The time has finally come to grow my (successfully maintained) starter and get some bread dough ready! Woohoo!
And I apologize ahead of time for this post being a bit scattered! I am still trying to organize my thoughts on all of this so you can follow along with me here! The next one with my final results should be a bit more polished and I will include the recipe I used in it as well. If you have any thoughts or suggestions on any of this for me, please do share!
So refer to my Feeding the Starter post for the basics of that process and then we will pick up where things change a bit. So after the starter has been taken out of the fridge I fed it as I would have to maintain it (cutting the starter in half and then adding equal parts of flour and water to it and allowing it to “eat” for 12 hours). When it would have been time to feed it for a second time, instead of discarding starter, I instead added equal amounts of water and flour to the full amount of starter. (For the initial feeding I DID throw out half the starter to make sure that the starter I would be using in my bread was nice and healthy). So now you are growing your starter and you need to figure out how much of it you are going to need.
I will remind you at this point that I am not knowledgeable enough to explain all of the intricacies of this process. I am learning the ropes and asking my dad soooo many questions I must be driving him crazy (because he is so very good at baking bread). He wrote me out a basic recipe for a simple sourdough so that is what I used for this. I decided to make a double batch of this recipe so I planned to grow about 700 grams of starter (322g for each recipe and then the rest to store in the fridge for next time). Except somehow I mixed up my calculations and ended up with an absurd amount of starter so I ended up forming 6 loaves of bread (3 batches) that I am excited to bake off!
My initial two batches didn’t look quite right to me but I went with it since I don’t know that much about these things. My dough was rather sticky so I think that my problem was a combination of two things: 1) too much liquid and 2) not enough gluten developed.
So in my third batch I modified the recipe a bit and it came out a bit drier and ended up retaining it’s shape much better (and was way easier to handle)! The picture of those is the first one up at the top of this post.
I won’t know which version will taste better or bake up nicer until I get to that in the morning, since I am doing an overnight fermentation.
Alright, to break down the process: first I mixed the flour and water in the bowl of my stand mixer until combined. This is then allowed to sit for about 20 minutes to “autolyse” which is a good way to develop gluten prior to adding salt (which slows gluten formation). This allows the flour to hydrate and the enzymes to start working, particularly protease which works to break down the protein in the flour. (Read more about this process on Slashfood).
After that the starter or “levain” and the salt are added and the whole thing is mixed/kneaded until it comes together in a ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. At that point, I removed my dough and kneaded it on a very lightly floured wooden board to further develop the gluten. The goal is the get is about 75% developed at this point. I’m not exactly sure what 75% “looks like” yet but I guess I will learn over time!
The dough is then placed in a lightly oiled bowl and covered with plastic wrap. Now it is going to go through what is called “bulk fermentation”. This is when the dough “rises” all together in one “bulk”. Carbon dioxide is at work causing dough expansion in this step. Much of this gas is lost when you later divide the dough, thus necessitating the final rise or fermentation. My first two batches of bread dough didn’t look quite right so I thought I should reshape them after their overnight fermentation but my dad said NO! And I’m glad I asked him about it because he said that in reshaping them would cause a further loss of the gases that I have worked so hard to achieve in the bread. In fact, after the final rise it is important to be very careful in transferring the formed bread to the stone or sheet upon which you will be baking it.
Alright I got a bit ahead of myself there. During bulk fermentation you fold the dough every 40 minutes for a total of 2 foldings (or 3 if you feel you need it). After the first 40 minutes, uncover you bowl and fold the far edge toward you, stretching it a bit as you do so. Rotate the bowl 180 degrees and bring the opposite side over. Rotate the bowl 90 degrees, repeat, and then 180 degrees a repeat so that each side has been stretched and folded. I read that you should think about this as a way of “organizing” the gluten structure.
So there is autolyse, then bulk fermentation (which included folding) then shaping your bread into whatever shape you would like, then overnight fermentation in the fridge then the final rise as the dough comes to temperature out of the fridge then actually baking it. Regarding the shaping, I split each batch into two halves and formed each half into a “boule”, which is basically a round ball-like loaf of bread. This is a pretty traditional shape and is one of the easier ones to make. The idea here is to create surface tension with the outer layer of dough so that when it rises in the over it will expand evenly and in the right direction instead of bursting through the side of your loaf or splitting open the seam at the bottom of the loaf. I have yet to see if I did an acceptable job! Pat out a chunk of bread dough into a rough rectangle, then bring in the corners to create a center seam and press it together to seal. Then flip it over and using your pinkies and bottom edge of your hand, spin it around while pulling in at the bottom to create the surface tension. You want it to be formed into a nice tight ball.
As I mentioned before my first two batches (4 loaves) of bread dough seemed wet and therefore began to spread out considerably in the fridge. I am expecting these to be more like “sourdough ciabatta” after they are baked. Lol. I love ciabatta so I think they will be delicious but I’m not expecting the shape to be what I was originally going for! My final two loaves seem like they will hold up a little better but we shall see! Also, some of the final shape will depend upon the slits I make on the surface of the bread which you make right before baking. These are meant to break some of the surface tension therefore directing where the bread should rise in the oven.
Alright I know that’s a lot to take in. Tell me about it! I’m sure this process will get easier once I’ve done it a few times. I will probably even find that some of what I said in this post needs refining or was wrong altogether! Haha. Bear with me! I will include the recipe I used in the following post once I have my bread baked and can see what batch(es) worked best! But at that point, keep in mind that you may have to adjuct flour and water amounts depending upon the flour you are using, etc. There are a lot of factors at work here, as I’m learning! My dad also gave me some good advice: It is not the time to experiment while you are in the process of making your dough and baking, rather when you prepare to bake next time. That is, make notes on what you’ve done, what worked and what didn’t work and adjust things the next time until you have a recipe and method that works for you. Good advice dad.
Something that I found out: cooking spray is your friend during this process! Great for keeping your hand clean when working with the dough and essential for the plastic wrap that you cover the dough with! Make sure you mist the top of your dough before covering it to put it in the fridge or it well get stuck to the plastic!