Baking sourdough bread – Part 2

This recipe assumes you have 2 cups of active, room-temperature starter, based on the instructions printed in this column last week.

Sourdough bread made with potato (photo credit: MIRIAM KRESH)
Sourdough bread made with potato
(photo credit: MIRIAM KRESH)

In last week’s baking column, you learned how to make a sourdough starter – the yeast-rich batter that leavens sourdough bread. If your starter is robust and frothy from repeated feedings, you’re ready to bake your first sourdough loaf. Note that you should always leave at least ¼ cup starter in your jar – and ½ cup is better. You can build up a starter to any quantity you like, but if you use all that you have to bake, you will have to start a new starter from scratch again.

This recipe assumes you have 2 cups of active, room-temperature starter, based on the instructions printed in this column last week.
Your first loaf
Yield: 1 large loaf Step 1: Make a sponge.
Preparation time: 5 minutes Fermentation time: 8 hours 1. Measure ½ cup of active starter and put into a large bowl.
2. Mix in 1½ cups warm water. Sift in 2 cups all-purpose flour.
3. Add 1 Tbsp. runny honey, sugar, local “silan” date syrup, or maple syrup. This is to encourage fermentation. If sugar is a concern, you may leave this out.
4. Add 1 Tbsp. good-quality oil. Beat sponge well. Don’t be concerned if a few small lumps remain.
5. Feed original starter: Add ¼ cup water and ½ cup flour to starter jar. Leave refreshed starter out one hour to reactivate, then refrigerate, or keep out if you plan to use it again in the next few days. (“Refresh” means removing some starter and feeding it with new flour/water, as noted. Fuller notes on long-term care of the starter at the end of this column.) 6. Return to your sponge. Cover bowl with a plastic bag (recycled grocery-store bags are great). Now the sponge will continue to ferment and rise. Leave in a warm place for 8 hours.
When sponge is bubbly and looks light, proceed to Step 2.
STEP 2: Make the dough.
Preparation time: 20 minutes, of which 15 are resting time Rising time: 3-5 hours 1. Sift together 3½ cups all-purpose flour and 1 Tbsp. salt (may reduce salt to 2 tsp.).
Optional: Add 1 tsp. baking soda. This reduces the sour tang of fermentation; it doesn’t affect rising. Omit if you enjoy tangy sourdough bread.
2. Add flour mixture to sponge, 1 cup at a time. Knead vigorously for 5 minutes.
3. Allow dough to rest 15 minutes. Knead again briefly.
4. Place dough in an oiled bowl. Turn it over to cover with a film of oil. Cover with clean kitchen towel or plastic bag and allow to rise in a warm place until it is light and retains the impression of a finger poked into it. Sourdough takes longer to rise than conventional doughs; expect a wait of 3-4 hours.
5. Deflate dough, kneading briefly. Shape a loaf and place on a greased baking sheet to rise. You may also halve the dough and shape two loaves. This second rising will take approximately an hour. The loaf should look large and light. Look for bubbles under the surface skin of the dough to judge readiness.
6. About 40 minutes into rising time, preheat oven to 175°C.
STEP 3. Bake.
Time: 25-35 minutes Before putting the loaf in the oven, take a very sharp knife and slash the loaf in a long line down its length. This prevents the dough from rising into an unwieldy “flying crown.” Don’t be nervous about cutting too deeply; apply a little pressure to slash.
Bake 25-35 minutes. As with conventionally leavened bread, it will be done when the bottom sounds hollow upon thumping. Another way to judge readiness is to insert a clean, dry toothpick into the thickest part of the loaf. If no crumbs cling to the toothpick when you take it out, the loaf is done.
Place loaf on a rack to cool.
Don’t tear into your hot bread, no matter how tempting. The true flavor comes through when the loaf has cooled down.
Notes on storing and maintaining the starter: If you bake every few days, the starter will be refreshed often. That maintains an active culture, so you can keep the starter on the kitchen counter and not bother about refrigeration. (However, if your kitchen is really hot, refrigerate anyway.) For long-term storage in the refrigerator, bring it to room temperature and feed it once a week, putting it back in the refrigerator after a two-hour shift outside.
Even a neglected starter may revive if put into a clean jar and refreshed a few times.
Don’t screw a lid onto the starter jar. The culture needs oxygen. Also, it keeps fermenting and creating carbon dioxide, which may build up and make the lid pop open, spewing starter all over. I place a paper towel over the jar and secure it with a rubber band.
To maintain a larger quantity of starter, feed it with larger quantities of fresh flour/water mix. Just keep the ratio of flour to water at about 75 percent to 50%. To maximize activity in a greater quantity, keep the starter out overnight before using or refrigerating.
The starter needs to be clean. Put only clean spoons into it, and wash your jar every so often. Put the starter in a clean bowl (any material but wood), clean and wash the jar with very hot water and soap, then replace the starter in its clean jar and refresh it.
Using the starter: If it’s been refrigerated, bring it out at least an hour ahead of time. There may be a layer of dark liquid on top. This is normal; just stir it back in. Remove the quantity you need and feed the starter in the jar. If the starter hasn’t been used in a few days, it’s best to refresh it. (Remove ½ cup and throw it out, then add ¼ cup water and ½ cup flour to the original starter. As usual, wait until it’s active again – 1-2 hours – before measuring out the quantity desired for baking.) Remember to feed the original starter again.
You may create a new starter from the ½ cup you remove instead of throwing it out. Put it into a separate bowl, add flour/water, and let it sit, covered, for 8 hours.
This makes a pleasant gift to sourdough-curious friends. Or you may wish to keep it as a backup starter.
Sourdough also makes muffins, cornbread, pizza dough and biscuits. Google “sourdough recipes” and an entire world of baking will open up before you.
The Sourdough Schedule 1. Five to six days before baking: Start your starter. From the third day, feed it once every 24 hours. You only need to do this once, unless by mistake you use up all your starter.
2. The night before baking: Make the sponge and feed the starter. Store the refreshed starter jar in the refrigerator after 2 hours. Cover the sponge and let it sit overnight to ferment.
3. Baking day: Make the dough.
First rising time: 3-4 hours Second rise: 1 hour Baking time: 25-35 minutes Please email questions to miriamsourdough@gmail