How to make sourdough really easy
Going back over a year now I’ve been looking for ways to tame sourdough to my own schedule. Notably I wanted to have fresh hot bread for breakfast. Since then people in my sourdough workshops proposed other challenges : to make it fit into their busy lives.
In this latter case it was reasonably easy: find cool places in your house for a longer bulk rise including the fridge. But these answers still presumed time for a starter refresh, bulk rise, shaping and proofing, and baking. Controlling for temperature this could be anywhere from a 6 to 24 or more hour cycle.
Recently I’ve been trying something new. Instead of thinking of a whole process ending up with all the dough baked at once, I’m preparing a much larger base dough, letting it rise a couple of hours on the counter then throwing it into the fridge in a large freezer bag. That
done, I take only what I need when I need it. That way I get “just in time and just enough” and its always fresh.
Not only can you do this at the bulk rise stage, you can also do it with the final proofing. A shaped loaf can happily be in the fridge rising for a couple of days.
For some of you reading this may bring quiet agreement – perhaps its what you do. For others you will be asking ‘Tell me more’.
As always with sourdough it starts with the starter. I like to use 166% starter. I keep a 100g jar (or so) from the previous batch. It begins with the refresh: 100g starter, 100g fresh filtered water, 60g organic whole wheat flour. 8 hous later I should have 260g of starter. I refresh a second time: 260g starter, 260g water, 156g flour. Now I have about 780g of really bubbly twice refreshed starter. This is something I do when it is convenient to do, and while I have both bead in the pantry and a dough in the fridge. That said, there is some planning and anticipation needed as you want to make the bulk rise when the starter is at its most vigorous.
The bulk rise
I now make a large base bulk rise of 66% hydration: approximately 500g of starter, 1500g of flour (3x the amount – or the starter is 33%), 808g water (66% hydration when the hydration of the starter is factored in). Autolyse as usual for about 20 minutes and add 33g salt (2% when starter flour is factored in). This yields a 2.8 kilo dough. Let it rise out of the fridge until doubled, but do not let it overproof. If anything cut it short. Punch down, take off a chunk for a loaf to be baked next, pack the rest of it into a large freezer bag, seal it up and stick it in the fridge. You now have a chunk of dough that is immediately available for whatever other bread you wish to do: dinner rolls, a baguette or two, burger buns, another loaf, bagels…. The bag can be in the fridge quite happily for a number of days, but I’d want to use it up within a week. You will find it continues to very slowly ferment.
The Loaf Proofing
Although I make lots of different kinds of bread, I always like to have a regular loaf available and fresh. My family varies on how fast it is consumed – a 20-some decides he’s hungry and its all gone, while someone else decides they are going on a severe diet can mean its consumption really slows down. But at the point its needed, I don’t want to have to knead it & let it rise for an hour or two. What I do is that shortly after – or even at – the time a loaf is baked, I set up another loaf – decide on the type of loaf, the various crust toppings, the hydration – and then I wrap it in a plastic bag or a wet towel, and into the fridge it goes. Fermentation is slowed right down and its ready to be baked at the point you want it. I bake it directly from the fridge as opposed to having it warm up first. This ensues it does not get overproofed, and makes scoring a lot easier. Baking it directly from the fridge means it needs to bake longer, so if doing this is new to you, keep a thermometer in it and take notes until you get your time down.
On Monday evening I prepared 2500g of dough. It rose overnight. Next morning I took out 900g for a pan loaf, prepared it and stuck it back in the fridge. Somewhere mid afternoon on Tuesday, I decided to make some hummus as part of dinner. I took off about 500g of my dough, rolled it out to make half a dozen pitas. They rose on some parchment paper as I prepared the rest of dinner and heated the oven. The next morning (Wednesday) I baked the loaf I had prepared. Between the loaf and the pitas, no more bread needed for a bit. On Thursday evening I thought that bagels for breakfast on Friday would be a fine breakfast, so I took about 500g of dough, added flour and a little salt, along with diastatic malt to give me a 60% bagel dough. These were shaped Thursday night, and boiled/baked on Friday morning to the surprised appreciation of the family. About this point I refreshed my starter again in preparation for the next bulk dough. On Friday evening, everyone wanted pizza so that used up the remaining 600g of my dough. During dinner clean up I set up my next bulk rise, finding a cool spot in the house to let it go until first thing next morning. As you can see its a system that enables you to not have to worry about the start to finish span of bread making, nor do you have to predict days in advance what you will be baking and when. Much of it can be done when you are doing other kitchen work you would have to do anyway.
Messing around with it a little more
You will notice above that the bagels were 60% while the bulk rise was 66%. There may indeed be other situations where you want to change the hydration (like making a high hydration chewey baguette) or have a more specific flour mix than just your basic stuff. This can be done.
Using my hydration change calculator, you can add either liquid or flour/salt to your base dough to effect this change. In the case of the bagels, I needed to add 37g of flour and .7g salt to my dough. If had wanted to make a 78% baguette, I would use the calculator to find that I need 40g of water, or whatever other liquid.
Supposing you want to add in a different kind of flour – you want a rye loaf. Here you do have to work a little harder. Lets assume my base dough is 50% white all purpose and 50% whole wheat, and its at 66% hydration, and you want the rye flour addition to be the same as the other flours (the 50% weight). Lets say that the weight of all purpose is 200g and also is the weight of the whole wheat. If you wanted an equal part of rye flour, you would then mix in 200g of rye flour, 132g of water and 4g of salt. Now however you have created a condition where unfermented flour has been added to the dough, in a significant amount. You would therefore need to let this new mix ferment for a number of hours (according to your temperature), likely then shape it, wait an hour or so and then bake it. You are in effect using your base dough as a kind of levain, and if you are venturing into this area, it does require some planning. However, if you determine that your thing is to have 2 kinds of base doughs, you could then have one dedicated to rye, or a high hydration white, or whatever you would like.