Sourdough French Bread, right out of the oven
Perhaps the trickiest thing I’ve tried to do over this past year has been to finally succeed at making a good sourdough loaf of bread. For me it’s almost been an obsession. Since the days of living in California, especially near San Francisco, I have sought that elusive sweetly sour tang of a good artisan sourdough. Yes, I know, it’s always deliciously served in a good restaurant: still warm, crunchy in the crust and chewy in the crumb. Even better when it has a lot of holes, as in a Ciabatta, Joe’s very favorite kind of bread.
What follows is the step by step process that has finally led to a pretty good sourdough bread, with every successive loaf getting better and better as the starter continues to develop.
To make the starter:
1 cup warm water
1 cup bread flour (high gluten)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
Mix all ingredients in a large glass jar with a wooden spoon until well blended. A one quart mason jar works well. Put loosely closed jar in the oven with the light on for gentle warmth.
After 24 hours, open the jar. It should be bubbly at the top (if it looks pink or has a bad smell, throw it out and start over again). Stir to mix. Remove one cup and throw it out. Add one cup warm water and one cup flour back into the jar and mix well. Cover again and put back in oven with light on. If you need to use the oven in the meantime, keep the jar of developing starter in a warm place.
Repeat this process for four more days. By the end of five days, the starter should have a slightly sour smell and may even smell a little like paint (strange to say), or beer. Each time you open the lid to “feed” your starter it should be a little bubbly. The consistency should be like pancake batter.
By this time, your starter is ready to use. For every cup of starter used, refresh your starter with one cup warm water and one cup flour. Every once in a while you can give it a boost with a pinch of sugar and a pinch of yeast. When not using, starter should be refrigerated. It will develop a clear to light brown liquid at the top. This is the alcohol from the fermentation process. Just stir it in when ready to use starter again. If your jar gets too full of starter you can reduce by one fourth the amount of flour and water you add every time you use a cup.
Sourdough French Bread
¾ cup warm water
1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup sourdough starter
3 cups bread flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
Put ingredients in bowl of stand mixer in order listed. Knead with dough hook attachment for 10 minutes. Put dough in large, well oiled bowl and cover with a light cloth. Place in oven with light on for first rise, about two hours or until dough has doubled in size.
Turn dough out onto well floured board and flatten with your palm to let out air. Shape dough by folding it over and over with your hand to form a long roll about 15”-18” long and about 3” in diameter. Place on floured parchment paper. Score the top with diagonal cuts, using a sharp knife, every 3” or so. Let rise for second rise until double in size (about one hour).
If you have a baking stone or a pizza stone, Place in oven and heat oven to 425°. Slip parchment paper with dough onto heated stone. Spray oven walls and dough with water and close door immediately. If you don’t have a stone, put parchment paper on cookie sheet, then dough on parchment paper and put in preheated oven. Cook for 30 to 45 minutes until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped with your finger. Let cool on wire rack.
Or, tear it apart then and there and slather it with butter. Yum!