kaberett: photograph of the Moon taken from the northern hemisphere by GH Revera (moon)
[personal profile] kaberett
My starter is much happier when I feed it filtered water than when I feed it mains water; this is presumably because it is, fundamentally, A Culture, and mains water is deliberately treated to discourage that.

So: currently, after I've removed 100g of starter to make bread with, I'm feeding it equal masses of spelt flour and filtered water (in theory to approximately double the volume; in practice, I'm often doing ~50g of each), giving it a good stir, and popping it back in the fridge. (I did have it in a Kilner jar, with the seal ring removed; currently it's living in a Sistema soup mug, which most importantly means that if I drop it it won't shatter everywhere, but has the added bonuses that it's fairly light and that the lid clips on firmly and it can still be exposed to the outside environment and air and local cultures by dint of having the steam vent opened. In addition to which the pot is freezer-safe so I can Just Transfer It To The Freezer if I'm going to be neglecting it for longer than a week.)

The day before I want to make bread I'm removing the starter from the fridge and sitting it on the side to warm up overnight.

I'm then taking 100g of starter, per the above, and whisking it with 325ml filtered water, ditto. (The recipe I am working from reckons 350ml water, but I was finding when I started that that resulted in a dough that was much too wet, so I've cut it down a little.) To that gets added 500g of strong white bread flour (I've not yet properly experimented with wholemeal or brown flours), agitated with a fork until it's a fairly rough mixture (the important point being no remaining dry patches), and leaving it to sit for half an hour to think about the world. (More specifically, you're leaving it to let all of the flour absorb all of the water, and for the gluten to start developing, and for the culture to get its head around the fact that it's suddenly got a large meal before you apply poison to it.)

At this point one boils the kettle, makes a cup of tea, and weighs 12g of salt and 25ml (... 25g) of hot water into another mug, and swish it around a bit to encourage the salt to dissolve. (The salt is necessary to encourage development of gluten; I could try cutting it a bit but I'm fundamentally pretty sure that my previous suboptimal attempts at sourdough were failures largely because I wasn't adding enough salt.)

After the 30 minutes of sitting-and-thinking are up (also, who are we kidding, I routinely let it run longer than that because what even is executive function) and the brine has cooled a little, the latter gets added to the rough mixture. This gets folded in: turn the bowl, reaching underneath the small pile of proto-dough, grabbing a handful, and folding it into the middle, gradually turning it into a ball. Spend about 30 seconds doing this, then leave it to rest for (at least, see above) ten minutes.

Then repeat the folding-and-resting. (In practice, I am routinely leaving it at least half an hour between folding, because Executive Function Is Hard.) This gets repeated up to ten times: the recipe I am following says 10, but Executive Function, so in fact I just do it until the dough has got itself broadly smooth and elastic, with all of the initial lumps worked out. (The aim here is to get all the gluten strands cheerfully aligned and pointing in the same direction, as well as encouraging them to develop, while also allowing the dough to develop some structure given that sourdough cultures tend to be less enthusiastic about producing carbon dioxide than commercial yeasts -- i.e. you don't want to knock all of the air/structure out through Trad Kneading and have it take even longer to rise.)

In theory, one then leaves it to rest for two hours underneath some lightly-oiled clingfilm, before turning it (gently) onto a floured board, folding it into a square and leaving it smooth-side-up under said clingfilm for 30 minutes, and repeating the process once more before moving the dough (smooth side down) into the proving basket/bowl/whatever for the final rise.

In practice I am Bad At This Many Steps, so often what happens is that it gets to sit in its bowl between "when I finish folding it" and "bedtime", at which point I flour the proving basket and dump the bread in after a single set of folds. (I have a banneton with a linen liner, of which I am a great fan: the elastic around the edge of the liner means that when I invert the basket to turn out the proto-loaf, it stays attached to the basket but turns itself inside out, which makes detaching the dough from it much easier than I found using a tea towel + a bowl.)

