5 years ago, I started dabbling in bread making. I borrowed my sisters bread machine because I wanted to bake bread because it might be cheaper. I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy baking bread until one day the poor motor on her machine died. I baked it in the machine until I worked up confidence to use the dough cycle and bake real looking loaves in the oven. Let’s be real, the bread machine loaves that are baked inside the machine are ugly and half your loaf will have a hole in the middle. I only use the dough cycle now on my current machine when I feel too lazy to do the mixing by hand.
So, this December, I was on Instagram and I saw in suggested videos one of a woman who bakes the prettiest breads.
I got sucked in.
As a creative person, some of my first thoughts are “I can do that. I want to make pretty breads.”
And down the rabbit hole I went.
I went to youtube after that. I knew my favourite hosts from Bon Appetite had done a sourdough tutorial. Very soon, my youtube search history had more searches for sourdough tutorials and how to make starter. I watched and re watched them. One cold morning I was sipping tea, writing down recipes and notes when Tony sleepily stumbled downstairs to get his first cup of coffee. He stopped, coffee in hand and curiosity got him. I told him that I was looking into making sourdough bread. Well, he sat down and we re watched my favourite sourdough videos together. I could see his brain a turning, he was intrigued. After that morning, we decided we’d go on this sourdough journey together. We scrounged up a couple old mason jars and made some starter. The goal was to make a loaf by Christmas. We had a few weeks to go.
Our starter was sluggish at first (spoilers: it did not work for our first loaf), and then as we researched flours we added rye and then whole wheat to the starter and used filtered water, and then BAM it took off. We were proud parents of a gooey fermented friend that we cared for once a day. The kids dubbed it our pet and giggled when we’d take it down off the fridge to feed it.
So, after 6 days of feeding the starter, Tony was raring to go. His expectations were so very high. He was so excited, so we made our first loaf.
It was a disaster.
It was like a pancake with one huge bubble on top. I had set my expectations low, and I knew we’d fail We can laugh about it now, but my husband was devastated. He thought we’d get a decent loaf, at least an edible one. The first loaf was so horrible I wouldn’t try it. Tony tried it, but it was inedible. It went straight into the green waste bin. He pouted on the couch all evening after that.
The next day we were back at it again. We re watched all the videos, took more notes and tried to determine what went horribly wrong. We were so excited to try baking that we impatiently used our starter that wasn’t quite ready. But we didn’t know this until days later after seeing how a starter should really rise and fall after using the rye and whole wheat flours in it.
And yet, we persisted.
With each loaf of bread we got better. It was a slow process. Baking sourdough can take at least a whole day of prep work before you bake. Some bakeries take three days. Tony is not patient, so we use a full day and start in the morning, and bake late at night, like 11 pm.
The next thing we worked on is creating surface tension on the loaf. Learning how to shape dough was crucial. Of course, videos on youtube make working with this extra wet dough look easy.
At the beginning when you dump that dough on the counter to “knead” it, it’s like handling that stupid slime that my kids love. We were so grateful to have bought bench scrapers before we started this endeavour. There would still be dough stuck to my counters if I hadn’t had them. You really do start using them as an extension of your hand when you are working the dough.
Finally, by Christmas day, we had a decent edible loaf of sourdough bread. Just in time for spinach dip. It was delicious, and well worth the time and effort. I’m quite proud of what we’ve accomplished given our limited knowledge of bread baking.
We’ve tweaked and tinkered with the recipe and method, and we’ve got a new book on bread baking that was recommended by the sourdough forum on reddit. It came yesterday, so I’m reading that today. Its called Flour, Water, Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza.
So, as newbies we are still working on stuff, but if you too want to go on this journey, here are a few things we recommend using to help you out:
-5 quart dutch oven. I ordered one from amazon. It has always been a thing I’ve wanted anyways, so I had even more of an excuse to get it. It really gives the loaves a nice round shape, and keeps the steam in better than my oven.
-Rice flour! Part of the process is to flour a banneton or casserole dish lined with a tea towel. This prevents the dough from sticking to the dish while it proofs. We would liberally flour our stuff with all-purpose flour, and still dealt with dough sticking to the banneton and tea towel. The all-purpose flour would just get absorbed into the dough. After putting in hours of work to have a dough stuck was devastating. Tony was so frustrated as we tried to pry dough out without ruining it. Rice flour has been incredible for preventing all of this and making the dough so easy to get out. It also comes off the dough easily and prevents you from having a huge crust of flour stuck to the finished bread. We found rice flour at bulk barn.
-Food scale. If you’re using a good recipe, it’s always by weight. Food scales are cheap, and I have had one for years for when I baked macarons, so get one.
-Big rubbermaid bin for the stretch and folding
-Bread lame or sharp razor blade. If you’re like me and your knives aren’t always super sharp, a bread lame (ahem, pronounced lom) is the way to go. Essentially, it’s a razor on a stick that you use to score your loaves. Alex shows you how he puts a razor on a chopstick to get the same effect. I got a lame for Christmas this year and I love it.
Ok, so maybe you want to learn more, or just see the process of making sourdough. There are a few different methods and techniques that some use and others don’t. After trial and error, you’ll find what works best for you.
What works for us is to smack and turn the dough to knead it, for about 10 minutes. Then let it sit in a sealed bin, and every 30 min, stretch it and pull the sides out gently and then tuck the sides inward, then let it sit again. We do this 5-6 times before shaping and proofing. I think Claire from Bon Appetite does this method.
So, useful videos we love are here:
Joshua Weissman is where we originally got our starter recipe from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTAiDki7AQA&t=16s
Bon Appetite Claire and Brad make sourdough: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oidnwPIeqsI
*Her method for kneading and recipe is what we use.
Patrick from I Love Ireland shows you how to shape the dough really well and honestly, I could listen to his Irish accent all day (I love how he says flour): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FVfJTGpXnU&t=656s
Alex, from Alex French Guy Cooking does a fantastic job on what flours to use, and how to make starter, as well as how to put your starter on hold, this is series on sourdough: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1Ssdzk6uhI&list=PLURsDaOr8hWWSiMZBLGP2UEs8w3nQDTVY
Another we watched- which had no real helpful tips, it was more just a video to get you jazzed about baking bread was this video on the Magic of Bread Making by Tasty: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGbNI26PPYg