Baking mode, on!


As many of you folks know, I am a bread maker.

To those who have eaten my bread, it is a punishment to some likened to having nails pulled out with a dirty set of pliers. It’s the crust.

Still! People have been asking how I make them, so allow me to show you how I did it Sunday. With pictures!

First up, the starter.

Sourdough I: Starter

This is a small portion of the stuff I have in the fridge. I kept on reading that I should let it get all frisky-like before using it, so I took some and spent a day or so feeding it every eight hours or so until Sunday.

The formula I have been using for my recipes so far have been an 1-2-3 bread formula, and it has given me neat results, albeit it’s been slack. More on that in a bit.

So we include the water, which is twice the amount of the starter in weight.

Sourdough II: Starter & Water

Stirred the stuff until completely blended, then added the flour, which is three times the amount of starter in weight.

Sourdough III: Flours

Last time I made bread, I went for equal parts of flour, and it made a good impression on the folks that I decided to do it again. So equal parts of whole-wheat, bread, all-purpose, and rye to equal the triple dose of weight. After that, I mixed it with the diluted starter and stirred it until a stiff dough came out.

Sourdough IV: Before Autolyse

At this time, I usually place a moist towel over it, walk away, and distract myself, usually by computer, for about 45 minutes. Why? Autolysis.

The term refers to the destruction of a cell by its own enzymes, and in baking, this means that enzymes in flour begin to break down the starch and protein in the flour. The starch gets converted to sugar, and the protein gets reformed as gluten. The yeast in the starter nom on the sugars, converting them to carbon dioxide and thus getting a nice rise of the loaf.

After the time given, I knead in about a teaspoon of salt that has been dissolved in a eighth cup of water.

Sourdough V: After Autolyse

Already the dough lost it’s shagginess, and now a nice, somewhat-smooth ball of dough. But we’re not done yet.

Usually, I don’t knead it like I do with regular bread. Instead, I give it turns, in which I take a big chunk, fold it over the other half, turn the bowl a quarter or so turn, and repeat twice more. My hands are usually glued with dough at this time, and it’s a hassle to get off.

Anyway, I let it rest and rise for about 30 minutes before turning it again; by this time, it’s already a slight puddle of dough (more on that later). I do this two more times (30-min wait, then turning) before patting it into shape and letting it rise.

Sourdough VI: Rising

Already in an oiled bread pan. I put saran wrap over it and let it rise in the kitchen. However, it was rather hot then, so I gave it an hour or so in the fridge to help a bit. The rise takes about three or four hours before popping into a pre-heated 450F oven and baking it for about 45 minutes.

Sourdough VII: After Baking

By this time, it’s already 7.30 or so. I warn no one to take it apart and let it cool for an hour.

The verdict for this loaf is that, although it is delicious and fantastically flavored, the crust needs a diamond hacksaw to cut through it. I was looking up the information as of how to soften it (lots of suggestions) when I stumbled upon something interesting. First some tech talk.

Hydration, when it comes to doughs and starters, refers to the ratio of flour (F) and water (W) by weight. So if we have a starter that is at 100% hydration, the ratio between each is equal (F=W) (as is what I usually strive for in my starters). When it comes to dough, it gets tricky.

If we take the baker’s way, which is using flour as a 100% and the rest as percentages of the total flour used, then the 1-2-3 recipe could be expressed thusly:

100% flour
66% water
33% starter

One times starter, two times liquid, three times flour. Of course, the starter has it’s own moisture in it and thus skewing things; I’ll look into that later.

Anyway, this is the main reason why the dough has been slack, and forms into puddles of stuff when I’m not looking. If the hydration of the dough is at 65-67%, then it gets too wet for it to hold into a firm loaf and spreads. This might be neat for some bakers, but this has been one of my major pet peeves for most of the time I have been baking sourdough. I need to look into the recipe closely and make my own adjustments for further experimentation.

Anywho, hope this entry hasn’t completely bored you to tears, and instead gotten you to try your hand into baking breads. Who knows, I might get fellow readers asking me for recipes!


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