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My best sourdough bread recipe so far

 
pollinator
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Location: Málaga, Spain
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Hi,
I've been following several tutorials on how to make sourdough bread, with so so results. After several months of trial and error, even my skeptic wife is happy with the bread.


First issue: Keeping sourdough alive.
I didn't have problems making sourdough the first week, but after three weeks it usually died. Vinegar odors, and it ruined every baking. My sourdough lives now in the fridge and it's been alive for six months. It needs to be refreshed whenever it is full raised, which you can usually say by how much it ressembles a sponge. But I used to make my refreshments wrong.
Now what I do is to take away half of the sourdough. If I can bake something, I use one half for baking, otherwise I just throw it to the bin (and this was the harder part for me to accept). The other half receives two spoons of flour and three spoons of water, mixed all together.


Second issue: Waiting until the dough is fermented.
Oh boy, this has been hard! It's not eight hours, it depends so much on the temperature. I use the fridge and the WiFi router for temperature control. For example, I can prepare the dough the night before and keep it in the fridge, and I can put it over the WiFi when I need to speed it up. If not fermented enough, it does not rise; if fermented too much, it becomes too sour. So how can you say?
The dough is ready when volume almost doubles, and when I press the surface with my finger, it comes back but leaves a small depression.
It takes a little bit of practice figuring out how long it will take, so I can prepare my baking for the afternoon.


Third issue: Dealing with humidity.
There's a problem when the dough is very humid: it sticks to surfaces. I think my bread rises better when it is very humid, but if I leave it in a bowl, then the surface is ruined when I try to change the recipient. The trick was to employ a thread napkin with some flour sprout over it. The napking is flat enough to not become sticky and it also allows the dough to breath so it forms some crust that does not stick.
I also cover the dough with seeds when it's half fermented, it further prevents sticking.


Fourth issue: Ingredients.
Well, initially I wanted to make just whole grain bread. I wanted more fiber in our diets. However my wife didn't like the taste very much and tried to boicott my efforts, besides whole grain flour is more expensive. Bread flour is great for rising, but it is expensive too. And we kind of like more compact crumb for toasts.
I am happy with the following:

200 g all purpose wheat flour
100 g bread flour
100 g whole flour (wheat or others)
8 g salt
(mix all flours together)

Then
250 g water
1 spoon sourdough
1 spoon olive oil
(stir it before adding to flours)

I then mix it with the 'volcano on the counter' technique and knead for just 5 minutes. A well mixed not too sticky ball of dough which will wait for me in the fridge.


Fifth issue: Folding and stretching.
After being the whole night in the fridge, the dough forms a dry crust which is not nice. So I fold the dough several times, until the dry crust is hidden inside. I think that folding the dough also helps to form a nice crumb.
If after fermentation the crust becomes flaccid, I stretch it a little bit, with care, placing the excess at the base.


Sixth issue: Cuttings.
Here it was rather easy. I cover the dough with a thin layer of flour, then I make cuttings where I want it to expand. Different cuttings, different final shapes.


Seventh issue: Baking.
This too needed some adjustments. I have a gas oven that reaches 230ºC, more or less. Good bread needs more temperature, but this is what I have. There are three stages in the baking.
First one is when the dough is rising. For this stage I leave a small glass with boiling water inside. This way the crust stays flexible and doesn't break. (It would be better to just throw some water in the tray, however it was a PITA to clean it afterwards).
Second stage is when the dough is actually cooked. The crust solidifies and the dough becomes crumb. When I see that the bread does not rise any longer, I remove the glass with water to help it. I keep it at max power until the crust has a nice tan color, usually after 35 minutes. The color is more important than the timing. Too tan makes the bread sour.
Third stage is forming a harder crust, still in the oven, but the power turned off. I leave the bread inside for another 10 minutes.


Eigth issue: Curing.
Oh the temptation! Just baked hot bread! Smells so good. But no! After baking the bread, it still needs another hour or so to complete the process. So DO NOT break the crust until the bread is cold.
Once it's cold, I slice it and keep what I don't eat that day in the freezer. This way they unfreeze faster.


I am sure there are better ways, better flours, better ovens, and I still can improve it a lot, but for now it is good enough for me and my wife. The bread in the picture has rosemary for flavoring.
1639469764019.jpeg
Dough in basket
Dough in basket
1639469764042.jpeg
Finished bread
Finished bread
 
gardener
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Congrats on your breadmaking journey!

As life circumstances and tastes differ, every one has to find out the ideal process and recipe.

For example, in Bavaria we prefer a really dark crust with caramelized flavours (the crust also helps to keep the crumb moist).

For more background understanding of fermenting times and stretch&fold, I can only recommend "Pan Casero" by Ibán Yarza. It was my first breadmaking book and helped me understand the process. Now I can make wonderful sourdough bread without recipe.

And please do not throw away the "excess" sourdough! There are many uses for it and there are methods where you always just have enough for baking. I never throw out any starter at all.
 
