When pretty much the entire country went indoors back in March, there were certain habits that the population took to with gusto, and baking was way up at the top of the list. And next to banana bread, there was one thing in particular that people were dedicating their attention to perfecting: sourdough.
Here's the thing about sourdough. It takes forever. And so it makes sense that it was something we'd never had the time to invest in it before. "Yes, the process is long," says Mike Greenfield from the Pro Home Cooks channel on YouTube, "but you can fit it into your schedule because of the slow fermentation process."
In the video below, Greenfield outlines some of the most common mistakes people make when trying to bake sourdough at home, and gave his best advice for making the perfect loaf. Beginning, of course, with the sourdough starter.
"Probably the most underrated thing to the entire process is having a really healthy, active sourdough starter," he says. "This is the life force of your bread, this is the yeast, this is what gives it flavor and its rise. Without a healthy starter, you're not going to have great results." Greenfield recommends feeding the starter twice a day.
A starter is simply flour and water mixed together in equal parts, then left to create a culture for wild yeast and bacteria. Once you've created your mixture, let it activate for 3 to 5 hours at room temperature.
When it comes to mixing your ingredients, Greenfield recommends lowering the hydration level, as many first-time sourdough bakers aren't used to working with such a wet and sticky dough. "Although your final bread may not be as airy, it's going to be so much easier to deal with and you're going to save yourself a lot of trouble," he says. He also advises using the autolysing method for mixing dough, which involves stirring rather than kneading, and can lead to greater rise and flavor in the bread.
The next key step is knowing when to add your sourdough starter to your dough mix. ""You really want to use your starter when it's at peak activation," says Greenfield. One quick way to test your starter is to put a small scoop of it in water; if it floats, it is ready. Again, instead of kneading the dough, Greenfield suggests a "stretch, pull and fold" process. Repeat this every 30 minutes for 2 hours or so.
When the dough is ready it should be "smooth and supple," with a rounded edge that shows a structure is starting to form. Then you can either let the dough rise at room temperature for 4 to 7 hours, or alternatively leave it in the fridge overnight, which will slow down the fermentation process.
When shaping the dough into loaves, the wetness of the dough often causes people to add too much flour, but as Greenfield points out, that stickiness is needed. "This will definitely take time to develop, it's one of the trickier parts of making sourdough at home," he says. "You'll get that feel over time."
Another thing to remember: "There's no perfect way to shape your dough." The main thing, Greenfield says, is to keep that surface tension as you fold the dough, and not to add too much flour so that the seams stick.
So you've mixed and autolysed and folded and shaped and it feels like there wasn't a time when you weren't working on this dough. When do you know it's finally done proofing and ready for the oven? Greenfield uses the simple poke test; if you prod the surface of the dough and it springs back but leaves a slight dent, it's good to go. Remove the dough using parchment paper, dust off an excess flour, score the surface, and place it in a pre-heated Dutch oven.
"The most exciting part about making sourdough is you never know how it's going to turn out until you lift the lid," says Greenfield.
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