SOURCE: The Perfect Loaf
I finally entered full COVID-19 quarantine mode by jumping on the bread-making bandwagon. I’ve made bread several times before, so it just didn’t really hold much interest. But my bread has been pretty basic and I’ve never made a true artisanal loaf. So I decided to use my extra time at home to attempt a traditional, naturally leavened, sourdough bread.
I tried making bread from a sourdough starter many years ago, but with limited success. It was totally acceptable, but rather dense and with a soft crust. Not the crusty, airy, bakery-style bread that comes to mind when you think about sourdough.
I set out to do it right this time. I created my sourdough starter using instructions from King Arthur Baking Company. Through the King Arthur blog, I stumbled across Maurizio and his bread-making adventures at The Perfect Loaf. I settled on his Beginner’s Sourdough Bread instructions.
My first attempt this time around was a resounding success.
A few things that seem critical to the perfect sourdough loaf:
- You can’t rush a sourdough starter; it needs to be strong enough before using it to leaven the bread. Be patient and keep feeding it until it doubles or triples in volume within 6-8 hours of feeding. And don’t be discouraged by all the discard; make some fantastic pizza dough with it.
- It takes time. Once the starter is strong enough, it will still take over 24 hours from step 1 through to baking. Plan ahead and don’t skip steps. It’s worth it in the end.
- You need heat. Bake the bread at high heat on a pre-heated pizza stone or in a dutch oven. We’re not baking muffins here. (I used a pizza stone.)
- You need steam for the bread to rise properly. If using a pizza stone, pour a cup of water into a pre-heated cast iron pan below the pizza stone right before putting the bread in the oven. If using a dutch oven, it traps in the steam required.
Making this bread at home helps you understand and appreciate the work that goes into that delicious artisanal loaf from the bakery. It takes commitment, but not that much effort, and with a bit of planning, a well-maintained sourdough stater can produce all the bread you need for without the need for any commercial yeast.