Week 2 - Lumberjane Loaf - Sourdough

Week two of our #fridaycookbookproject is here! You made me pretty happy by selecting my favorite bread book in my Instagram, Sourdough by Sarah Owens. But at the same time, I’ve been using this one a lot so far, and the idea behind this project was for me to use all of my cookbooks that have just been lying around and learn something new along with you. Anyway, I found a recipe I haven’t approached yet and I decided to give it a go this time! As always, this is just my interpretation of the recipe, if you want the real deal, get that book, you won’t be sorry!

  • TLDR: Here’s my opinion - don’t do this if you are too busy to even read this article. Good bread takes time. But, I know it’s long so here is your road map: sourdough starter > levain > autolyse > float test > mix > salt > bulk ferment > stretch & folds > fold-ins > cold fermentation > scoring > steam bake > dry bake > knock > bread song > cool down > cut. [120 g L + 450 g APF + 75 g WWF + 20 g RF + 405 g W + 12 g S + 210 g fold-ins] If none of this makes sense to you and you want to make this bread, read bellow. :)

You’ll need some sourdough starter. Hopefully you have some nice active, bubbly one by now, like I do. I keep mine (9 years old, called Horatius) on the counter at all times and feed it a bit of whole wheat or rye flour and a small amount of lukewarm water every day. It can also live in your fridge and then it only needs to be fed about once a week, but in that case make sure to bring it to room temperature at least a day or two in advance and feed it multiple times before going for the recipe. If you don’t have any yet, check out your good local bakeries, they are often happy to sell you some for not much. You can also use commercial yeast for this recipe if you have to but, although you can get some pretty great bread this way, the result will not be the same in taste, structure and its health component. I am a great believer in the health benefits of fermentation and I love the fact that bread can be a part of a healthy lifestyle if made well and consumed in moderation. I just came across this great article recently, give it a read if interested.

Now this is coming from a place where you already know that I bake a lot of sourdough bread. I also mill my own flour. I got a Komo stone grain mill over a year and a half ago and it was one of the best presents ever. These things are not cheap but they supposedly last you a lifetime and beyond. It also looks beautiful on my counter and freshly milled grains make such a great difference in the bread you can come up with. Lots of my sourdough loaves use large percentages of whole grains so all of these are freshly ground in my kitchen. The fragrance, flavor and structure element it gives to my bread held up in a blind taste test I ran some time ago when I baked two loaves using the exact same method and ingredients except that, in one case, the whole grains were freshly milled. That loaf won by far but I didn’t even need to be convinced, I knew all along. That said, you will definitely make amazing bread using organic store bought flour, if you can find stone ground whole grain flour of the kind needed, even better.

Another thing that comes in handy when making bread loaves is a Dutch oven or a large cast iron pan with a lid. The idea behind that is that in the phase of the bread making process when the crust is being formed, you need some humidity. You can achieve it either by using a pizza stone and an old baking sheet below, to which you add some ice cubes or a big splash of cold water in order to create steam in the oven. After the initial hot steam phase, you lower the temperature and let the vapor out. I find this method not only less efficient but also very nerve-wracking. The Dutch oven provides the bread with enough humidity with none of that hassle. You bake it at high temperature with the lid on, then lower the temp and take the lid off. Easy peasy and the results will be awesome.

One last thing I want to mention before I get to the recipe itself is a banneton. It’s basically just a basket that the bread rests in after the initial fermentation phase and during the cold fermentation period as it gains its desired shape. You can get it online or at Sur la Table or other kitchen stores. You can replace it with a large colander lined with a well floured kitchen towel to begin with if you don’t feel like investing yet, but I bet you’ll get hooked like I did once you taste your homemade bread!

Ok, that’s all I can think of right now and I will add some good resources at the end of this article if you prefer to study by watching videos but let me just tell you, this book is a wonderful way to learn all you need to know about making sourdough bread and it has other great recipes beyond bread too, so definitely check it out! I just got Sarah’s new book for Christmas and I will definitely suggest it in the upcoming weeks of our #fridaycookbookproject!

