Sourdough Bread with Starter

posted by Polar Bear 06-24-100 3:20 PM

Sourdough Dough Bread with Starter

1 lb. sourdough starter, about 2 cups (see below)
2-1/2 cups spring water, divided
7-1/2 cups bread flour, divided (10 oz. + 1 lb. 14 oz.)
2 Tbl. peanut oil
2 Tbl. barley malt extract (optional) (see Note)
2 tsp. salt
1 large egg white, beaten with 1 Tbl. water (optional)

6 oz. cheddar, fontina, gruyere or other cheese, grated
6 oz. ham, salami, pepperoni or other cold cut, diced
2 Tbl. fresh basil, thyme, marjoram or other herb, chopped
2 cups medium cure olives (not kalamatas), pitted and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 clove garlic, minced
2 medium chiles, seeded and chopped (jalapeños, chipotles, etc.)
1/4 cup dried tomato, chopped

Twenty-four hours before baking, stir 1/2 cup each water and flour into starter. Repeat at eight hour intervals. (Two feedings of 3/4 cup each water and flour at 12 hour intervals may be used, but three smaller ones works better.) Pour off 1 lb. (2 cups) as a future starter and refrigerate. Stir remaining 1/2 cup water into remaining batter (add herb, garlic or chiles, if using; for other optional items, see Step 5 below).

Use sponge and remaining ingredients to make dough. There are four ways to do this:

Standmixer (Preferred Method): Add sponge, flour and remaining ingredients to mixer bowl; add 2 T more water. Mix with dough hook on minimum speed until flour is moistened, about 1 minute, adding a little more water or flour if needed (dough should be soft but not sticky); increase speed to low and knead two minutes; let stand 10 minutes; knead two more minutes on medium-low speed. Dough is ready for rising (no hand kneading required).

Food Processor: Place plastic dough “blade” in processor; spray or brush work bowl lightly with oil. Add flour, dry ingredients and remaining oil. Drizzle in sponge and knead just until well combined, about 30 seconds, adding a little more water or flour if needed. Let stand 10 minutes, then knead 5 minutes by hand. If the dough starts tearing, stop kneading.

Bread Machine: Most of these machines have a cycle for kneading dough which you then shape and bake conventionally. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. The machine has a limited capacity, though, so prepare only a half batch dough or divide ingredients in half and knead each separately.

Hand Kneading: Combine sponge and remaining ingredients except flour in a large bowl (the bigger the better, 12 qt. is ideal). Gradually stir in flour, beating well between additions, until dough gets too stiff to stir. Turn out onto a well floured surface and incorporate remaining flour while kneading, using a pastry scraper as needed to keep from sticking (take care not to add too much flour). Flatten dough with heel of one hand, using the other for more pressure if needed; fold over, rotate 90 degrees and repeat about 2 minutes. Roll dough between hands like spinning a ball, twisting one hand slightly to create a whorl effect (think pulled taffy). Alternate between this motion and the other every 30 seconds or so, until dough is firm and elastic, 10 to 15 minutes.

Lightly oil a 4 qt. bowl. Add kneaded dough, turn to oil other side and cover with a damp kitchen towel. Let stand in a moderately warm place, e.g., an oven with the light on. As a rule, try to keep the rising temperature about 78 degrees. If the kitchen is too cool, warm the oven slightly before adding the bowl. Conversely, if the room is too warm, try chilling the dough 20 minutes. When the dough has doubled in volume (it will be about level with the rim), punch down to expel excess gases. Sourdough can take 3 to 4 hours. If necessary or convenient, the punched-down dough can be let rise again (even two or three times more) before shaping the loaves.

Generally, I make two loaves from a batch of dough, wide baguettes for most purposes and batards for sandwiches. Sometimes, I make three narrow baguettes (e.g., for parties), 6 lg rolls (for Submarine Sandwiches) or 12 dinner rolls. Divide dough in halves, thirds, etc., as appropriate; knead each piece, stretching gently to form a smooth ball with a seam on one side only. Squeeze, roll and pull into an oblong of the desired length, gently squeezing out any large bubbles that come to the surface.

If adding an optional ingredient (other than herbs, garlic or chiles, which should have been stirred into the sponge at the end of Step 1, set aside 1/4 of dough and knead optional ingredient into remainder; divide reserved dough (in half for two loaves, etc.), roll out each piece thinly, wrap around flavored dough and form into loaves. (The object here, of course, is to put a sheath around the optional ingredients, which otherwise can leak or fall out.)

If available, place the shaped dough (well coated with flour) into bread proofing baskets, also known as banetons (French) or brotformen (German). Alternatively, use a two or three trench french bread pan lined with a smooth, tight-weave (not nappy) kitchen towel. Dust heavily with flour, cover with plastic wrap and weight with a damp towel. Meanwhile, place a 14 by 16 inch pizza stone on second lowest rack of oven and a heavy shallow pan on lowest rack (I use a square enameled cast iron grill); pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.

When dough has doubled in volume, 30 to 60 minutes (never more or the gluten will relax too much), invert gently onto a pizza peel (or baking sheet). If desired, brush with egg white glaze (for sheen), but I generally prefer the rustic unglazed look. Working quickly, slash loaves with a razor or sharp knife and place on stone; place 1 c water in pan (preferably frozen in one thin piece; I use a square “G” Rubbermaid container) and close door. After 15 minutes, remove stone and transfer loaves to an insulated baking sheet, rotating end-to-end for even browning. Return to oven, reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake 20 minutes. Reduce to 325 degrees and bake until brown and cooked though, about 25 minutes more for wide baguettes, 30 minutes for batards, 20 minutes for narrow baguettes or rolls.

