/ Jason Weisberger / 11 am Mon, Mar 23 2020
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  • Pandemic sourdough: the first loaf with my new starter

    Pandemic sourdough: the first loaf with my new starter

    Click here to see the first post in this series on baking sourdough started from nothing but flour and water

    Yesterday I fed my sourdough starter a bit later in the morning that I have been with the intent of putting up my first loaf of bread later in the afternoon.

    The go-to loaf of bread that I like to bake is based very closely on the Breadtopia no-knead sourdough recipe. Yes, they based theirs on the NY Times.

    When I sensed my starter was at the right stage in the yeast feeding cycle for me to most effectively kick off a loaf of bread, I did.

    I measured ¼ cup of starter and mixed it into 1 cup of warm water and let it sit.

    Deep in the back of my mother's refrigerator are 3 bags of whole wheat. About 2lbs of King Arthur that expired in 2017, about 2 lbs of 365 Organic that expired in 2019, and about 4lbs of Gold Medal that I bought last summer and is good for a year or so. I took the 2017 and measured out 2 cups into my favorite big blue bowl.

    I had a bag of King Arthur Bread Flour at my new home, which is several miles away from my parents' home, where I grew up and am currently staying with them, as they are in their mid-70s. I ventured out to get this bag of flour, as I was freaking out with it less than a 5k road race away for some reason. That bag of flour is here, and I added 2 cups to the big blue bowl.

    I eyeballed 1 ½ tsp of salt. My mom keeps Diamond Kosher in her saltbox by the stove. Dumped that in the bowl with the starter mix and started to mix, when that water was absorbed I added a 2nd cup and mixed it in.

    I know from decades of baking with whole wheat flour (which I store in airtight jars on my kitchen counter or in the pantry) that whole wheat flour requires a bit more water than white bread flour. Why? Hell if I know. What I learned today is that if you store that whole wheat flour in the fridge, even in an airtight bag for several years past its expiration date, it may have absorbed a little water -- so factor that in, if you want to avoid an overly wet loaf.

    The final dough ball was a little wet because I didn't do that perfectly -- so I added a couple of tablespoons of flour, and it felt workable. I worked it. Once the dough felt like the right consistency, I put it back in the big blue bowl, and set it on a slightly warm countertop with a pilot light as a gentle heat source.

    I woke up at 4:00AM, or around 10 hours into the first ferment, and checked to see if the dough was ready to be folded, moved to a banneton, and allowed the second rise. It was not! I could not sleep. I read some of Snail on a Slope by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. I fell back to sleep about an hour later.

    At the 14 hour mark I checked again! The dough was ready, however, it stuck to the bowl. Stuck like something very sticky. It stucked. Still too wet. I added another few tablespoons of flour, and I was able to wrestle the blob into a consistent enough ball to transfer to a very, very well-floured banneton.

    The sticky mess is a place where other bakers may have given up. Having spent the last 15 years or so working at Boing Boing, however, I know that if you just chill out and give it a little thought and effort, everything works out in the end.

    Into the banneton for a 60-minute second rise. I pre-heated the oven, and my cast iron dutch oven inside it, to 500F during the bread's final rise. When the oven was up to temperature, I gave it another 10 minutes or so to ensure the dutch oven was at an even temperature.

    When attempting to transfer the dough from the banneton to a piece of parchment paper I had to rely on gentle tapping and gravity to get the loaf to drop. I slashed it once with my bullshit baker's lame, and into the dutch oven it went on a parchment paper sling.

    I followed the timing instructions on the Breadtopia recipe and the loaf looked beautiful when it came out. Tapping the loaf sounded right and so I let it cool. When I first cut into it, I saw that the center was a bit doughy so I put it back in at 400ºF for about 30 minutes.

    The bread has beautiful skin and crust. The crumb is a slightly airy-yet-dense texture that I have had occur before when baking with an ignored starter. That just tells me I need to feed this one a few more days before trying again and next time I need to use a little less water, or fresher whole wheat.

    Flavor-wise is has a slight tang but is not San Francisco sourdough, which is appropriate as I am in Los Angeles.

    I feel like this is a pretty good start for something that started with flour and water 7 days ago.

    Previously:

    Pandemic Starter Day 1

    Pandemic Starter Day 2

    Pandemic Starter Day 3

    Pandemic Starter Day 4

    Pandemic Starter Day 5: Waffles

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