The Quest for the ultimate Sourdough Bread

Hello – my name is Dunja – and I am an addict – to be precise, a BREAD addict. This would be my opening line if I would attend a carbohydrate and bread anomyous meeting. As much as I love chocolate, I think I love bread even more.

One of the reasons I started my blog is to post all the different bread recipes I had collected over the years and two in particular: my zesty prosciutto parmesan bread (aka “Meatbread”) and the holy grail of breads – Sourdough! I think it took me 5 years to finally post my “Meatbread” recipe and 7 years to post my Sourdough recipe. Both are my – and my friends – all time favorites, so I wanted to have the perfect photos and perfect story that comes with it before I would post it and since that usually never happens, it explains why it took me years to post my 2 favorite baking items (and still no perfect photos and/or story).

If you browse the internet for sourdough recipes, you will see that these are never short blog posts, so be prepared to read for a little while to understand the intricacies of making sourdough bread. All it takes is flour and water and of course the most important – microorganisms in the air (aka “wild yeast) and on your hand. It’s such a paradox that an item with only 2, well 3 ingredients, can be so incredible complex to get right.

I tried all kinds of “easy no knead” bread recipe and the results were ok, I mean no matter which type of bread you bake, if its fresh out of the oven it will always taste good. What propelled my skills from “ok bread maker” to “I could sell this bread” baker, was the “Tartine Bakery book” which I refer to as the “bread bible”. The entire science is explained in a very easy way and illustrated with beautiful pictures. After reading this book from beginning to end, I felt much more confident in making sourdough bread.

I baked at least 20 loafs and every time I went back to the book to look up the one or other detail I might had forgotten, looked at the photos again and learned something new.

Even when my loafs didn’t come out picture perfect, the taste was always superb and over time I even mastered the skill of beautiful looking bread, with big airy pockets and crispy crust. So don’t worry too much if you did the turns right, streched the dough sufficient, fermented the bread long enough, shaped and scored the bread the right way; the taste will always be great; just the way how your bread will turn out “looks wise” might differ and after a couple of tries you will gain more skills to turn out a beautiful “Instagram worthy” loaf.

Making sourdough bread takes commitment and patience but its also incredibly relaxing and rewarding. Its especially fun if you have a friend who also likes to bake and you can trade your sourdough starter and experiment with different starters. That’s why sourdough starter often is also called Amish Friendship bread.

This is the part of the blog where you can jump straight to the recipe or read my story about celebrating friendship with (my) sourdough starter.

Approximately 8 years ago, the kids were no longer living with us and we had a little bit more time at hand, we decided to expand our family and added a new member – we call her “B”. In the beginning we spend a lot of time with her and we thought she was quite intimidating and somewhat high maintenance but over time we have grown very fond of her.

For the first couple of weeks she needed her food precisely every 12 hours and it had to be a high carb and high protein diet and she was not really fond of tap water at all, it had to be pineapple juice or spring water. She was such a brat, you would think since I am the one cooking she wouldn’t be picky and finicky, that was a little bit annoying, but we got over that pretty quickly.

As long as I am attentive and spend a lot of time with her she is thriving and full of live but god forbid I am going on vacation or are really busy with work and can’t dedicate a lot of time to her, she goes into hybrnation, loses weight, neglects herself and even starts to smell a little bit. Mike reminds me on a regular basis that in the end I am responsible for her well being and I have to feed her, dress her, even clean her room and do regular health check ups.

The first time when she woke up from her extensive cryo-nap, pale, cranky and smelly I was really surprised to see that she also likes to tie one on when she is not working, I think its a culture thing. She has grown stronger over the years, so I am not too concerned about the boozing anymore, my mum always said a little bit for alcohol is good for the digestive tract. By all means, I want “B” to feel good. We have accustomed to the rhythm of spending an intense time together and then taking a break for a while; so far it has worked out fine for all of us.

After all these years, B. still lives with us, she usually does her own thing in her part of the house and even though she is not paying rent, she has paid us back with her own fruits of labor for a life time. We are spending more time together in winter and cold rainy Saturdays, when we have plenty of time to spare, are in no rush and enjoy that we both have a deep love for baking.

