I was slightly nonplussed with my first experience making sourdough bread with the sourdough starter I got from the King Arthur Flour Company. Of course, a day or two later Crepes of Wrath posted a stellar blog about making a simple sourdough boule. They have such great recipes (and timing!). So this past weekend I gave it another chance and I’m really glad I did.
I first consulted my sourdough starter that’s been sitting in the fridge. It was a little watery and smelled pretty strong but according to the King Arthur Sourdough Starter Tips webpage, that’s totally fine.
In addition to the starter, this recipe only requires three more ingredients: flour, water, and salt. For the flour I used King Arthur’s Sir Lancelot high gluten flour. I love this stuff, every time I use it for bread it comes out fantastic.
The original recipe I used had the four ingredients weighed out so I did the same. It’s much more precise and a better method for bread baking. I used 65g of sourdough starter, 6g of kosher salt, 205g of water, and 300g of flour. I combined them together in my stand mixer with the dough hook attachment until the water was fully absorbed.
When the dough had come together I kneaded it on the counter for about 2-3 minutes, shaped into a ball, covered, and left alone for 2 hours.
After 2 hours, I split the dough in half at to bake one loaf immediately and bake another, fully proofed version later (recipe coming soon). I’m impatient in my bread baking, what can I say?! Plus I was skeptical of my starter and wanted to check on it.
I took one half of my dough, kneaded it again, and placed it in a flour covered, paper towel lined bowl. I know this doesn’t seem important but it is. Bread recipes and cookbooks almost always require the baker to use a brotform bowl and special liner. These unitaskers can be very pricey and I refuse to buy one when I can improvise.
Two hours later, it was ready to bake!
The baking method I used here is essential to getting the result I got. First, preheat your oven to 450 degrees with a cast iron skillet and baking vessel inside. A word about the baking vessel: the recipe I used showed a baking stone and oven safe bowl, you can buy a very expensive cloche bread baker (another pricey unitasker), or you can do what I did and use a dutch oven. Mine is a Le Creuset but you could use anything that can withstand a lot of heat with a cover or lid.
Once the oven was preheated, I placed my bread dough in the middle of my Le Creuset and scored the top with a sharp knife.
I then poured a cup of water into the hot cast iron pan and closed the oven door quickly. This allows the dough to be fully surrounded by steam. Steam creates an amazing crust and enhances the interior of the bread (you’ll see later).
After three minutes in the steamy stove, I put the lid on the Le Creuset and baked the bread like that for about 15 minutes. This ensures that all of the steam inside the dough will be trapped there while the bread actually bakes.
What the bread looked like after 15 minutes of baking:
I then removed the lid and baked the bread for an additional 20 minutes (until it was a deep golden brown).
At this point, you have to let your bread cool before cutting it. This is torture, I know, but essential. Give it 20 minutes, at the minimum.
The finished boule was crusty on the outside but moist and airy on the inside. See those holes? See the golden brown crust? That is the work of the steam!
This is hands down the best method I’ve ever used for bread baking. I tried time and time again to achieve the perfect artisan loaf at home with such hit or miss results. So few cookbooks tell you that it’s all about the baking method and much less about the actual dough or recipe. Truth is, home bakers will never achieve the perfection that a professional 800 degree wood fired oven can impart on a loaf. However I’m happy to know this method got me pretty darn close.
Stay tuned for what becomes of the second half of this sourdough batch!