Also in theory, according to the recipe I was following from, at this point (1) you are supposed to cover the loaf with lightly-oiled clingfilm (you can perfectly well use the same piece you employed for the final set of folding) and (2) you are supposed to leave it to rise for 4 hours, or overnight in the fridge. (The longer you leave it the more the flavour will develop BUT equally you don't want it to become Too Tol or indeed to have the culture exhaust all of its food; letting it sit in the fridge versus on the side also has An Effect on flavour due? to metabolic pathways? and which bacteria prevail? I think?)

YOU WILL BE SHOCKED TO LEARN that I think this, too, sounds Difficult. What I am actually doing, which seems to be working quite well, is dispensing with the clingfilm altogether, doing one quick set of bonus folds before depositing the bread (smooth side down) in the (floured, using cheap plain flour) banneton, and leaving the proving basket out on the side overnight. This does mean that the base of the bread (once inverted; the top, when in the basket) dries out somewhat, but at least the way I'm baking it, that seems to result in the bottom crust being properly cooked and pleasantly chewy rather than slightly pale and limp and indifferent, which suits me rather better.

And then I go to bed.

In the morning, the oven gets set heating to a little over 200°C -- with a baking stone sat inside it -- while I brush my teeth/do some physio/etc. About 15 minutes in the kettle gets boiled and a warm drink of some type gets made. When the oven hits temperature, its door gets opened, the baking stone gets moved onto the hobs, ~500ml of hot kettle-water go into a tray that lives at the base of the oven, and the door gets shut again. (The steam thus produced is less effective than a proper commercial oven, but it helps keep the crust hydrated for a little longer, which both lets the bread expand more and means you end up with a more characteristically chewy crust.) I now invert the banneton over the baking stone, gently detach any sticky dough from the linen liner (this shouldn't be necessary if I've floured the liner adequately), and use a sharp knife to quickly slash two long lines down either side of the loaf (my banneton is oval; were it circular I'd be slashing a square).

And then the whole lot goes into the oven for about 30 minutes.

At this point, depending on how much cope I had to actually do the folding process the night before, the bread turns into more or less of a puddle on the baking stone -- it likes to ooze gently sideways. BUT. The magic of heat and gluten (sorry, Simon) and your happy little yeast culture is that it will gradually puff itself up, lifting itself away from the baking stone, and become a happy tol bread that tastes amazing and is, depending on your morning routine, ready in time for breakfast. (Our morning routine is slightly elongated because of the sheer amount of drugs both of us have to take, via a variety of application methods, so this fits in very well.)

A loaf made with 500g of flour lasts us about two days (or three if I'm not eating it for lunch and we're not having a bread-and-oil-and-vinegar course with dinner). So, given a trip to the market on Saturday for Sunday-morning exciting-not-by-me bread, at the moment I'm tending to take the starter out of the fridge sometime on Sunday afternoon; begin making a loaf around lunchtime, feeding the starter and putting it back in the fridge once the initial dough is in its first resting stage, with the folding extending over the course of the afternoon as-and-when I can peel myself off the sofa; it gets its two-hour rest over the course of the evening/dinner; and then it gets its final rise overnight in the basket, to get cooked the next morning. There's then a full day in which I don't do anything at all bread-related, generally followed by doing it all again the next day.

This is obviously significantly facilitated by the fact that I am largely working from home at the moment, and by the fact that it's actively useful for me to have an external prompt to get up and move every so often; when I'm doing lab-based work we usually end up using the breadmaker instead. But I'm really very enjoying the results, which are increasingly photogenic ([personal profile] sebastienne visited this weekend and just sort of assumed we'd picked up the half-remaining-loaf on the breadboard from the market/a shop, which was Gratifying), and I'm pleased and relieved that even though I'm not following the Official Guidance strictly and to the letter I'm getting good and tasty results. So, you know, here's my modifications in case anyone else wants to have a go with slightly more conviction that it won't all go horribly wrong if you don't do everything exactly and perfectly as the recipe book tells you to.
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