!

So... have your starter all ready, your oven cleared, and the ingredients handy before bed and devote 30 minutes to bread.

Tip #6- Put it to work while you sleep

What you need:
  • 150g of Active Starter
  • 275g of Water
  • 500g of Bread Flour
  • 10g of Salt
Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and use your hands to mix it up into a shaggy pile. Scrape all the flour bits and things stuck to the bowl and incorporate it into the shag. Cover it up with plastic and a kitchen towel and wait 30 minutes. This is the autolyse process. It makes a big difference so don't skip this part.

After 30 minutes, gather the dough together and knead it for about a minute either on the counter or between your hands. As you knead, start forming it into a ball. It will start to get sticky. When that happens plop it back into the bowl, cover it with plastic and a kitchen towel and let it sit out on the cool counter overnight.

Now's also a good time to prep the dutch oven with a small disk of parchment so you don't wake the kids in the morning with the sound of tearing paper.

Tip #7 - (see tip #3)

In the morning, while helping make lunches and getting everyone ready for school, you can grab the bowl scraper and scrape the now risen dough into your hands or onto a lightly-floured board. It will deflate when you do this. That's okay. Form it into a boule (ball) and place it in the dutch oven. Cover it up with plastic and set the timer for 1 hour.

When the timer is done preheat the oven to 450°F. While the oven is preheating, make your slashes.

When the oven is preheated, turn it down to 425°F, put the lid on the dutch oven and put 'er in there for 20 minutes. The bottom of mine gets too dark if I don't also place it on an inverted cookie sheet in the oven. YMMV.

After the timer goes off, take the lid off, and cook for another 40 minutes at 400°F.

Tip #8- Wait some more

When you're done, you should have a wonderfully dark crust and a kitchen that smells terrific. Now you need to wait some more. Don't cut into the thing until it's completely cool. If you want a super firm crust (which I love) don't even bother until tomorrow.

Tip #9- Start planning for the next loaf

Thank you to the following for informing this post:

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