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Wow! Thanks for taking the time to post your journey here! Love the emphasis on what works to keep the temperature right, and the practical tips on how to tell when the bread is ready to move to the next stage.  I've only dabbled in sourdough bread making, but your obvious passion for it is inspiring!
 
Abraham Palma
pollinator
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And please do not throw away the "excess" sourdough!



Haha, so I wish!
But sometimes I don't have time to bake anything. More specifically, I can't dedicate time to control fermentation and cook it at the right time. Maybe I could cook it in a pan (I've made some pan breads before, not bad), but it would be just the size of a cookie, not worth the time. Anyways, it's better to have these small wastes than ruining the starter.
I have to add that my wife doesn't want to stop buying bread at the bakery and she only allows my baking as a hobby, one homemade bread per week. She says we have to support local suppliers (and that I have to make more money at my work so we can support more local groceries!!, XD  ). At least she's using it for her pizza too, so not all is lost.
 
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I usually start my bread in the morning, so I use the discard for pancakes for breakfast - takes about 10 minutes if that to make them, even less time to wolf them down!  
 
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I save up my discard starter, sometimes i'll make a quick flatbread for my lunch, but more often I'll make a batch of waffles and freeze them for the week.

Abraham, I think our climates may be similar, and I also only had success when I started leaving my starter in the fridge. Each place seems to have its own way of working with sourdough.
I do find I get better results (nicer rise) from tightly covering the pot I bake my bread in for at least half the baking time. If your pot doesnt have an oven safe lid I've seen people bake on a tray with an overturned stainless steel bowl covering the bread. The idea is to trap the steam and use that for "lift".

I'm also on an embargo scheme, as gas is so pricey. Right now it's so hot keeping the oven on high for two hours (one preheating, one baking) is not an option, but when it's cold I make a loaf of sourdough every week. I also do something similar with the seeds to stop the dough from sticking everywhere, it's a good idea.
 
Abraham Palma
pollinator
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If your pot doesnt have an oven safe lid I've seen people bake on a tray with an overturned stainless steel bowl covering the bread



My oven has only a tray. I could try the bowl technique, though.

gas is so pricey.


I happen to have access to cheap propane bottles. Yay.
 
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Wonderful documentation and detailed explanation of all of your steps! Thank you for putting this out there and I look forward to referencing this when I go to make my own bread. I wish I had some tips that I could share with you but you're further along in this than I am.
 
pollinator
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Add some white chocolate and cranberries and you have Christmas deliciousness!
 
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As far as the crust that forms, you can prevent it by putting a cover directly on top of the dough (no air on top). Oiled plastic wrap works great, or a damp cloth.
 
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Thank you for your post, Abraham.  

I was lured here by the e-mail about the grain mill.  I didn't know Permies has a bread forum!

I have been baking sourdough bread (mostly whole grain) for a couple years now, and I am in the learning and experimenting stage still.  I hope to be an active poster as my work schedule allows.  I hope to share success stories and learn from other bakers.


 
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Yes, I too, was lured here by the KoMo give-away. I haven't ground grains for many years, but the idea of upping my sourdough baking with sublime freshly ground flour is tempting and might convert my household to preferring whole grain breads. My current bread is usually a third whole grain commercially processed flour (ww or rye) and 2/3 white, which I believe to be fluff food. Eating a higher proportion of whole grain would seem more like Real Food.
 
Joe Webb
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I have yet to try baking a mostly white loaf.  Currently, I have been using a recipe from Zero Waste Chef, which consists of 60 percent whole wheat, 20 percent whole rye, and 20 percent white bread flour.  Sometimes I split the whole-wheat portion between kamut and sprouted whole wheat.  I've tried 100 percent whole grain from a tutorial on YouTube.  Regardless of which recipe I use, even the loaves that don't turn out as well as I would like are tasty.  

An advantage to white flour is that it rises more readily.

One of my problems is that the crumb in my loaves is not open enough; another is that the loaf is denser in the middle than on the edges.



 
Abraham Palma
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I can only recommend "Pan Casero" by Ibán Yarza.


Thank you very much for this suggestion.
It's a well written, full of pictures and comprehensive book, and best of all it's in spanish.

If I understand what he says correctly, the fermentation process has two legs: a fermentation by bacterias that gives it its flavour and digestiveness, and a fermentation by yeast that raises the bread dough. By keeping the dough in the fridge for longer, I am allowing some bacterias to act while slowing down yeast.
He also suggests to not include fats and salts in pre-fermentation, so we let bacterias to do their work unhindered.
It looks like I didn't wait enough for the sourdough bread to cure, since he's suggesting waiting a whole day after the baking. This is very counterintuitive, especially in my location which is very humid and ruins any bread left on the counter very fast.

Yesterday I was ready to try the inverted bowl, got my ingredients and realized that I had no whole grain flour left. So I took my coffee grinder, and grinded some little lentils. The grain is a bit too rough after grinding, but I hope that it cooks well in the oven. The lentil flour has had enough time to be hydrated (although after reading some extra pages in the book, I now think I should have scalded the flour). I will share how it ends up.
 
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I like this thread. I love sourdough bread too. Geno
 
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