I've been making sourdough bread for over 2 years now since the start of the COVID pandemic. I've been averaging about one week a loaf so that is over 100 loaves. During that time, I've had some successes and failures with the goal of continuing to get better in the pursuit of an epic loaf of bread. In a way, it's my own "pursuit of happiness" since a goof loaf of bread is happiness to me. So it's kind of fitting to post this the day before July 4th.
My issues and struggles over the last 24 months had to do with not getting the right structure to allow the dough to rise up instead of out and create the coveted "ear" where the dough expands from the razor slit to create amazing lift and airy texture. If done right, you can get a tall loaf look without the need for support in the oven. I just couldn't get there. Instead I would use a cast iron loaf pan to provide structure. It worked but I knew it was a cheat.
I kept researching different techniques and ingredient ratios until I had the a-ha moment from the bread heir, Apollonia Poilane, in her Master Class series. I got a subscription to Master Class as a gift and watched her series. My main takeaway was not her recipe (which included adding yeast for home bakers) but her technique. She showed me that it was all about surface tension and the techniques I had been trying were not developing that needed surface tension.
I've also developed my own secret step that I haven't seen anyone else do yet to get amazing, fresh ground flour flavor. It seemed obvious that fresh ground flour would be the most delicious but the process of grinding my own wheat flour was time consuming and messy. It dawned on me that I could soak whole wheat berries overnight in water. This even allows them to start their own fermentation and sprouting making the grains healthier than just grinding them dry. After they're sufficiently soaked, I drain them and grind them in my Ninja Fit Blender using the amount of filtered water that I use to make the bread. This is so much easier and way less dusty/messy. I then add the whole wheat flour/water solution to the rest of the ingredients and go from there. Let me tell you, this technique provides amazing flavor that you can't get from dry ground flour.
The other critical addition to my recipe is vital wheat gluten. With me using all purpose flour (and even when I used bread flour), it lacked the gluten protein needed to build the dough strength to create a more airy dough. Just a bit of this key ingredient really helped strengthen the dough and create the surface tension needed to maximize expansion and oven spring.
I've also found for myself that I can skip steps like the autolyse phase, the bulk fermentation, the stretching and folding, and other steps. I didn't see this add anything to the texture or flavor and it just wasted time and effort in my opinion.
I can now say with learning a few techniques and experimenting with a few of my own ideas, I now make an EPIC loaf of sourdough bread. I am so proud of the results and love to share my bread with others to get their reaction. For the very best sourdough bread that I know how to make, give this recipe a try.
- 150g whole wheat berries soaked in 2 cups of filtered water for 24-48 hours then drained
- Enough additional filtered water to make soaked wheat berries and water weigh 465g combined yielding 450g in the dough (about 225g)
- 300g all purpose or bread flour
- 160g sourdough starter
- 10g vital wheat gluten flour
- 10g kosher or sea salt
- Soak the whole wheat berries in water for 24-36 hours. Drain and weigh. Add enough water so the berries and water total 465g together. This includes 15g extra water because there will be some that will remain in the blender after being poured out.
- Add water and wheat berries to a high powered blender and blend until smooth with no real chunks aside from some wheat bran flecks.
- Pour 450g of the flour/water mixture into a mixing bowl and add the remaining flour, sourdough starter, salt, and vital wheat gluten.
- Mix using the dough hook until evenly incorporated. It should start to stick to itself and start to peel away from the sides and bottom of the bowl. If it doesn't, add more flour one small spoonful (7-8g) at a time. This should take about 5-7 minutes.
- Once a dough is formed using the mixer, dump it on a smooth counter. If using wood, be sure to flour the surface first. Have some filtered water in a bowl nearby to wet your hands through the next step.
- Here's the kneading trick from Apollonia. Look at the dough as a flour with petals. You want to take a petal, stretch it out a bit, and then place it back in the center of the dough. Then do it again to the next "petal" over. Keep doing this again and again and you'll see the dough begin to really strengthen and take shape in a nice ball form.
- Place the dough back in the mixing bowl as is without flipping it over. Cover with a wet towel or lid (I use a plate), and let sit for 2-3 hours to rise. It should double in size.
- Prep a basket for the final rise by using a banneton or lining a bowl with a towel. Flour the surface that will touch the dough with rice flour.
- Dump the dough back onto the surface. Again wet your hands if need be.
- Here's the shaping trick from Apollonia. Picture the counter going from top left to bottom right. Cupping your hands around the dough, drag it then pull it and spin it a bit to create a tightening of the surface of the dough. Keep repeating this movement 15-20 times until you get a really tight surface.
- Flip the dough into the banneton or bowl so the smooth side is facing down. If you did the shaping right, you should see a small dimple in the center of the dough after you flip it over.
- Cover the banneton or bowl with a wet towel or plastic bag and let rise for 3 hours. Or put in the fridge for 8-24 hours.
- When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450 degrees with the Dutch oven inside, but leave the lid outside.
- Towards the end of the oven preheating, remove the dough from the fridge and remove the bottom of the Dutch oven. Carefully flip the dough into the Dutch oven and score the dough on the side to get that ear from the oven spring. Or make any other scouring pattern you desire (I like to make a plus sign in the middle).
- Put the lid on, put back in the oven, and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for another 20-25 minutes. You want a good dark brown color on the surface, even some black is okay but not a lot.
- Pull out of the oven and allow to cool completely for 4 hours or more before cutting into it.
- Slice and enjoy!