Photo-blogging a batch of sourdough bread

This isn’t a full-blown photo-blog session with images step by step, because I assume some experience on the reader’s part. Basically I just wanted to show off my relatively poofy loaves of bread with this sourdough.

Sourdough starter

Sourdough starter before baking

Step 1: Get the starter out

This is my starter before I got going on the bread. It is a San Francisco sourdough starter that I bought over the Internet several months ago and is doing pretty well now.

I have two Pyrex bowls reserved to store it in, and after reading Ed Wood’s book on sourdoughs, I’m pretty careful about cleanliness, bleaching utensils and then carefully rinsing them before transferring or, as was the case today, using the starter.

I start by reserving a bit of starter (see below) and then feeding the main starter and storing it per usual (in this warm weather that means keeping it covered and at room temperature until it gets bubbling a lot and then putting it in the fridge).

Step 2: Putting the bread together

Amount of starter used for bread

Amount of starter used for bread (makes two loaves)

You don’t need to reserve a lot of starter. I found through experience that using more than about a half a cup of starter in a two-loaf batch just gives you a mealy, heavy texture in the final product. I am not really precise, but generally put about this much starter in a 2-1/2-cup measure and then fill the measure up with filtered or distilled water (seriously: don’t use plain tap water). It should all be at room temperature.

After mixing that up well, I pour it all into a 4-quart Pyrex bowl. Note: Putting the dough together and kneading it is where I got lazy, not wanting to stop everything, wash my hands and take a picture after each step. It all flows together so nicely. I just went ahead and did it.

The basic recipe calls for addition of a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil and some flour into which I’ve mixed about 2 teaspoons of salt and a tablespoon or so of sugar (purists have just keeled over in cardiac arrest, but it’s only a little bit and improves the end result quite a lot). Stir that all together in the dish and then add several cups of flour, until it is quite a stiff dough. The sourdough organisms soften the dough and it will be quite floppy at the end so it is good to start out with a stiffer than usual texture.

Knead it until it starts standing up to your pressure on it and then pour in another 3 tablespoons of oil or so. That’s more oil than most recipes call for, but without it the crust is not as flaky. Knead in the oil and then a few strokes more, but I have found that this white-flour-based dough really only needs a total of perhaps 125 strokes. Stop when it’s still kind of oily but looks like this:

Sourdough ready to rise

Sourdough ready to rise

Everybody has their own procedure for preparing bread dough for rising, and there’s nothing special you need to do with this because it is sourdough. I place the dough in this bowl, rub a little butter on the top, cover the top of the bowl with two sheets of clear plastic wrap and then set the bowl’s plastic cover on top of that.

Rising and baking

A double rise gives you the best texture and flavor for sourdough bread. It takes an enormous amount of time, though. It’s a good idea to start a batch the night before, except in midsummer, perhaps.

I started this batch in the morning. Although temperatures were in the 70s outdoors, the first rise took 12 hours, and it was only ready for the second rise at around 7 p.m. I couldn’t stay up all night with it, so I tried something new. After the second rise got going (and it was much speedier, as always), I carefully covered the bowl up so the dough wouldn’t dry out and then stuck it in the fridge overnight.

To my surprise, this really didn’t cause a major slow-down for the yeast. Perhaps these non-commercial organisms enjoyed the rest. In any case, the bread dough was rising pretty quickly the next morning within an hour of taking it out into room air again. After about another two hours it was ready to be put into the pan.

After the second rise, of course, you will probably need to put the dough in pans for baking as it is pretty soft at this point and difficult to shape otherwise. Let it rise about an hour or until almost double and then bake it the same way you would any loaf bread.

Here is a confession: To show off on the Net, I was going to make a loaf and a pizza (just flatten half the dough on a cooking sheet, cover with heated pizza sauce and toppings of choice and bake immediately) but just couldn’t handle the thought of pizza sauce in the early morning!

I made two loaves instead. Here’s how they came out:

Sourdough bread

Sourdough bread


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“Sourdough starter”, “Amount of starter used for bread,” “Sourdough ready to rise” and “Sourdough bread” by B. J. Deming is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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Categories: Cooking

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