Sour Dough Bread
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  1. #1
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    Default Sour Dough Bread

    Pain au Levain

    I have many books on bread baking, all filled with recipes. But I find that this recipe, or a variation of it, is the one I come back to time after time. It really shouldn't work quite the way it does, but somehow it manages. The flavor, texture and keeping quality are fantastic.

    First a little bit about sour dough cultures. Sour dough, or levain in French, is the oldest form of leavening. It is simply flour and water and time.
    To make mine I mixed one part whole rye flour, one part unbleached white flour and two parts water.
    So, a quarter cup rye flour a quarter cup white flour added to a half cup water.
    Let it sit in a warm place a couple days, then feed it a tablespoon flour and a tablespoon water every other day until you notice bubbles forming.

    There should be some sign of life after a couple days, maybe three. Keep feeding it every couple days. Once it starts to look frothy and really bubbly it is ready to use. It will take some time, a few months, to get the right balance of yeasts and bacteria that give sour dough the maximum flavor.

    This particular recipe, and a variation I also make, is a very very wet dough. I don't bother to knead it; instead it gets a series of folds over the course of a couple to three hours that give it strength.

    A day and a half before you will bake the bread you freshen the sour dough. In other words: feed your sour dough culture Friday night if you plan on baking the bread Sunday.

    So, let's go with the Sunday schedule:

    Friday night feed the starter.

    Saturday evening mix together:

    12 ounces unbleached white bread flour.
    1.5 ounces rye flour. (I use Bob's Red Mill dark rye flour)
    10.75 ounces water warmed to 90 degrees.
    3 ounces starter.

    Mix it until it is just incorporated, do not knead it.
    Cover the mixing bowl and leave it until morning.

    Sunday morning add:

    12 ounces unbleached white flour.
    1.5 ounces rye flour.
    10.75 ounces 90 degree water.
    1 tablespoon salt.

    Mix it all together until it resembles a shaggy mass, as the bread books like to say.

    053.jpg

    Cover the mixing bowl and set the bowl in a warm spot. Set a timer for 30 minutes.

    After 30 minutes dump the dough onto a well floured countertop and quickly work your fingers under the edges of the dough and stretch it, then fold it onto itself in thirds. Kind of like you would fold an 8 by 11 piece of paper to fit into an envelope. Fold it three times, place the dough back into the bowl and wait another 30 minutes.

    Fold and rest the dough 3 more times at 30 minute intervals .Stretch fold stretch fold; 3 times.

    You will notice the dough starts to get stronger each time you fold it, it resists the stretch. What's happening is the gluten is gaining strength.

    After the 4th fold set the bowl aside for an hour for the final fermentation.

    Now you can shape the dough for proofing.
    Dump the bread dough onto the counter keeping as much air inside the dough as possible. Cut the dough in half. You can stretch it into a torpedo shape or make round loaves..... boules. Work quickly , this dough is very sticky. One trick you can use is to wet your fingers with oil before you begin shaping.
    Place the shaped loaves onto parchment paper on a sheet pan and cover it. I use a large plastic bag to enclose the bread to keep it from drying out.

    A half hour or so before the bread is ready to bake heat the oven to 460 degrees. I bake on a pizza stone. Under that stone on the bottom shelf of the oven I put a pan of water to moisten the oven.

    Just before loading the bread into the oven take a sharp knife and slash three diagonal cuts on top of the loaves; about a quarter inch or so deep. Spritz the bread with a little water. Slide the bread and the paper quickly onto the pizza stone and spritz the sides of the oven to create steam. The steam helps the surface of the dough stay moist so that it can stretch as the bread rises.... the 'oven spring' as it is called.
    Sour dough springs a little more slowly than commercial yeast dough so give it another spritz after 5 minutes or so.

    Bake 20 minutes at 460 degrees and another 8 minutes at 375.

    Let the bread cool before slicing.

    059.jpg

    060.jpg

    You can see this bread has a nice open holed structure. The crust is crispy and chewy and the crumb is moist and light, and the flavor is remarkable..
    This bread is always popular. It's a winner.

    Enjoy!
    Last edited by Arnie; 11-29-2015 at 04:05 PM.

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    Thanks for sharing that Arnie!
    80% hydration is definitely a moist dough. The interior on that loaf is just beautiful.

    Perhaps next weekend I'll whip out my sourdough starter and give that recipe a try.

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    Quote Originally Posted by Arnie View Post
    This particular recipe, and a variation I also make, is a very very wet dough.
    OK, inquiring minds want to know... so what's the variation on this that you make?

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    Leave out the rye flour, use all white flour. Shape the dough into half baguettes and retard them overnight. Score them and put them straight into the hot oven. Nice! Practically all crispy crackly crust.

