As you may have read late last week, I have been experimenting with a wild yeast sourdough starter. Once my starter was bubbling happily
the next step was to see what would happen when I used it as the foundation for bread.
Again following the recommendations on Michael Ruhlman’s sourdough starter post, yesterday I combined 10 ounces of starter, 10 ounces of water, 20 ounces of flour and 0.8 ounces of salt in my mixer.
Using the dough hook, I kneaded the dough until it was smooth and supple. As I was kneading I continued to add water, probably adding at least another 1/4 cup until the dough seemed “wet enough.” I prefer a slightly wetter dough as I have found that it results in a chewier bread with larger, shiny holes.
Once the dough felt ready, I turned it out of the mixer onto a lightly floured board, kneaded it by hand briefly, and shaped it into a round to ready it for the first rise.
I put the dough into a bowl, covered it, and left it to rise for several hours while I went out to run some errands. When I got home, I deflated the dough (it had not risen a huge amount, but was softer and much puffier than when I left), and set it to rise again. Several hours later (after dinner, in fact), I deflated the dough again, and reshaped it for one last rise.
This time I put the dough into the refrigerator and let it rise slowly overnight. This morning, I removed it from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature
while I preheated the oven, a baking stone and a cast iron skillet (for generating steam, more about that later) to 450 degrees F. After about an hour of preheating, I gently inverted the dough onto a peel dusted with coarse cornmeal (polenta)
and slashed the top
with my bread slashing tool (or lame).
I slid the loaf from the peel onto the preheated baking stone and poured about 1/4 cup of water into the hot cast iron skillet to generate some steam.
Following the baking instructions in my favorite book about bread, Bread Alone, I added more water to the skillet after three minutes and then baked the loaf for 20 minutes. I then lowered the oven temperature to 400 degrees F and continued baking.
After the recommended 15 minutes at 400 degrees, I checked the loaf by taking it from the oven and thumping the bottom while listening for a hollow sound. The dull thud I heard meant that the bread was not quite ready so I returned the loaf to the oven for an additional 5 minutes. I repeated this process twice more until the bread sounded quite hollow and I removed it from the oven to cool.
While the bread had not risen as high as some other loaves I have made, the crust was shiny and had the “rich caramel color” that I like to see in a well-baked loaf.
As tempting as it was (and I wish you had been here to savor the toasty smell of just-baked bread that filled my kitchen) I waited for the bread to cool before slicing it; bread actually finishes baking as it cools and slicing it too soon will result in an under-baked, doughy, loaf.
And my final evaluation? The bread has some of the big holes I like to see, but the crumb is a little dense for my liking and the big holes that have formed are concentrated near the top of the loaf instead of distributed evenly throughout the bread. The crust has a nice crunch and is also chewy — a perfect combination — and the bread tastes good.
My guess is that the starter needs more time to develop and that I might want to add even more water to my dough next time. We’ll eat this loaf and I’ll make another later in the week. I’ll keep you posted!