Sunday, February 11, 2018

Basic Recipe Better Liberated from Refrigeration

For far too long I remained lazy, having permitted myself to be lulled by a "foolproof" sourdough recipe that I adjusted with different flours, self-righteously ground in my beautiful German mill that looks lovely on the kitchen counter, but makes tons of loud noise. Finally, after months, if not a year or so, of suspicion that my refrigerator-stored sourdough starter and my refrigerator-enabled, basic-recipe-adjusted breads were getting more and more bland, I read a bread newsletter piece that articulated the message that refrigeration was not part of the process of early and fine-tuned doughs and offered solutions for modern bakers, albeit none that involved the convenience of refrigeration.

I put a link to this nice post from Mike's Weekly Baking Tips in my last post, but I am including it again because it describes so well where refrigeration leads without judging too much a propensity for easy storage and cramming baking bread into one's full life rather than allowing the bread making to set the agenda with its own sense of timing and readiness.

After two successful breads, ...

Sourdough starter changes: I took my starter out of the refrigerator - except during a business trip (or other forays from home). This is easy in the winter, especially a cold winter, because I have only fed the starter every two days. But it was warmer last night and needed to be fed this time in 24 hours. I will not boldly claim that I will remain an out-of-the-refrigerator and on-the-counter saint in the summer when twice, or maybe three, feedings a day will be demanded.

Because I hate to waste starter, I am doing a slow build during the week and using most of it for the weekly bread. I'll be making more this week as I found this morning - yes! - a sourdough challah recipe that I will try during next week's holiday weekend. I do not measure amounts; I go for texture, usually firmness, so that I can go a little longer between feedings.

The starter is happier. It bubbles, practically bursts with a sense of airiness.

I did get rid of its sibling, the whole wheat starter, because it wasn't loving out-of-the-fridge life and it kept going bad super quickly and I could never quite manage to get out all of the nasty stuff in the jar.

And the breads

I did an overnight sponge each time, the second time for 16 hours after - great achievement - putting together a quite firm sponge. I then only needed a rise of 4-5 hours for the dough.

100 grams starter (50 percent hydration as standard; make adjustments to sponge ingredient amounts if your starter is appreciably off on this)
200 grams water
200 grams bread or whole grain flour

Mix, cover, and let sit for at least eight hours.

To adjust for a longer fermentation period, I decrease the amount of starter, this time to 60 grams, but I have gone as low as 10. I then proportionately increase the amounts of water and flour so that the total mass of starter is the same as the basic recipe. Similarly, if my starter is very firm or quite wet, I also adjust for that.

300 grams whole grain or bread flour (I usually do all whole grain, generally wheat, sometimes with 10-20 percent rye, or spelt in any amount)
100-135 grams water (On the high side for whole grains and closer to the minimum the more bread flour is used)
11 grams salt
Additions: 8 grams of caraway or flax seeds, or 1 gram, a very small handful, of fresh rosemary

Except for the water, mix all of the dough ingredients together. Throw those dry dough ingredients on top of the sponge, add the water, and mix thoroughly. At some point, the mixing goes better with hands, but I do not have a KitchenAid or other dough mixer.

Cover the dough bowl and let sit for 15-30 minutes. Do three stretch and folds at similar intervals and cover the dough in between. After the last stretch and fold, let sit for four to five hours. This was in a warm-ish winter kitchen and might be shorter in a summer kitchen. The dough is ready for the next step when you push your finger in and the dough stays indented.

Baking preparation

Shape the dough and put on parchment paper, which will reduce anxiety when transferring dough into a hot oven. I wet the counter and my hands with water for shaping and avoidance of sticking. Cover the dough and let sit for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees or 485 degrees for a dough with rye (see rye bread posts for the recommended decreases in temperature as you bake). I preheat with a baking stone and the top of a la cloche, or you can preheat with a pan on the bottom and fill it with a cup of water or ice right after placing the dough in the oven.

I preheat for an hour.


Before baking, I sprinkle water on the dough, sprinkled with sesame seeds this time, and cut an X slash on top.

Bake at 500 for 25 minutes, then reduce to 485 degrees for 17 minutes. Nailed it perfectly and patted myself on the back. Does not happen every time.

Taste - OMG, great; so much better than when poor starter was left in cold confinement in the fridge. Life is good on the kitchen counter, I guess.

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