BBA Challenge #30: Sourdough Bread

BBA Sourdough, take 2!

I tried this bread a few months back when I was trying to cultivate my own starter.  As you may have guessed, owing to the lack of a blog entry, it did not turn out that well.  As you know, I ended up, through a slightly complicated chain of ownership, obtaining some starter from a Harvard Law professor (yes, nice pedigree on that sourdough starter there!).  I’ve managed to keep it going but when it came time to make this bread for the BBA Challenge, PR’s most basic sourdough, it was a bit like my encounter with an old nemesis.  And I have prevailed.

First step is to make the pre-ferment.  It’s immediately apparent that wild yeast is a bit slower than commercial yeast–you are instructed to allow 3-4 hours for your pre-ferment to double; mine took a bit longer. 

You can guess what’s next; overnight in the fridge.  Then you mix the final dough–I had to stand next to my kitchenaid stand mixer and hold the bowl in place–this is a bit more flour than most recipes call for.  I ended up doing the last bit by hand in the bowl–my mixer was getting pretty hot and I’m very deferential to it.

While my starter was definitely rising, as we approached the three hour mark it was a bit too slow for me.  I therefore used gaaarp’s method to speed things up.  Essentially, you create a proofing box in your microwave.  I like this method better than the one I saw suggested elsewhere, which was to preheat the oven and hold at 200F and then turn it off before putting the bread in to proof.  The microwave method creates heat and humidity and therefore seems to work much better. 

Next you shape your loaves.  Having recently “cracked the code” on forming boules and improvising bannetons, I couldn’t resist a repeat:

I helped the process along a la gaaarp, once again.

Here’s the unmolded loaves

Slashed and scored

And baked.  Even though I don’t follow all the steps to “prepare the oven for hearth baking” I still was thrilled with my oven spring.  These loaves baked up tall and high and beautiful!

In retrospect, I have to wonder if my earlier attempt at sourdough bread (resulting in two sourdough bricks that made quite a thud when they were tossed out) might have turned out better had I tried the proofing box method.  I was pretty sure there was some activity in that old starter, but just figured that it was far too weak to be usable.  Perhaps I just wasn’t patient enough to allow it to fully rise.  (And perhaps my starter WAS weak but was on its way to becoming something more robust).  Just speculation now–end result is, I have a starter now, and am trying to be very good to it!

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