San Francisco Sourdough Bread Part 1

A sourdough starter is a minor miracle. Combine flour, water, and a mixture of natural bacteria and yeast, wait a few hours, and a dramatic change occurs! The teeming microscopic life within the wet mass of flour find an abundant source of nutrition and begin producing a bewildering array of flavorful chemical compounds and gaseous carbon dioxide. Within a short time the inert lump has drastically increased in volume. Life has asserted itself in an unmistakable way.

The starter has just been fed. 2 ounces of starter, previously stored in the refrigerator, are mixed with equal weights of water and flour. Only chlorine-free water should be used since we don’t want to inhibit the bacterial growth. I use a Brita faucet filter.

Freshly fed starter

Freshly fed starter

Here is the same starter six hours later. The yeast have produced a enough gas to increase the volume more than double. At this point the starter has a mild acidic odor, somewhat fruity and not at all unpleasant.

The same starter after 6 hours

The same starter after 6 hours

For the most reproducible results the ingredients are weighed. I use measuring spoons for the salt, but everything else is weighed. I’ve found this Oxo scale to be very accurate and reliable. Since the scale has a 12 lb capacity I can weigh directly into the mixing bowl.

Starter and water have been weighed

Starter and water have been weighed

I’ve mixed and kneaded the bread by hand several times, but find the mixer with a dough hook is faster and results in a much easier clean-up. I mix at lowest speed for seven minutes. The dough comes together around the dough hook and cleans the sides of the bowl, but remains in contact with the bottom of the bowl.

Mixing with a Danish dough whisk

Mixing with a Danish dough whisk

All of flour added, ready to mix with dough hook

All of flour added, ready to mix with dough hook

Dough gathers into a ball around the hook

Dough gathers into a ball around the hook

After 7 minutes the dough is somewhat sticky but isn’t difficult to handle with a little flour on the hands. I gather the dough into a ball, clean out the bowl, return the dough to the bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

After 7 minutes of mixing the dough is soft and sticky

After 7 minutes of mixing the dough is soft and sticky

Rounded dough ready for first rise

Rounded dough ready for first rise

The bowl is placed in a wine cooler set to 61F and allowed to slowly rise for about 10 to 12 hours. The long cool rise allows the flavors to fully develop. (I have wine bottles in the cooler too. I’m not going to give it up entirely to the bread!)
Even at 61F the dough has risen more than double. The dough is scraped from the bowl onto a lightly floured work surface. The dough is handled gently so it will not totally degas.

After an 11 hour cool rise

After an 11 hour cool rise

Dough transferred to a floured board

Dough transferred to a floured board

Initially the dough is very soft, pliable and sticky. A little flour on the surface and the hands make easier to handle. Some structure is introduced to the dough by allowing its own weight to stretch it out, then folding it over. This is repeated a few times after which the dough is much easier to gather into a stable round loaf shape.

The first stretch

The first stretch

The first fold

The first fold

The final tightening of the loaf is accomplished by dragging the loaf on the unfloured board, rotating it to evenly distribute the tension.
Please go to this blog post for the rest of the story.

The formed loaf, ready to place in the proofing basket

The formed loaf, ready to place in the proofing basket

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