The year is 2020 and a lot has happened.
I got a new job, moved back home to New York City, and we’re all stuck inside because of Coronavirus. The last blog post I did was my reflection of 2019, and we’re more than one-third of the way into the next year. I guess now is a great time as ever to write a blog post.
I mean, why wouldn’t it be? I’ve been working from home for the past 60 days, what else would I be doing? Work has been pretty non-stop since Coronavirus hit New York City, and it hit the Big Apple HARD. But I’ve managed to find time to keep myself sane and do my best to not go stir crazy.
I’ve gotten into coloring, I’m redabbling in Avatar the Last Airbender fanfiction thanks to a recent re-binge of the series, and I’m baking bread like the rest of the world.
Not really sure what the obsession is with quarantine and baking bread, but I like to be one with the times and hopped on the bread bandwagon.
I want to preface that I am by no means an experienced bread baker. I’m barely an experienced baker, so bread is an interesting challenge. I figured I’ve watched enough Great British Baking Show to hold my own against a loaf. And before quarantine started, I had baked bread only once before because I was bored—this was also still while I was in DC.
Now on day 60 (I think?) of being inside, I have now baked a total of FIVE loaves. The first two were no-knead experiments that didn’t turn out half-bad. So after two passable loaves, the next logical leap in bread baking was sourdough, right? Of course, it makes complete sense. Don’t be ridiculous.
Stores ran out of flour and yeast in an instant, so the fact that I’ve been able to make five loaves is remarkable in all honesty. I guess we’ve just been lucky to catch the last bag or so of flour on the shelves.
So—sourdough, one of my favorite loaves to buy in the store. Turns out it is also the trickiest the make at home (which makes me question the sourdough craze even more). The first hurdle was making a sourdough starter…something completely foreign to me. Thankfully, the recipe from King Arthur Flour that I used was super easy to follow and the results turned out great. I now have a wonderfully sour-smelling starter. The only downside to making your own starter is that it takes a week or so and requires a fair amount of attention. Once you have made it, you can literally conquer the world.
Onto the loaves. I have tinkered around with 3 different recipes before writing this and have had progress with each bake. The first loaf I made had great flavor, and I followed Tasty’s instructions, but my boule was a bust. I had a very flat sad-looking sourdough. And even though it tasted great, I was hoping for a better appearance. As it was my first loaf, I tried to figure out what went wrong and I learned that I had overworked the dough. Huh? I thought the bread was supposed to be kneaded and whatnot to build the gluten structure.
Apparently sourdough doesn’t need to be worked as much so you can allow air bubbles to form and that will help it rise. At least that’s how my logic brain explained it.
The second attempt, I followed the instructions from A Couple of Cooks, and the bread was much better than my first time, but the flavor wasn’t what I wanted and the dough was a bit raw when I finished baking. This mistake falls to the baking method, which I have adapted in this recipe here. What was great about the recipe from this food blogger is that they provide a video on how to fold and “knead” sourdough, which was extremely helpful and a huge explanation of why this second loaf was better.
This brings me to my third loaf—my very beautiful boule of delicious sourdough. After tinkering with amounts and technique and bake time, I’m comfortable enough with my method to share it here. The structure was a bit tight in this boule when I sliced it open, but my mom said it tasted delicious, so tight structure is fine for me! Though I want to caveat that in my next loaf, I’m going to try a different method of “kneading” and will update based on those results.
Having a Dutch oven that can withstand high heat like a Le Creuset is crucial to a good bake. They’re expensive but are SO worth it. And when you preheat your oven, let the Dutch sit in the oven as it preheats for at least 30 minutes if not longer. An hour is great if you have that time.
I've tested this recipe with a stand mixer vs. using a bowl and mixing with a spoon/spatula and the stand mixer works very well. Be sure to mix it on the lowest setting "stir" when working with the dough so it doesn't get overworked. Especially in Step 3.
When working with the bread in between proofs, make sure your hands are wet. The dough will be tacky, but wet hands vs. floured hands are better for this recipe.