  6. #5
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    Thanks for that Arnie, great instructional. I'd love to try it however with that several month prep on the culture it's going to take planning ahead.
    "People will generally accept facts as truth only if the facts agree with what they already believe."- Andy Rooney

  7. #6
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    We have a culture that we have kept going continuously for close to 40 years. We do not make bread with it often, but the pancakes and waffles are terrific. We use rye and or whole wheat flout in it too.

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    No worries, Jim.
    PM me, I'll send you some sourdough culture. You'll be up and running in a week.

  9. #8
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    Thanks Arnie! I'll try your first recipe next week. If it goes well I'll probably add some whole wheat flour as my "variation". I like a good percentage of whole wheat in a lot of my breads and buy bulk wheat berries and mill them myself.


    Jim, you know you don't HAVE to start your own. I got my starter from Carl Griffith (well, friends of Carl actually) and it has served me well for almost 5 years now. I use it about twice a month for something.

    Send these folks a SASE and they'll set you up. I received mine less than 2 weeks after I mailed the SASE. I slipped a couple of dollars in the envelope also, just because.
    http://carlsfriends.net/

    Heh, Never mind Jim, I see Arnie offered to send you some while I was typing.

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    You're hard core BeeBop. I had one of those hand grinders years ago, too much work!

    You ever make Essene bread? Sprout the wheat and grind it in your mill.....messy!..... then shape it and bake. Add nuts, raisins and such. Super moist and supposed to be nutritious. No flour, no leavening. Just sprouted wheat berries.

  11. #10
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    Aw heck no, I'm not THAT hardcore.
    When I said "mill them myself" I didn't mean with my own muscle power. I just dump 'em in the Nutrimill and let electricity do the job for me.

    Bread from fresh milled whole berries is quite different from store bought whole wheat flour. I really like it.
    And the whole berries keep for years. Store bought whole wheat flour always goes rancid on me in a few months unless I keep it in the freezer so I can't really stock up on large quantities.

    Never tried the Essene bread. Google search on the way...

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    The little baguettes. I didn't retard these because I was in a hurry. Even so, they have a pretty nice interior. The crust is what makes these. Use lots of steam. You can see my shaping and scoring needs work.

    002 (2).jpg
    001 (2).jpg

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    OK... this morning I pulled my sourdough starter out of the fridge and fed it.
    This evening I mixed up the first stage of Arnies bread recipe. White bread flour, rye flour, water, and sourdough starter. I don't have any of Bob's Red Mill rye flour so I milled a dose of whole rye berries which is what I use in most of my recipes that call for rye flour.

    It's now doing the overnight rest in my proofing box at 68 degrees F. (proofing box = cheap plastic tote bin with a homemade temperature controlled heater)

    I've got all of tomorrows ingredients weighed out, found my long lost pizza stone, and have my spray bottle full of water and ready for spritzen'.
    Tomorrow I'll add the rest of the ingredients and get myself psyched up for the "stretch & fold" routine on some very wet dough. Oil those hands and use plenty of flour on the work surface is how I envision that procedure.
    My loaf shaping skills are really horrible so it'll probably end up looking more like a turd then a French loaf but I'll do the best I can. I'll try to take some photos if it's not too embarrassing.

    To be continued...

  14. #13
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    Hey BeeBop,
    A shaping tip:

    You'll notice after all the folding this dough gains a little strength. After the fermentation is finished I dump the dough onto a floured surface WITHOUT degassing and gently push and prod it into a rough rectangle. cut it lengthwise with your bench knife, then grab the ends and stretch it into a loaf shape and place it onto your parchment paper or couche all in one motion. With a little practice you get the hang of it.

    If you can, get a cast iron skillet and place that on the bottom shelf of your oven. After you load the bread onto the stone pour a couple cups of boiling water into the heated skillet. Wear your bee gloves!! The steam will get you. You'll be amazed at the crust you get.

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    Thanks Arnie!
    Gonna have some breakfast and start on it in about an hour.

  16. #15
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    You guys are driving my taste buds and stomach crazy. We are going to have to make some homemade clam chowder and some sour dough bread real soon.

  17. #16
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    Ideally you find someone with a sourdough starter you know you like (because you've eaten their bread) and go from there, but if you don't have that available, I have had really good luck making sourdough starter from scratch by putting a bit of sugar and flour and water enough to make a runny pancake like batter, and adding juniper berries to this and after it's foaming nicely remove the berries and add more flour. The "bloom" on the juniper berries is a nice wild yeast that works well. What NEVER worked well for me was using bread yeast for starter. It works for the first batch of bread and then it gets bitter on subsequent batches of bread.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 42y 40h 39yTF

  18. #17
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    Well, I think this is a very good recipe. I'll make it again.

    The flavor is very good. The sourdough and rye work together nicely. The crust was crispy and chewy, and the interior was nice and soft but not nearly as open as Arnies.

