This is my first attempt at sourdough bread.Pretty happy. I was inspired to have a go after reading Michael Pollan’s (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food) latest book entitled Cooked. The book is looks at the history, or really anthropology of food. Such a good clear writer.He divides his examination into Fire( cooking ribs in Nth Carolina) Water( home schooling from a talented chef in the art of braises and stews) Earth( the glorious Sister Noella and her unpasteurised cheese) and Air, where master bread makers Chad Robertson, author of Tartine and the “bread monk”Dave Miller show him how. If you are at all interested in food and history I really recommend Cooked.Sourdough bread is different from commercial and other home made breads in that it doesn’t use store bought yeast. Rather it relies on a starter, flour and water that has been fermented by wild yeasts. This takes only three or four days to prepare, and once established can be used forever.You know it is working when it forms bubbles and is obviously “active” when you feed it by the daily adding or more flour and water. Like this.
The night before your going to bake, you make a leaven, which is a tablespoon of this starter added to fresh flour and water. While the starter develops a sour and slightly acidic nose, the leaven is hopefully spongy, creamy and sweet smelling. I’ve taken most out, but this is it.
Next the leaven is added to the flour( I followed Chad Robertson’s basic country bread recipe using 90% unbleached white flour and 10% whole wheat flour), 1 kilo all up, plus about 25 grams of salt. That’s all. This mixture goes through a ” bulk fermentation” stage of about four hours.The mixture is wetter than you would imagine and takes a bit of getting used to. Now the dough is divided in two, and after a 20 minute rest where it flattens out a bit like a pancake, it is ready for final shaping( pretty simple) and left to rise again for 3 to 4 hours. Yes, it’s a long day, and works best when there is plenty else to do.
How to get that wonderful dark brown crispy crust? Bakers use steam injected ovens, something well beyond the reach of home cooks.Some very clever person worked out that a Dutch Oven, in Australia we usually know it as Le Creuset ware, could achieve the same effect. With the lid on for the first 20 minutes or so of baking, the high heat releases enough moisture from the dough to achieve satisfying crust.So after three hours I wasn’t really sure if the dough was ready at all.It seem to liquid to me, but I had run out time. So dropped it into the preheated ( you start with the oven at 500F) pot, and it it went, bringing the temp back to 450. After 20 minutes it looked like this.