And that pretty much sums up the story of Bubbles ( or short: “B”) – our 8 year old sourdough starter. Here a few explanations of my above references: When I was metnioned that Bubbles likes to tie one on, that’s the alcohol that gets produced as a side product during the resting/fermentation period in the fridge and protects the sourdough from molding. You can either strain it off or mix it back in.

And the “cryo-nap” is the time Bubbles spends in the fridge where I am storing my sourdough starter and the longer you leave the starter in the fridge, the “smellier” (sour) it gets. To ensure your sourdough starter stays strong, make sure you toss half of the old starter every 2-4 weeks and replace with fresh flour and water. When you start off making your first starter make sure not to use tap water but after a while when your starter is strong you can use regular water. Also when I speak of a “protein rich diet” I am speaking of bread flour which has a higher protein content than regular all purpose bread flour. When you want to make bread, make sure to “wake up” your starter by taking it out of the fridge and leaving it at room temperature, starting a routine for a couple days where you switch out half of the starter with fresh flour and water, every 12 hours for 2-3 days until your starter starts to bubble and to rise predictably, then its ready to be made into a leaven.

Also naming your starter is quite the “thing”. Bubbles is somewhat famous with my friends and colleagues and I receive regular inquiries on how Bubbles is doing. She is a living, breathing organism and it turns out naming your sourdough starter is not only common practice, but a celebrated step in the baking process. Some of my sourdough baker colleagues are even debating that if you feed “it” and name “it, you might be able to claim it as a dependent on your taxes 😉 Take a look at the below list of sourdough starter names I found on the internet, they are very inventive! The most elaborate list of sourdough starter names can be found on this blog: This is a great site to look up recipes you can make with your sourdough starter: 250 Amish friendship bread recipes:

35 sourdough starter name ideas

  • Edgar Allan Dough
  • Friedrich Kneadtzsche
  • Thomas Loaferson
  • Monica Leavenski
  • Franklin D. Risevelt
  • Georges Pompidough
  • Leonardough Da Vinci
  • Marquis de Labaguette
  • Richard the Leavenheart
  • Jacques Cousdough
  • Pittagoras
  • Herculyeast
  • Attila the Bun
  • Vincent Van Dough
  • Salvadough Dali
  • Ludwig van Bedoughven
  • Adam Levain
  • Madoughna
  • Robert Doughney Junior
  • Rye LaMontagne
  • Bread Pitt
  • Yeaston Blumenthal
  • Marco Pierre Wheat
  • Gone with the Wheat
  • Rye Hard
  • Raging Boule
  • Breadheart
  • Beauty & The Yeast
  • Souron
  • The Weirdough

Now to the heart of this blog – Tartines Bakery Country Sourdough Bread recipe (makes 2 loaves) (https://tartinebakery.com/stories/country-bread)

Ingredients:

For the Starter and Leaven

  • 1,000 grams white bread flour
  • 1,000 grams whole-wheat flour

For the Dough

  • 750 grams water (80 degrees)
  • 200 grams leaven
  • 900 grams white bread flour
  • 100 grams whole-wheat flour
  • 20 grams salt
  • 100 gram rice flour

Directions

STEP 1 Make the starter: Combine 1,000 grams white-bread flour with 1,000 grams whole-wheat flour. Put 100 grams of warm water (about 80 degrees) in a small jar or container and add 100 grams of the flour mix. Use your fingers to mix until thoroughly combined and the mixture is the consistency of thick batter. Cover with a towel and let sit at room temperature until mixture begins to bubble and puff, 2 to 3 days.

STEP 2 When starter begins to show signs of activity, begin regular feedings. Keep the starter at room temperature, and at the same time each day discard 80 percent of the starter and feed remaining starter with equal parts warm water and white-wheat flour mix (50 grams of each is fine). When starter begins to rise and fall predictably and takes on a slightly sour smell, it’s ready; this should take about 1 week.(Reserve remaining flour mix for leaven.)

