Monday, February 15, 2016

Sourdough Boule

Are you getting sick of the gluten-free stuff I've been posting? Are you ready for some gluten-packed stuff? Good. Me, too. Here's how you can make your own sourdough bread, that's excellent for grilled cheese sandwiches, french toast, or just plain with jam.

Sourdough is really time-consuming. Seriously, if you want a bread tonight, try the braided basil bread instead. You'll need some special-ish techniques and ingredients in this recipe, and I've (unfortunately) not found a shortcut for this particular product. Oh, well! Here we go...

A sourdough is traditionally made with what's known as a poolish. A poolish is a sort of yeasty starter that's admittedly time-consuming, but you'll really want to cultivate your own starter if you're serious about baking your own breads in the long-term. I have my own mother dough that sits in my fridge, just sitting in its own fermented juices of deliciousness, waiting to impart some beautiful flavor into any breads I might make. To make your own mother dough, simply follow these instructions:

Mother Dough

  • 300 g all-purpose flour
  • 300 g warm water(body temperature)
  • A pinch of dry yeast
  • 1 Tbsp organic honey**
Simply mix all ingredients in a tupperware container and let sit in a relatively warm place for 24 hours, undisturbed. When you check on it, the yeast should have activated and started to bubble and grow. Now, you must feed it, as it is a living thing. 

Feed your mother dough the first time with 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, stirring to combine, and then leaving to set overnight. The next day, feed it with 1/4 warm water and about a teaspoon of sugar. Repeat this process for four days, until you're sure you have a living, breathing, cultivated thing. Store this baby in the fridge when you aren't using it, or it will die.

Sourdough Boule
makes one boule

  • 400 g mother dough
  • 500 g bread flour
  • 25 g sugar
  • 1 free range egg, room temperature
  • 325 g water at body temperature
  • 5 g yeast
  • 8 g kosher salt
  • Cornmeal, A/N
Place your flour, salt, sugar, and yeast into the bowl of a standing mixer and stir to combine all. Make a well in the middle of the flour  mixture and dump in your water, your mother dough, and egg, and then mix everything together using the dough hook attachment for your mixer. The dough will be a little sticky at first, but it will come together in the end. You'll let this knead for about 10 minutes, or until it passes the windowpane test(as depicted in Braided Basil Bread). Scrape up your dough in your hands and drop into a well-lubricated bowl and cover. 

Now, here's the trick: if you don't mind waiting awhile, let this proof (double in size) in the fridge for a couple of days. I'm not joking; this takes two days, but the result will be an unbelievably complex and delicious flavor, absolutely worthy of being called sourdough. You can also simply cover with plastic wrap and let it sit on the kitchen counter overnight. Its not a dough that's a quick-riser anyway, so you may as well start this the night before you actually want it.


Once your dough has doubled in size, punch it down and shape it into a bowl-shape. You now have a couple of options with your final proof... With the first method: vigorously flour a tea towel and set it on the inside of a large bowl. Now set your nicely formed ball of dough into said towel and let proof until doubled again. (Yes, I know, more waiting.) If you don't have a tea towel, use a vigorously-floured paper towel set on the inside of the bowl. You'll want to do this to get that signature boule shape(which literally means bowl). The other option is that you just let it set in a well-lubricated dutch oven(or large casserole dish) and let proof. The bread is ready to bake when it is gently pressed with the index finger and the dough springs back.

Bread scoring patterns have been used for many
things, such as showing a baker's signature style,
or even marking breads to tell the different types apart!
Heat your oven to a scorching 450 degrees. While that's heating, find a sheet pan that you like. Dust the "top" of your boule with plenty of cornmeal and put the pan over the top. Carefully flip over your boule so that the bowl is upside down on your now right-side-up sheet pan. Carefully peel away your towel to expose the bread beneath. Take the sharpest knife you own and score a few slashes in the top. These can be random, in shapes, or just simple slashes across the whole top.

When you are absolutely certain that your oven is screaming hot, prepare for some magic.

You know how baguettes have that signature crispy-hard crust on their breads? The secret is steam. Some commercial ovens have steam-injection features, but 99% of us poor slobs cannot afford that awesome luxury, so we just have to make due with this little trick:

In your screaming hot oven, chuck a pie-tin FULL of ice into the bottom of the oven, underneath your bread as it bakes. Slam that oven door shut and reduce your heat to 400 degrees and let that bake for about 20 minutes. Once that timer's finished, reduce the heat to 350 and let that continue to bake for another 30 minutes, or until the bread has reached an internal temperature of 200 degrees F. (Invest in a thermometer; they're really cheap on amazon.com.)

Remove your bread from the oven and let cool before slicing into. If you used a dutch oven to cook your bread, remove it form the pan so as not to ruin your beautiful crust while it cools. You'll actually want to flip this and cool it upside down so that the bottom is exposed to the air. If you have a cooling rack, even better. This crust needs air to breathe, and cannot be soggy on the bottom, no sir!

Your resulting bread should be a fantastic creation, a child of patience and an exercise in your will to learn. Like I said, this bread takes a long time, but the resulting product is absolutely worth it in the end. While you could buy sourdough bread, you'll not feel the same kind of satisfaction you do when you make your own, especially for something as time-consuming as this.