Remove loaves to a wire rack. For a softer crust, though still nicely chewy, brush off flour (hold with a hot pad) and mist all over with water. Let cool completely. Serve within 6 to 8 hours or freeze. Generally I slice the bread and thaw as needed in the microwave. Or, freeze whole, thaw 2 hours at room temperature, mist with water and bake in 325 degree oven until warm, about 15 minutes.

Other variations:

Seeds: Poppy, sesame and/or fennel seeds (2 Tbl. total) may be sprinkled over bread before baking. Brush with egg white wash, sprinkle with seeds and brush again.

Flour: If desired, replace 1 cup bread flour in Step 2 with semolina, whole wheat, rye or other flour. For a light multi-grain bread, replace 2 cups bread flour in Step 2 with 1 cup each rye and whole wheat flours. (For an even heartier bread, replace 3 cup bread flour with 1 1/2 cups each rye and whole wheat.) If desired, brush with 1 large egg beaten with 2 Tbl. water in Step 3.

Shortcut: If you only make sourdough occasionally, you might try this method. It’s not as tasty or soulful as the above recipe, but it is reliable and relatively easy. Three to seven days before baking, proof 2 tsp. (1 envelope) dry yeast with 1/4 tsp. sugar in 1/4 cup warm water; stir in 1/4 cup buttermilk, 3/4 cup water (cool) and 1 cup bread flour. Let stand, loosely covered, in a moderately warm draft-free place; stirring down as needed for the first 24 hours. One day before baking, stir in three feedings of 1/3 cup each flour and water. Use this sponge in place of Step 1.

Special shapes:

Bread Bowls: For last rise, divide dough into eight pieces and form into round loaves. Dust well with flour and invert into 2 cups bowls (Corning Grab-Its are perfect); dust with flour, cover with plastic wrap, weight with a damp towel and let rise 1 hour. When baking, slash loaves gently in an ”X” pattern. When done, let cool completely. Cut a circle around top of each loaf, remove soft insides (reserve for bread crumbs or another use), leaving a bowl. Fill with soup just before serving and, if desired, place top over.

Bread Sticks: For last rise, divide dough in 16 pieces; roll each into a “snake” and place on lightly greased breadstick pan. Let rise 45 minutes. Brush with 1 large egg beaten with 2 Tbl. milk. If desired, sprinkle with 2 Tbl. poppy, sesame and/or fennel seeds and brush again with egg wash. Bake in 375 degree oven until brown and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Or, for crisp breadsticks, bake in 425 degree oven.

Submarine Rolls: For last rise, divide dough into six pieces and form into torpedo shape rolls. Place on a lightly greased 12 by 17 inch jelly roll pan and press to flatten. Let rise one hour. Brush with egg white glaze if desired and bake 30 to 35 minutes in 375 degree oven. Use for Submarine Sandwiches.

Sourdough Starter:

Gereral: Sourdough starter is a stable culture of sour-producing bacteria and sour-tolerant wild yeast. It’s a bit tricky to establish, less tricky to maintain. This recipe is adapted from Nancy Silverton’s Breads from the La Brea Bakery, which in turn is adapted from a recipe by Steve Sullivan of the Acme Bread Co. (regarded by many, including me, as the best bread baker in the San Francisco Bay Area). (For another good adaptation, see Paul Bertoulli’s Chez Panisse Cooking.) In fact, the Sullivan method is the only one I’ve found in print that works. (Nor have I had any success with commercially available starters.) But, all these sources basically assume one is baking sourdough daily. I make a lot of bread, but at most only two or three batches a week, not all of it sourdough, so I’ve modified the recipe somewhat.

Starting the Starter: Remove 1 lb. seedless red or black grapes (preferably organic, rinsed well if not) from stems; chop coarsely in food processor, tie in coarse cheesecloth and gently squeeze grape juice into a 4 q.t bowl. Stir in 4 cups each spring water and organic bread flour. Add bag of grapes, cover bowl with plastic wrap and secure well. Let stand in warm draft-free place (about 78 degrees) until fermented, about three days. On the fourth day, stir in another 1 cup each spring water and organic bread flour. Cover again and let stand undisturbed five days.

Stabilizing the Starter: Stir starter well; discard grapes and all but 2 cups starter. Stir in 1/2 cup each spring water and bread flour (organic flour no longer needed) three times per day. If necessary, stir in 3/4 cup each spring water and bread flour twice a day, but three smaller feedings works better. Each day, for five days total, discard all but 2 cups starter and repeat feedings. At this point, the starter should be ready. Divide between two 1 qt. containers (I maintain two cultures so I always have a back-up if something happens to one of them.) and refrigerate.

Introducting othe Cultures: Although I’ve had no luck using commercial starters alone, I have found one that makes an excellent supplement to an established culture. The company is Sourdoughs Int’l and their cultures are available at many homebrew supply stores or online at One nice thing about this company is that it has (at last count) eight cultures, of which I like the San Francisco culture for white breads and the Austrian for rye and other heavy breads. Simply stir the culture envelope into your starter and give three days of stabilizing feedings (or, better, make bread three days in a row)

Maintenance: Try to use the starters at least once a month, alternating starters with each batch. But they should survive refrigerated up to six months (at that point, give each two or three days of stabilizing feedings before using). If a starter loses its “oomph,” stir in 1 T potato starch with one or more feedings for the next batch or two, until the starter behaves as usual. (Do this as a matter of course with a starter that hasn’t been used in 2 to 3 months.) If this doesn’t work, repeat the full five day stabilizing regimen. If that doesn’t work, discard and clone a second starter off the other. If neither starter responds, you’ll have to start over from scratch.

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