    The sourdough culture performed it's magic well and fluffed up the goods nicely overnight and during the day rests. I was cautious not to de-gas the dough any more than necessary when handling and it was nice and "buoyant" when I went to shape it into loaves. And then I mangled it... :facepalm:

    It's a very wet dough and in spite of oiled hands and well floured everything, it wanted to stick to ... everything. I managed to handle it pretty well until it was time to cut it in half for the shaping. In spite of having a well oiled cutter, it stuck to the cutter.
    I tried to gently work it free from the cutter with some well oiled fingers and it stuck to the fingers. By the time I got it worked loose from cutter & fingers it had sat on the well floured work surface too long and stuck down. By the time I got it all loose and "shaped" and transferred to a piece of parchment it was pretty de-gassed and rather lumpy and irregular shaped.

    When the loaves were doing their final rise they spread horizontally a lot and touched each other and stuck together. I didn't try to separate them until they were baked.

    The loaves came out of the oven just ugly as hell, but they taste great.

    I think next time I'll use a banneton to help support the wet dough instead of letting it rise on a flat surface,
    I'll try and use more flour and more oil (if that's possible) on all surfaces to help prevent sticking and try to work faster. The longer it is in contact with anything the more it wants to stick.

    Anyway, it tastes great and I'll try it again sometime. Thanks Arnie!


  19. #18
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    Michael Bush,
    I have also 'stalked the wild yeast', using cedar berries, wild rose hips, wild plums,,,,, they all help jump start the levain. Good stuff!

    BeeBop,
    That looks great! This particular bread is not for the faint of heart, but with a little practice it becomes much easier to play with; and it is worth a little effort.
    It's basically a ciabatta that is transformed by the folding into more of a loaf than a blob. Good job.

    Here's another. This is from Dan Leader's book Bread Alone. It's a basic sour dough bread but with the addition of walnuts. Changes the bread completely. It comes out dark, richly flavored and a little more dense. It's a great bread for winter, makes fabulous sandwiches.

    Pain au Levain with Walnuts.

    Feed the starter about 12 hours before making the levain starter.

    For the levain starter:
    Mix 12 ounces liquid sour dough starter
    6 ounces bread flour.
    Let this ferment overnight.

    Next day mix:

    18 fluid ounces water
    27 ounces flour, or a little more if the dough is too slack.
    Add the levain, all 18 ounces.

    Mix until it is just combined and then let it rest for 30 minutes. This rest is called 'autolyse' and it helps develop the gluten in the dough.

    After the 30 minutes add:
    1 tablespoon salt
    7 ounces toasted, finely chopped walnuts.

    Knead the dough until it starts to pull away from the mixer sides and the dough begins to strengthen. Give it a good mix; you want a strong dough to hold up to the weight of the nuts.

    Let the dough rise until it had almost doubled. Fold the dough twice at 30 minute intervals during the ferment.

    Shape the dough into rounds or use large loaf pans to proof. Proof until nearly doubled and bake with steam at 460 degrees for 20 minutes and 375 for 10 minutes more.
    Last edited by Arnie; 12-07-2015 at 07:03 PM. Reason: wrong bake temp

  20. #19
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    Ahh, now the Pain au Levain w/ walnuts sounds a little closer to the sort of thing I often make.
    Dough hydration in the mid 60ish%, an overnight rest with the sourdough starter, water, and about 1/3 to 1/2 the flour. Maybe some kind of nuts and/or seeds.
    I like whole wheat breads so I quite often use 25 - 75% fresh milled whole wheat flour and I usually make "sandwich loaves" in rectangular loaf pans because I'm lazy and loaf pans are easy.


    I need to make English Muffins soon if I can find my recipe. I just love fresh sourdough English Muffins and it's been well over a year since I made them.

    English Muffins rising on a cookie sheet.



    Cooking 'em on Frankengriddle.



    Ready for some butter, jam, or honey. Or maybe a ham & cheese sandwich..



    I just love sourdough.

  21. #20
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    Default Re: Sour Dough Bread

    Those are beautiful English muffins. Well done.

    You can adjust the hydration of that original sour dough recipe to about 70%. Make it the same way. By pre-fermenting half the flour the flavor and character of the bread is improved a lot.
    You could also add in a cold ferment and retard the shaped loaves. If you do that and are careful not to lose the volume of the long rise the bread will come out nice and light with lots of random sized holes.
    One of the good things about folding the dough is it develops the gliadin (one of the types of gluten) in the dough and makes it more extensible,,,, stretchy..... That helps the surface of the dough stretch during the 'oven spring' time of the bake, and keeps the larger bubbles from collapsing.

    The amazing thing about a good sour dough bread is the amount of flavor you can coax out of three simple ingredients. Flour, water, salt. With a little practice those 3 things become special. A baguette with a crispy crust that shatters when you bite into it and a creamy delicate crumb with the tangy earthiness of the levain............it's astonishing! Sublime. And all that from 3 of the most basic ingredients. True magic.

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