That’s right folks, I have begun the journey of unearthing the baker within. I was lucky enough to take a bread making class at Love Apple Farms several weeks ago, and quite frankly, I think I nailed it!!! I’d like to take credit for just being awesome, but chef Maggie Cattell (instructor) deserves all of the credit. She loves bread and you can tell, it loves her back. For those of you not familiar with my previous pathetic attempts at bread making, please check out this sad little story
For those of you even a tiny bit interested, I HIGHLY recommend taking Maggie’s class in July, or any other class at Love Apple. I have taken 5; Summer Vegetable Gardening, Composting and Vermiculture, Fermented Foods, Liqueur Making and the latest, Bread Making. All classes are certainly worthy of their own blogs, but a couple of them were taken roughly 6+ years or so ago, and my memory just isn’t that good. There are a ton of classes offered there year round. They even have a Homesteading Weekend . The Farm was started and is run by Tomato Maven Cynthia Sandberg, who really knows her shit. She recruits other people who really know their shit to instruct all different kinds of classes at her farm. The end result is you starting to get to know your shit, and who isn’t striving for that?!?
Ok, on to the bread. after completing my class I embarked on a somewhat experimental sourdough bread making session. I have a starter that I got from one of my friends that I keep in the refrigerator and feed weekly. I was lucky enough to bring a bit of Maggie’s starter from class, which is kept on the kitchen counter and fed daily. I wanted to see if a different flavor or texture would be derived from either starter.
There are a few different ways you can make your dough. There is the “Straight Bowl Method” which means you throw everything into the bowl, mix it up and proceed with the rest of the process. There is also the “Sponge Method,” which uses a pre-ferment (poolish, biga, etc.). There is the “Old Dough Method,” which uses… You guessed it, old dough to influence the flavor. Finally there is the “Sourdough Method,” which uses a starter.
I used the sourdough method along with the sponge method. Sourdough is definitely “sponge worthy” (Seinfeld Joke). I prepared a poolish from each starter. The class poolish was a little flatter, but smelled more sour than the refrigerator poolish.
The Poolish sat overnight for the suggested 12 hours and then I started on making the bread. Instructions and recipe will be provided at the end of this post.
Once we completed all of the pre baking steps, our loaves were ready to go into the oven. I wanted to try two different baking methods with each loaf. Maggie suggested using a covered baking dish to achieve a good crust (we’ll call it the Maggie loaf), rather than a spritz, steam or baste of water in an open baking dish. I have to admit I was skeptical about her approach because nearly EVERYWHERE you look they are telling you to wet your bread one way or another so you get a nice crisp crust.
The second loaf (we’ll call it the skeptical loaf) I basted once with water and cooked on a perforate loaf pan (no picture). Since Maggie knows her shit, the covered baking method produced a much nicer crust of course.
What the hell is that freaky bump? It wasn’t an air bubble, it was just a mutant rise in one small part of the loaf. Odd… While both of these loaves were slightly over baked, the crust on the Maggie Loaf was nice and crunchy without being too thick, while the Skeptical Loaf produced a thicker crust. The flavor and texture were about the same despite the differences between the two starters. They must even out during the pre-ferment. This is good to know since now I feel more confident storing my starter in the fridge knowing the end product will be the same. I have since made several loaves of sourdough and each time I make one I refine it a bit more, so it just keeps getting better.
The key take aways from the class were as follows… Get a digital scale. No seriously, get one! If you want consistent results this is an essential/life changing piece of equipment. Do a pre-ferment with every bread, every time. While it takes longer, it produces a better flavor and texture. Bread is a lot of work, so do it right. Don’t take shortcuts. experiment with different types of flour. You can create your own unique signature flavor this way and it is fun. Bake your sourdough loaf in a covered baking dish. I used my Le Creuset casserole. Keep the dish in the oven during the pre-heat so your loaf starts off on a nice hot surface, place the lid on for the first half of the bake and remove for the second half so the crust browns.
If you want to take your break making to the next level, or even if you have never baked bread in your life and want to try, TAKE THE BREAD MAKING CLASS for cryin’ out loud! But don’t blame me if you become a Love Apple Farm class taking addict and turn into some kick ass homesteading, do-it-yourself ninja. That is on you!
POOLISH: (start the day before)
115 g Bread Flour (why is bread flour different than all purpose?)
