Sourdough 1.0

Sadly, my bread does not look like this...yet.

Sadly, my bread does not look like this…yet.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but one of my goals for 2013 is to learn to do more stuff. The first project I decided to tackle is sourdough bread. Cooking has long been a hobby of mine, but where cooking feels more like art, baking is much more a science. But being in San Francisco, I can’t help but want to master the true San Francisco treat (I’ve never seen—much less eaten—Rice-a-Roni in this town, but good, fresh sourdough is everywhere).

When it comes to sourdough, the gold standard is Chad Robertson’s Country Bread from Tartine. It’s got a light tang, a crisp crust, and a wonderful open crumb. So for my sourdough project, I figured I’d start with the best.

The leaven.

The leaven.

After one failed attempt, I was able to keep a starter going after a workshop from the bread gurus at Sour Flour. Feeding it twice daily, with a 1:5:5 ratio of starter, flour, and water, I was able to get the starter rising reliably after each feeding.

The night before my first baking day, I combined my starter with 200 grams of a 50/50 white & whole wheat flour mix, and 200 grams of warm water to create the leaven.

The next morning, I added the flour, water and salt to make my dough. Since it was the middle of winter in San Francisco, the ambient temperature was quite cool. I improvised a proofing box by boiling a pot of water, and placing it on the bottom rack of my oven, with the fermenting dough up top.

MacGyver'd proofing box.

MacGyver’d proofing box.

After about 4 hours of proofing, the dough had doubled in size. I shaped the loaves, and returned them to the oven for final proofing. Another couple of hours, and the loaves were ready to bake.

20 minutes in a covered dutch oven, plus 25 more minutes uncovered, and my first loaf of sourdough was done. I didn’t get the “oven spring” I was hoping for, so the loaves were fairly flat. I think this was due to not quite enough gluten development in the dough, and some problems I had transferring the loaves, which kind of killed their shape.

v. 1.0: Great flavor, but a little flat.

v. 1.0: Great flavor, but a little flat.

Despite the problems, however, the flavor was fantastic. I also learned a lot about how to work the dough, what to expect, and how to improve my sourdough going forward. I also had a crash course removing dried bread dough from my bowls, dishtowels, countertops, cabinet doors, and pants.

For now, my starter is relaxing in the fridge, and I’m looking forward to baking Sourdough 1.1 in the next week or so.

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