Start your dough the day before you want to eat it. That way your dough has time to proof and build those air bubbles.
Most bread recipes call for a Banneton. Well, I don’t have that (lol). A good substitute is a large bowl lined with a linen cloth, which I will use in this recipe. Make sure your cloth is dusted with flour to prevent your dough from sticking. If you have a Banneton, just make sure that sucker is floured when you get to step 8.
When shaping the dough, a bench scraper is really useful, but if you don’t have one (like me because mine is in storage since I’m living with my mom for the time being) a well-floured spatula works just as well. Just be gentle.
Proofing your bread should be done in a fairly warm place, somewhere between 80° and 90° degrees
To fold your dough, slightly wet your hands and push the edges of the dough down a bit to unstick the dough. Grab the left side of the dough mixture and pull up and fold over across to the right side and then quarter-turn (you will do this four times each proof). For four turns you will always pull from the left side and fold over left to right. Here's a video that better illustrates what I'm describing - jump to 10:30)
I used plastic wrap to proof my dough, but if you have a proofing bag, that might work better for you (though never tried it so don’t know what the results would be).
To help with the caramelization process, place a baking sheet with water at the bottom of your oven in step 14. The steam will help create a nice crust. This is not a necessary step (hence why it’s here and not down there in the recipe) but I’ve done the steam method and it’s been great so far.
Now I present to you — The Ginger Foodie’s Sourdough Coronavirus Loaf.
Yield: One boule
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cup bread flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups water, room temperature
1 cup active sourdough starter
1 tablespoon salt
All-purpose flour for dusting
In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook or a large bowl, combine flour and water. It should look like a shaggy dough, not perfectly incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for an hour rest for 1 hour at room temp.
Gently stir in your sourdough starter, until incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm area to proof for 30 minutes.
Add in salt and gently mix in on the lowest setting or with your hands. Cover and proof for 30 minutes.
Fold the dough four times, turning the bowl a quarter turn after each fold. Cover and proof for 30 minutes.
Repeat step four and cover and proof for 45 minutes. Be careful not to tear the dough and break any air bubbles that have formed.
Repeat step four again, being gentle about those air bubbles and cover and proof for an hour and a half.
On a lightly floured surface, gently turn the dough out of the bowl. Lightly flour the top of the dough. Using a bench scraper and your hand to guide the dough, scoop up the edges of the dough to form a ball. Invert the bowl over on top of the dough ball and proof for 30 minutes.
Line your large bowl with a linen cloth and dust with flour. Remove the bowl covering your dough ball it should have expanded a bit but still have a rounded shape to it). Lightly flour the dough ball so it’s not sticky. Use a bench scraper to flip the dough over and gently stretch it into a rectangle, being mindful of any air bubbles and to not deflate the dough. Fold the dough over itself in thirds, and re-roll into a log or ball. Flour your dough as needed so it’s not sticky. Flip the shaped loaf into your bowl. Cover and proof for another 30 minutes.
Place your covered bowl in the fridge and proof for 12 hours, or overnight.
Place your Dutch oven on the center rack of your oven. Preheat your oven to 500°F for at least 30 minutes.
Cut a piece of parchment that is the width of your bowl. Take your bowl out of the fridge and gently pull back the sides of the dough to remove it from its holder. Place your parchment paper slide over the top of the bowl and gently invert your bowl, releasing the dough onto the parchment paper (work very slowly here because you don’t want to deflate your dough/make a mess).
Dust off any excess flour with a pastry brush. Score the top of your bread using a lame, razor blade, or sharp knife. You can do one big angled slash or try fun patterns.
Remove your preheated Dutch oven from the oven. Quickly and carefully place the parchment paper with your dough into your Dutch oven. Place back in the oven, cover and bake for 20 minutes.
Reduce the oven to 450°F and remove the lid of the Dutch oven. Bake for an additional 20 minutes, or until the crust has caramelized to a golden brown.
Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack for at least an hour.
Once cooled, enjoy your sourdough loaf with a nice spread of butter and a little sprinkle of salt.