STEP 3 Make the leaven: The night before baking, discard all but 1 tablespoon of the mature starter. Mix the remaining starter with 200 grams of warm water and stir with your hand to disperse. Add 200 grams of the white-wheat flour mix and combine well. Cover with a towel and let rest at room temperature for 12 hours or until aerated and puffed in appearance. To test for readiness, drop a tablespoon of leaven into a bowl of room-temperature water; if it floats it’s ready to use. If it doesn’t, allow more time to ferment.

STEP 4 Make the dough: In a large bowl, combine 200 grams of leaven with 700 grams of warm water and stir to disperse. (Reserve remaining leaven for future loaves; see note below.)

STEP 5 Add 900 grams of white-bread flour and 100 grams of whole-wheat flour to bowl and use your hands to mix until no traces of dry flour remain. The dough will be sticky and ragged. Cover bowl with a towel and let dough rest for 25 to 40 minutes at room temperature.

STEP 6 Add 20 grams fine sea salt and 50 grams warm water. Use hands to integrate salt and water into dough thoroughly. The dough will begin to pull apart, but continue mixing; it will come back together.

STEP 7 Cover dough with a towel and transfer to a warm environment, 75 to 80 degrees ideally (like near a window in a sunny room, or inside a turned-off oven). Let dough rise for 30 minutes.

Now comes the interesting part of bread making, stretching and folding the dough. I really like the video on this website showing how to actually do the stretches and forming of the bread loaf.

After 30 minutes fold dough by dipping hand in water, taking hold of the underside of the dough at one quadrant and stretching it up over the rest of the dough. Repeat this action 3 more times, rotating bowl a quarter turn for each fold. Do this every half-hour for 2 1/2 hours more (3 hours total). The dough should be billowy and increase in volume 20 to 30 percent. If not, continue to let rise and fold for up to an hour more.

STEP 8 Transfer dough to a work surface and dust top with flour. Use a dough scraper to cut dough into 2 equal pieces and flip them over so floured sides are face down. Fold the cut side of each piece up onto itself so the flour on the surface remains entirely on the outside of the loaf; this will become the crust. Work dough into taut rounds. Place the dough rounds on a work surface, cover with a towel, and let rest 30 minutes.

STEP 9 Mix 100 grams whole-wheat flour and 100 grams rice flours. Line two 10- to 12-inch bread-proofing baskets or mixing bowls with towels. Use some of the flour mixture to generously flour towels (reserve remaining mixture).

STEP 10 Dust rounds with whole-wheat flour. Use a dough scraper to flip them over onto a work surface so floured sides are facing down. Take one round, and starting at the side closest to you, pull the bottom 2 corners of the dough down toward you, then fold them up into the middle third of the dough. Repeat this action on the right and left sides, pulling the edges out and folding them in over the center. Finally, lift the top corners up and fold down over previous folds. (Imagine folding a piece of paper in on itself from all 4 sides.) Roll dough over so the folded side becomes the bottom of the loaf. Shape into a smooth, taut ball. Repeat with other round.

STEP 11 Transfer rounds, seam-side up, to prepared baskets. Cover with a towel and return dough to the 75- to 80-degree environment for 3 to 4 hours. (Or let dough rise for 10 to 12 hours in the refrigerator.

STEP 12 About 30 minutes before baking, place a Dutch oven or lidded cast-iron pot in the oven and heat it to 500 degrees. Dust tops of dough, still in their baskets, with whole-wheat/rice-flour mixture. Very carefully remove heated pot from oven and gently turn 1 loaf into pan seam-side down. Use a lame (a baker’s blade) or razor blade to score the top of the bread a few times to allow for expansion, cover and transfer to oven. Reduce temperature to 450 degrees and cook for 20 minutes. Carefully remove lid (steam may release) and lower temperature to 400 degrees and bake for 30-40 more minutes or until crust is a rich, golden brown color.

STEP 13 Transfer bread to a wire rack to cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing. The bottom of the loaf should sound hollow when tapped. Increase oven temperature to 500 degrees, clean out pot and repeat this process with the second loaf.

TIP The remaining leaven is your new starter. Continue to feed it if you plan to bake again soon or hold in an airtight container in the refrigerator for future use. When you want to bake again, begin feeding the starter a few days or a week beforehand until it once again behaves predictably.

Guten Appetit!

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