This is going to be a long post. It’s as long as the complexity of this very detailed process (for me anyway!) of producing the perfect loaf. My post isn’t going to give you the secrets and tried and true techniques for sourdough creation as I’m definitely not an expert. Instead I’ll try and show you what I’ve learnt in this failed attempt. As they say in ashtanga yoga, “practice, practice, practice, and all is coming”.
It’s been a few years since I last attempted the perfect loaf. It wasn’t perfect back then, but I got close to producing a decent sourdough – good enough for family and friends to enjoy. So this time round I wanted to try a new recipe. An amazing sourdough baker on Instagram whom I’ve been following – trevorjaywilson suggested I try another amazing sourdough baker – maurizio‘s basic sourdough recipe. Maurizio’s blog is so detailed with beautiful photos – you can’t help but want to try all his recipes. For the full recipe, steps and techniques, check out his post on his blog, The Perfect Loaf here.
As you may have read in my earlier post, I’ve coaxed my original starter out from hibernation and it’s been ready and waiting for me to use. With sourdough baking you are constantly learning – everything from ambient room temperature, type or brand of flour, percentage of water vs flour, strength of your starter etc all come into play and one small tweak can change the outcome of the next step and so on. Unless you’re a dedicated baker, you’ll probably need to wing it as you go and figure out how to fit the two day process into your daily routine.
So what I learned in this sourdough bake fail is that I need to have a really strong starter before I build my leaven. One needs to feed it for a couple of days after it’s been sitting in the fridge to get it to the right strength. A strong starter will build a strong leaven which in turn builds strong dough with lots of lovely holes you would expect the perfect loaf to have.
Here’s my leaven:
Around 4 hours later, I mixed my dough and let it sit for an hour to autolyse. I used as close to what I could get to the flours in Maurizio’s recipe.
After an hour, the next step is to mix your leaven into your dough, along with the reserved 50 grams of water and 18 grams of salt.
The dough (left), leaven (right), reserved water and salt ready to be mixed together:
Hard to tell if my leaven is fully ready as I made the mistake of using a metal bowl. I’d suggest using a glass jar or plastic container so you can see the bubbles and the expansion. Ideally you should see bubbles at the side of the jar and bubbles at the top, and it should have increased in size by a third or so. With my leaven, there were only few very faint bubbles at the top.
The next step is tricky, as it’s slightly different to what I remember with previous recipes. I found it very slimy and with chunky bits, and the water didn’t seem to incorporate well into the dough. Maurizio suggests to mix your water and salt into your leaven first before spreading it over the top of your dough and use a pinching technique to combine. I tried that on my subsequent bake and it seemed to work a bit better!
After combining the leaven and dough:
Not as smooth as Maurizio’s…
Now comes the bulk fermentation stage. This stage should take around 4 hours and the dough should be stretched and folded every 30 minutes. You do this three times and then let it rest for the remainder of the time.
After the first set of stretch and fold:
Still a shaggy mess…
And this is after the second set of stretch and fold (I left it longer than the 30 mins unfortunately as I was pottering about and couldn’t get back to it on time – more like 60 minutes):
The last stretch and fold:
Now let it rest for the next 2.5 hours.
Here it is after a bit longer than the suggested time. I came back to my dough after an additional 3 hours. At this point you start the “divide and pre-shape” process by gently dumping your dough onto the counter and then dividing, resting and shaping into two loaves.
Quite proud of the strength of these loaves but don’t judge a loaf by it’s skin.
Once you’ve done the shaping and left them to prove in between each mini step, in to the bowl they go on top of a lightly rice-floured clean tea towel, seam side up.
Now they go into the fridge overnight to “rest and prove” for 16 hours. I let them rest for about 12 hours.
The next morning I got up early to pre-heat the oven at 7am, so I could bake at 8am. Here’s my first loaf, scored and flipped and placed into the pre-heated cast iron pot. I’ll show you some pics of the flipping process with my second loaf as I forgot to take photos for this one.
Scoring the loaf itself is another art in itself, just ensure you have a sharp or serrated knife and make it a swift, confident slash. For the first 20 minutes of baking, the lid stays on top to trap the steam which enables it to obtain the “oven spring” ie the rise.
Not looking too bad after 20 minutes:
For the last 30 minutes of baking, remove the lid (carefully!).
And here’s what it looks like:
The loaf turned out well – at first glance. Unfortunately once I cut into it, the fail is quite evident. It was super dense and a very heavy crumb structure!
Once you’ve got it out, you can stick your pot back in to preheat for your second loaf. I really like that this recipe allows you to do two smaller loaves. One feeds our family perfectly, and the other I like to give away.
The second loaf being flipped:
This was a new technique for me and one I’m going to keep. In order to do this – make sure you drop your loaf seam side up into your proofing bowl/basket. Then simply lay some baking paper over the top of your bowl, cover with a pizza tray or similar and flip. It’s then easy to remove the bowl and tea towel without moving your loaf too much.
Into the preheated pot it goes – slide or lower your baking paper carefully!
Post 20 minutes bake:
I gave this one to a friend, and just like the first loaf, you can see it’s a very dense crumb!