I recently read an article about how and why most of us resorted to baking during quarantine. Whether is it anxiety baking or procrastibaking, as the article states, it is an activity that we enjoy to let time pass during confinement and have a good delicious product, that is usually more delicious because we made it ourselves.
I was never really into baking bread. I LOVE eating bread, but when it comes to making it, whether it is our local thin chewy pita bread or a good crusty loaf, my motto was (a literal translation of an Arabic saying) buying it rather than raising it. That was until confinement hit us and I decided to start raising my bacteria pet: Quarant7ino (the 7 reads as the other H sound in Arabic, and t7in/t-hin means flour)
Yes, I started a sourdough starter from scratch.
I did a lot of research and checked out different sources, watched videos, read articles, asked people, got helpful replies and tips on instagram, looked into different flours and methods, and now I am finally able to say
I MADE A GOOD LOAF
Sourdough baking is a very precise skill. Everything is technical and calculated.
First of all, you have to understand the method, and approach it confidently. (this video with Kim Possible working the mixer sums up my whole experience with sourdough making)
If you’re anything like me, I really wanted to know what every element does and how each process affects the outcome. Geeky stuff. So after researching and going through different opinions and processed, I approached the dough last time with confidence and showed it who is the boss. And that yielded a gorgeous loaf with a GREAT crumb, a crunchy blistered crust, and a good sour flavor.
It took me a while. I didn’t bake a lot. On average, I made a batch of two loafs almost once a week. The first few time it was very rough to work with the dough, especially a high hydration one. Even with different trials, things were only slightly working out.
I had a dry dough. A wet dough. A sticky dough. A runny dough. An over-proofed dough. A dense dough.
I got a heavy loaf. No crust. Dense small crumb. No browning. No oven spring. A pale loaf. But the flavor was ok.
But it only worked once I switched to a good type of flour.
DISCLAIMER: This might sound like one of those infomercials with people doing stupid things to emphasize on the need for a useless product. This is not a sponsored post but an appreciation for a product I received and really enjoyed working with. This is not an infomercial material.
This is exactly what I went through.
I received two boxes of the Bakalian Home Baker Collection: The Lebanese Selection and The Sourdough Baker. They came just in time after I was struggling to get a decent loaf with a good crumb, a nice oven spring, a beautiful crust, and most of all, an easy to work with dough.
The good things that I appreciate the Bakalian flour for is the details and specificity of their flours. The packs are labeled with a breakdown of the content, in terms of name and type of flour, its description, ingredients, nutritional facts, and recommended uses. That was very helpful in getting the right flour for the sourdough loaf, since supermarket flours aren’t that specific and mostly they are all purpose flour that is not specifically the best for sourdough.
Most home bakers use a dutch over or a cast iron post with a lid. I had neither. So I kept playing and experimenting with different items I had in the kitchen until I found what works best for me. I have to note that having an oven thermometer (and a kitchen scale) is a must since everything is very technical. The best tools that I had were two aluminum cake pans acting as a pot and lid with enough room for the loaf to rise, and a tray (sometimes I’d use a heavy-bottomed stainless steel sautéing pan with an oven safe glass bowl on top. Covering the loaf as it bakes is essential as it creates steam which prevents the top of the loaf from drying and allows it to rise to create a lighter loaf and an open crumb. Some advise using a pan of boiling water at the bottom of the oven or throwing ice cubes, but those didn’t work for me.
With the last few batches I made, I am very satisfied with how much I learned about sourdough bread making and about flours. And I was happy to get a good loaves of bread. With this newfound confidence, I will try making bread with the regular type of flour just to test out which ones would work and which ones wouldn’t.
Some terms to help you get around if you are new to this:
Hydration: it is the amount of water added to the flour to make the dough. Usually is is measured by percentage to the flour used. On average, 60-70 percent is a good hydration level
Starter/Mother: it is the natural leavener or yeast made from fermenting wheat flour with water and the bacteria from the air. It is slow acting and requires more time for the dough to rise compared to regular dry instant yeast. It has to be fed regularly to remain alive and usable
Autolyse: it is the process of hydrating the flour with the liquid and giving it time to absorb it. I sometimes skip this step and mix everything together
Stretch & Fold: instead of kneading, this method is employed to stretch the gluten strands. It is achieved by loosening the dough from the bowl and then, as the name implies, you stretch one part of the dough and fold it over. It is repeated with turning the bowl 90º so that all sides are stretched
Crumb: it is how open or tight the holes inside the loaf. Usually we’re looking for medium sized ones. Too small and the loaf is very sense, too big and a slice is just a bunch of holes that cannot hold butter or jam on it
Oven Spring: it is the way the bread rises in the oven and the stretched breaks that happen at its top.
Ear: it is the tear or break that is caused by the oven spring
Below is what worked for me. I advise you to try it and work based on what would be good for you, since so many factors can play a role in the final product, like the type of flour, starter strengh, temperature in your house/kitchen,… and even though I am no expert, but feel free to ask me and I’ll help you up to my knowledge.
Here are a few links that helped me a lot in learning about this, including some geeky stuff.
Making your sourdough starter https://foodgeek.dk/en/make-your-own-sourdough-starter-recipe/
Sourdough starter maintenance https://foodgeek.dk/en/sourdough-starter-maintenance/
Baker’s Math Explained https://foodgeek.dk/en/bakers-math-explained/