So, let’s make some bread! Again, this is my interpretation of Sarah’s recipe, using my preferred method. As it’s pretty common in the baking world (and since I am European) I use grams, but it’s a good idea in general to have a digital kitchen scale, preferably one with both grams and oz.

First of all, take your active sourdough starter and make levain (which is basically just French for starter but it’s used to mean the active starter base part you’ll use in the concrete recipe) and take a spoonful off at the end for next time. Use 1 heaping tbsp of your active starter and add 60 g lukewarm water (preferably filtered and left on the counter for a few hours) and mix in 45 g whole wheat flour and 15 g rye flour. This creates a sort of a slurry you’ll put in a Mason jar loosely covered with a lid and place that on your counter (room temperature). And now it depends where you live (like here in Denver it goes a bit faster due to the altitude) but basically we are waiting for the levain to at least double in size. You can place a rubber band around the jar signaling where the level was when you made it and wait for it to grow to at least double the volume. It also depends on how active your starter was to begin with, so I always prefer to feed it at least 3 times over the course of the previous 2 days to make sure it’s ready. That way it usually takes it only about 3 hours to pass the float test - you can tell if the levain is ready to be mixed in with the dough by placing a teaspoon of it into a tall glass of water. If it floats close to the surface or on it, you’re good to go!

While you are waiting for the levain to increase in size (and all sorts of fun microbiological processes are happening that we won’t go into here but I love to chat about!), you can autolyse your flour. This is done to improve the structure of the dough by having the flour used in the recipe soak up the water in advance, before adding the other ingredients. Use a large bowl with a lid and loosely mix 450 g all purpose flour, 75 g whole wheat flour and 20 g rye flour along with 405 g of lukewarm water. You can use a Danish bread whisk or just your hands, it helps if you keep them wet during the process, less dough will stick to them that way.  Cover with a lid (or place a large plate on top or a hotel shower cap if you have any) and give it the same amount of time you need for your levain to rise. 

Once the levain has passed the float test, do a happy dance like I do and move on to mixing the dough. Add your levain to the flour mixture (don’t forget to save a spoonful  for your next baking adventure) using your moistened hands and mix it in well. You’ll notice that the structure of the dough has changed and hopefully it’s become stronger and not as chunky as it was when first mixed with water. It will continue to do so over time and that’s what we are looking for - strong gluten bonds that will be able to hold the air bubbles and ensure a great light texture in our loaf. Now once you’ve mixed the levain into the flour dough, cover again and let sit for another 30 minutes. 

Then add 12 g of salt.  You want to make sure that it’s evenly spread around and well incorporated into the dough. You can either use a stand mixer if you have a good one but I can tell you that the dough is too thick for my mixer and, anyway, I prefer to do the job using my hands. Again, make sure they are wet and start folding the dough over itself until everything is fully in. Then let it rest and bulk ferment on the counter, covered with a lid, for another 3-4 hours, as the dough again doubles in size. You’ll want to perform a series of stretch & folds at about every 45 minutes during this phase, which really helps to build the dough’s structure. There were times when I forgot or had to leave and only did 2 series of stretch & folds and, in those cases, I let the dough rise an extra hour. But if you want to do it right, open your lid, get your hands wet and pick up one side of the dough, stretch it as much as possible without ripping it off, then fold it over the rest of the dough and continue from all 4 sides, each time. If the dough feels very wet, you can moisten your hands, get them under the dough, pick it up a bit and let the two sides fold by themselves under the dough and repeat from the other side. Don’t panic at this phase if the dough is all sticky and not well formed, it will get better with each interval.

