Practice Makes Perfect
For the past year, I’ve been trying to perfect sourdough bread baking. In January, I started my own sourdough starter, using this recipe. Since then, I have baked many a loaf of bread, trying to get it right. My son had been my willing guinea pig/taste tester. Scotty gave me his honest feedback on every loaf that I baked. I would take a slice smothered in butter, hand it to him, and wait with anticipation for his review. I could always count on his honest opinion. Then he had to go to boot camp and leave me stranded to figure things out on my own. Thanks a lot, Scotty!
Start With A Good Starter
At first, although the bread tasted good, it did not have that classic sourdough flavor. It tasted like plain, white bread. Also, I could not achieve those big holes sourdough is known for. Little by little, as the sourdough starter aged, that classic flavor began to develop. You can try making your own starter, like I did. However, if you are not a patient person, I would highly recommend buying a sourdough starter on Amazon. Homemade starters take more time and effort than tending to a newborn baby! Sourdough starters are pretty inexpensive, and will save you a lot of trial and error and time. Before using the starter, test it to make sure it’s active. To do this, simply take a spoonful of the starter and drop it in a cup of cold water. If it floats to the top, it’s ready. If not, keep feeding it at 12 hour intervals, then repeat the test.
Stretchy Dough, Not Stretchy Pants
You need sticky/stretchy dough to make sourdough bread. Although it’s hard to work with, it makes all the difference. When working with the dough, you should use the “stretch and fold”, or the “slap and fold” method. They both involve a specific way of working with the sticky dough. I was going to try to explain how to do this, but I think you need a visual. Here are a few good examples:
Banneton Proofing Baskets
Another reoccurring issue I had was the bread not rising enough. Although the bread would rise very nicely at first, it tended to spread during the last proofing. I quickly learned that I needed a Banneton basket. Benneton baskets help the dough keep it’s shape and structure during the last proofing. When I first tried using one of these baskets, I didn’t sprinkle it with enough flour, as a result the dough got stuck in the basket. If this happens, the dough will most likely deflate as you try to work it out of the basket. To avoid this problem, be generous with the flour. If too much flour sticks to the dough after removing it, you can always gently brush the excess flour off.
Longer Proofing Period
Another thing I’ve learned over the last year is you can’t rush sourdough bread. Taking two days to make the bread is better than rushing it in one day. I know you’re probably not happy reading these words; believe me, I didn’t even want to write them down. The fact of the matter is, doing an overnight proofing in the fridge helps in achieving your end goal. You know what they say; “you can’t rush a good thing”… “good things come to those who wait”…and all that jazz!
Baking Stone or Dutch Oven?
Initially, I was using a baking stone; my bread was mediocre at best. Once I did some research, I found out that the bread-pro’s used a Dutch Oven. I purchased one on Amazon, and it just happens to be the perfect size for this particular recipe. Man, what a difference that made! Misting the dough before baking in the Dutch Oven finally helped me achieve that crispy crust I was looking for! I’ve included the link to the Dutch Oven that I recommend below.
If you follow all these steps, I believe you will be baking perfect sourdough in no time. Personally, I can’t wait until Scotty comes home from boot camp in a few days. Not only do I get to give him a great big hug, I get to surprise him with a perfect slice of sourdough bread!