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    Sourdough, in Spite of the Heat

    The daytime temperature here in New Jersey has been breaking all sorts of records lately, which makes any sort of bread baking difficult. I’ve been making pitas, English muffins and other simple breads, trying to keep the kitchen from turning into a sauna — or maybe a steam room.

    We got a break these past few days, so I sprang into action (not quite a spring, since sourdough takes quite a bit of time) and made a sourdough using my newly started starter. I’ll describe the starter in the next post. Let’s just say that the New Jersey “ambiance” and good whole wheat and bread flours made for a very active starter. I dug out my traditional recipe and went to work.

    I made two large roundish batards of 1500 grams / 3.3 pounds each. There is some whole wheat flour in the dough, but it is mainly white bread flour. I am using the starter to develop a levain that represents 40% of the final weight of the dough. This is a fairly dry dough and a fairly high percentage of levain. I decided on these numbers because I haven’t made sourdough in a while and wanted to be sure I had something that had a good chance of being good, meaning edible and not a doorstop.

    Here’s the recipe in brief for those who may have forgotten since the mid-term exam.

    Thursday, Aug 9, 11PM Step 1: 30 grams of the storage starter at 100% hydration, add 60 grams of water and 60 grams of flour. I used 30 grams of whole wheat flour and 30 grams of bread flour. Mix it up, put it in a container with a top and let it sit on the counter for 8-12 hours. Don’t let the mixture collapse if at all possible. This gives 150 grams.

    Friday, Aug 10, 9AM Step 2: I thought the mixture was on the verge of collapsing, so I went to step 2. Add 150 grams of whole wheat flour and 150 grams of bread flour. Mix this up, put it in a slightly larger container, cover it and let it develop for 7-8 hours, or until it is at least a double. Then remove 30 grams to act as the storage starter for next time. This gives 420 grams.

    Friday, Aug 10, 2:30PM Step 3: The starter was so active that I ended it at 2:30PM, after 5 1/2 hours. Add 400 grams of whole wheat flour and 400 grams of bread flour. As before, mix it up, put it in a container that will allow at least a double, cover it and THEN allow it to work on the counter for one hour, then place it in the refrigerator over night. This will be about 1220 grams.

    Saturday, Aug 11, 9AM Step 4: Out of the refrigerator and on the counter to warm up. The temperature of the dough was 35F. After a little over one hour, the temperature was 52F. After two hours, the temperature was 60f. Pour the starter out of the container and into the bowl of a large (and I do mean LARGE) mixer. Add 36 grams of salt, 525 grams of water and 1275 grams of flour. I used 750 grams of bread flour and 525 grams of whole wheat. (Why such odd amounts? I ran out of bread flour.) Mix this up, cover it and let it rest for 20 minutes. Then knead for 8-10 minutes. The dough should not be very sticky and should pass the windowpane test. Place the dough in a very large container, mark the height of the dough on the side with tape, cover the container and let it sit on the counter until the dough doubles. This took 2 3/4 hours in my kitchen. Then fold the dough a few times, place it back in the container and let it develop for another 30 minutes.

    Saturday, Aug 11, 3:15PM Step 5: Pour the dough onto the counter, deflate it and let it rest, covered, for 15 minutes. Divide the dough into two large pieces (or more, if you want smaller loaves or rolls), form into boules, batards, or whatever you want. Place on floured parchment paper, cover with a towel and let rise for 3-4 hours, until at least doubled. Mine took 3 1/2 hours. Spritz the towel several times to keep it slightly damp.

    Bake at 450F, spritzing the loaves before placing them in the oven and spritzing the oven at the start of baking and once more after three minutes. SHift the loaves every 10-15 minutes to equalize baking.

    After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 425F and bake until done. I shoot for an internal temperature of 200F, then bake another 5-10 minutes, depending on the crust color.

    Here are four shots of the finished product.

    The two loaves out of the oven and cooling.

    Another shot of the loaves.

    The cut loaf, showing the crumb and the crust. The crumb is pretty tight because the dough was only 60% hydration.

    Here’s the bottom. Medium dark and nice and thick and chewy — it softens up nicely with olive oil or balsamic vinegar.

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