February 17, 2009

First Run At Sourdough

On Monday I achieved something I'd wanted to do for a very long time, but had put off time and again: making sourdough bread. In fact, I made two different recipes. I want to quickly take some notes on that here for future reference.

After re-hydrating and activating my starter culture, the starter was going gangbusters at room temperature. I separated it out into a few containers (preparing to give some of it away, and for use as a backup) and then made two recipes.

The first recipe was the basic sourdough recipe in Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread." The second recipe was a modified version of my low-knead bread.

Sourdough Baking Day

Reinhart's Recipe:

  • Called for making a "firm starter" (a drier version of the starter) and letting that ferment for a few hours first. I did that.
  • Then, the full dough is made and set to rest until it doubled. I allowed this to happen at room temperature.
  • I formed two batards by carefully cutting the dough in half, making two rectangles and folding them in 3rds like a letter.
  • I wetted the seam-side and pressed cornmeal into the dough before placing them seam-side down into my French bread pan. (The pan has holes, so the cornmeal won't stay on unless it's stuck.)
  • I misted the loaves, covered them with plastic wrap, laid the bread pan on top of a half-sheet pan, put that pan in a tall kitchen bag and the whole thing went in the fridge overnight.
  • The next morning I took them out of the fridge and let them come to room temp for 4 hours, slashed them and baked them at 450 degrees F. (10 minutes, turn 180 degrees, then 15 more minutes) I used a steam pan as well with about a cup of water.

Sourdough Baking Day


  • I added about 1 1/2 cups of starter to the recipe instead of commercial yeast. I poured lukewarm water onto that.
  • I used water equivalent to all the liquid in the Low-Knead recipe, but did not use any beer or vinegar since this was not needed.
  • I mixed the salt in with the flour before adding to the starter.
  • It was very wet from the addition of so much starter, but I tried to ignore this.
  • It rose quickly. Before bed I put it in a cold room to slow it down.
  • I kneaded it in the morning by folding it in the bowl. I only needed a couple of folds, and I accidentally slightly over-kneaded it, which resulted in a sticky surface.
  • It was very wet and stuck to the parchment paper sling.
  • I mistakenly preheated the oven at a lower temperature than usual -- 450 degrees F. This seemed to make the bread bake more evenly, a definite improvement.

Conclusions: Both bread had great flavor, but the Low-Knead had the slightly softer crumb. The flavor is only slightly tangy, and only after chewing. When it baked, the Reinhart recipe had an interesting, very slight sweet caramel-apple scent on top of the normal scent of baking yeasted bread.

The crumb was not open with huge holes, but had good, even holes. It was spongy, rather then creamy, but not mealy or crumbly at all.

The crust on the batards had little blisters. The crust on the Low-Knead had a ripped appearance because of how ragged the top of the dough was, and from my use of scissors to cut the slashes.

Here's a bread-storing tip!

Sourdough bread can last longer than regular French bread because of the byproducts the bacteria creates. To keep it from drying out, store it cut-side down on a piece of wax paper inside of a paper bag. For baguettes and batards, I hold the wax paper on the end with a rubber band.

This milestone intimidated me for a long time. It turns out there was little reason for it to; I should have done this years ago.

Posted by James at February 17, 2009 7:59 AM
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I wonder if it's easy to find wax paper bags or glassine bags. Even if they're expensive, you can probably reuse them quite a few times.

Posted by: Julie at February 17, 2009 10:18 AM

As I described it to my wife, I need little wax paper or plastic shower caps! (For the stick loaves)

One of those folding sandwich bags would work, too. Although the rubber band really helps to hold it on.

For the boule, I just put them face down on the wax paper and into a paper bag. You don't want to put bread in a plastic bag, unless you're going to freeze it.

And never refrigerate bread.

Posted by: James at February 17, 2009 10:58 AM

I don't care for the tang of sourdough bread, but those loaves look fantastic! Cookbook-worthy, even. Congrats.

Posted by: Karen at February 17, 2009 12:42 PM

Dude - that looks awesome. If that's a first try, it should be awesome by the time you're an "old sourdough hand".

Posted by: Bull at February 17, 2009 2:06 PM

"First time" is a little misleading I suppose, since I've gotten pretty good at shaping loaves, and learned a lot about bread in general over the years.

I'm getting better at baking more loaves, timing, the ability to adjust on the fly, etc.

Posted by: James at February 17, 2009 2:57 PM

Interesting. Have you seen the Ezekiel commercial bread? I wonder if it's possible to do this with the sprout mixture they use?

Posted by: George Bounacos at February 21, 2009 10:08 PM

I'm not familiar with the Ezekiel bread, but I did a google search. It looks like the sprout mixture is a low glycemic index baking product?

Looks like they sell other stuff, some are gluten free and others are yeast free.

Sourdough definitely has yeast in it, and gluten is necessary to make this type of bread. Also, the yeast eats some of the sugars, so I would not be able to predict what a low-glycemic flour would do to a sourdough starter.

If you wanted to go completely sprouted, you would need to buy a quantity of the flour and feed the starter with it exclusively.

In general, there are ways to substitute sourdough starter into commercial yeast recipes, and also ways to add starter to quickbreads. Starters produce so much extra that people find ways to work them into lots of recipes (soon I'll be making waffles with the stuff, just to get rid of the excess).

Posted by: James at February 21, 2009 10:29 PM

Yes, the Ezekiel bread is low carb / glycemic. It's one of the better store bought sliced breads I've found. Great for diabetics and those balancing carbs. Digging the waffles -- just as troublesome as Sunday afternoon lunches of Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches!

Posted by: George at February 24, 2009 12:39 AM

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