115 ml Warm Water (100 degrees)
20 g Sourdough Starter
Combine flour and water in a bowl with a lid, stirring until homogenous. Add starter, mix well. Cover bowl and leave at room temperature for 12 hours or store in refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
340 g Bread Flour
180 ml Warm Water
7.5 – 10 g salt (Kosher)
1) Combine first 3 ingredients into a smooth dough and let sit for 20 minutes.
2) Add salt and mix until salt is thoroughly incorporated.
3) Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic and let sit at room temperature for 50 minutes.
4) Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and make a four letter fold. Place back in bowl, cover and let sit for 50 minutes.
5) Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and make another four letter fold. Place back in bowl, cover and let sit for 50 minutes.
6) Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and pre-shape. Cover dough with plastic and let rest for 20 minutes.
7) Shape dough and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Proof for about 2.5 hours.
8) 30 minutes to 1 hour before baking, preheat the oven to 450. Put your baking dish inside.
9) When oven is preheated pull out the baking dish, turn loaf into it, slash the top with a razor, cover and put in the oven. For my oven I decrease the temp to 375 at this point.
10) Bake for 20 minutes then remove cover to baking dish, bake for another 20-25 minutes or until crust is the desired color.
11) Remove loaf and place on cooling rack and let cool 30 minutes before slicing.
So I’ve had this sourdough starter hanging out in my fridge for a few weeks. I have been feeding it, keeping it alive, staring at it blankly, shuffling it around so I can fit other things in my fridge, all while mentally preparing for the upcoming challenge… Well today I decided to do something with it and tried my hand at making sourdough bread. After all, I consider myself to be a San Francisco native (close enough anyway), so why wouldn’t I be able to produce the sourdough bread our lovely city is famed for? I pride myself on being a pretty good cook. I’m no Thomas Keller, but I know my way around a kitchen, with one caveat… I can’t bake.
I really CAN’T bake bake for shit. I try, in fact I participate in an annual cookie exchange with some girlfriends every year and have been doing this for roughly 18 years. You would think, I would pick up a trick or two during this time, but no. Year after year, I bake 12 dozen “whatevers,” and enter them into our cute little contest that I never win. Wait I take that back, I did win one year, but only because there was a category for best display. I made these atrocious gingerbread chew things that were barely palatable, but my display was a gingerbread man sitting on a toilet, pooping them out onto an assembly line. Not only was this hilarious, it was proportionate to the quality of cookie you bit into as well. SCORE! Now if only there were a category for most alcohol consumed, I’d win or place in the top three every time!
My first foray into the world of baking my own sourdough bread was no different than my attempts at baking cookies, sadly. I have pulled off yummy dinner rolls here and there, and one decent loaf of rustic italian, but I was really excited about sourdough! Not only does it feed my belly, it feeds my obsession with cultured and fermented foods as well.
If you like to experiment with food as I do, you have come to notice that recipes, especially ones for foods you aren’t that familiar with, can be a bit tricky when it comes to interpretation. For instance, when it says to “stir in just enough flour so that the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl” it might mean to stir in enough flour so it pulls away from the sides of the bowl completely. Another thing that might be misinterpreted is when you are looking for a dough that is “sticky and elastic.” This particular stage of dough making can be quite vast. Add too much flour and you end up with a dense, hockey puck bread. Add too little and you end up with what I made… Freddy Krueger bread. The Freddy Krueger looking top happened because my dough was so sticky that the well oiled plastic wrap it was covered with while it was on its second rise, pulled the entire top layer off of what otherwise would have been a beautifully raised loaf of bread. I felt my spirit deflate right along with that loaf (sigh). I took a deep breath and shoved it into the oven anyway. I am glad I did, because despite the odd appearance of the loaf, it is actually pretty tasty and has a good texture inside. It just goes to show you, you should NEVER JUDGE A BREAD BY ITS CRUST!
I will attempt this recipe again, and post it as soon as I get it right. I will make sure to take pictures of the dough pulling away from the sides of the bowl, as well as the appropriate “sticky and elastic” texture. Here are some pictures, descriptions included… After all, sometimes the most helpful advice is hearing what NOT to do, right? This is not over sourdough!!! We will meet again soon and I will make you my bitch…
That big dent in the side is from my having to pry the loaf out of the greased pan with a spatula.