Once the dough has doubled (or so) in size, or after approximately 4 hours, the bulk fermentation should be done. Gently add the fold-ins you prefer - in this case we are using 90 g coarsely chopped dried apricot, 90 g coarsely chopped toasted pecans and 30 g hemp seeds. [Sarah’s recipe calls for 30 g millet and double the amount of  apricots and pecans but if you’re just starting out with breadmaking, go light, perhaps, since all these make it harder to work your dough and have it rise properly as they can tear through the desirable air pockets.]  Feel free to replace these fold-ins with dried cranberries, walnuts and chia seeds respectively, tried and true! Either way, fold them into the dough so that they are evenly spread without breaking the dough up. Let rest in the bowl one last time for about 30 minutes.

Flour your work surface well and prepare your banneton or colander, both lined with a well floured fabric (bannetons usually come with their own). Get the dough on your floured surface in order to preshape the dough -  take each one of the four sides and fold it onto the rest of the dough and then flip it seam side down on your floured surface. Cover it with a kitchen towel and let rest for 20-30 minutes. When you come back to it, hopefully the dough hasn’t spread too much which is a sign that it’s keeping some structural integrity and isn’t over proved. Now shape your loaf. Take the piece, gently stretch it out and shape it depending on the shape of your banneton (and Dutch oven) - for rounded bread, fold the sides in the middle like before, then create some surface tension and place in the floured banneton, seam side UP this time. For oval shaped bread, stretch and bring the sides in and connect them in the middle, then roll it up and place it in the banneton, seam side up. This video might help you understand what I’m talking about here since it’s quite hard to explain if you’ve never done it before.

Now that you have your dough in the banneton, it’s ready for the second, cold fermentation. You don’t necessarily have to do that but if you try it, I can guarantee you’ll love your bread that much more, plus it will be better for you gut. So cover your banneton loosely with a kitchen towel and place it in a large plastic bag and move it to your fridge where it will rest for anywhere between 8-24 hours.

And we are ready to bake! Preheat the oven to 500F (seriously) with the Dutch oven and its lid in there for at least 30 minutes. Then bring the dough out of the fridge, carefully place it in the Dutch oven (you can use a parchment paper in there but it’s not necessary, the heat of the vessel will immediately seal the bottom of the dough and it won’t stick), give the dough a good quick, decisive slash on top using a razor or a very sharp knife (to allow the gases to rise from the bread in a controlled manner while it’s getting baked without them seeking an alternative route resulting in ripping the bread) - later on you can play with various designs for that (and in that case first turn the dough from the banneton on a parchment paper, do your ornamental scoring and then transfer it carefully into the Dutch oven using that parchment paper) but this dough with a high percentage of fold-in isn’t the best for you to practice on. We can talk all about that later when we’re using a simpler recipe! One quite deep, fast slash will do here. Cover it with the lid and bake on 500F for 20 minutes, then uncover, lower the oven temperature to 450F and bake another 20 - 30 minutes depending on the size of your loaf and until you reach your desired color. I like my bread crust pretty caramelized so I go on the longer side.

Remove the vessel from the oven, carefully take the bread out and gently knock on the bottom side. If it gives you a nice, dull sounding ring, it means you work is done and it’s fully baked. Place it on a cooling rack and, if you’re lucky, you’ll hear some of that rewarding bread song caused by the sudden temperature change. And then use all of your restraint to not cut into it right away, give it at least 30-60 minutes to cool down a bit because it’s still setting at this point. This is very important, especially with higher percentage rye bread, which needs to cool down completely before being cut into.

Wow, this was longer than expected and yet there is so much more to say about making sourdough. Hopefully I made myself clear and you’ll be able to use this recipe and method to create some delicious sourdough bread yourself! Definitely reach out with any questions you might have and let me know how it went! Good luck! 

Some helpful resources:

Full Proof Baking - my favorite bread videos by “a sourdough-obsessed home baker from Chicago”

The Fresh Loaf - News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts 

Against the Grain - a podcast from Zach, my favorite Denver baker at whose Rebel Bread Bakery I teach some classes, too

Sourdough Podcast - inspiring stories from the sourdough community

*This article was written based on my personal experience with years of bread baking. Recipe was inspired by Sarah Owens’ cookbook called Sourdough.

Text and photographs © Andrea Gralow 2020. All rights reserved.

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