(A note before starting, this post refers to Australian measures – see my page for conversion chart)
I’ve been experimenting with alternative timings for my basic sourdough lately, and have stumbled on some fantastic ideas. I knew about overnight ‘retardation’ of the dough once it had been shaped and put in a proofing basket, and I knew about a couple of ’3 day build’ methods which kept the dough refrigerated as it was being developed, but it was a revelation to me to discover that I could make up a simple batch of dough, let it ferment for a few hours on the bench, then put it in the fridge for a few days before baking it at a time that suited me. There are many variations on this idea on the internet, but from what I can gather it seems to have started with these guys (this really is a good read by the way), and the uber bread guru Peter Reinhart, who uses a lot of cold fermentation to get fantastic flavour in everyday loaves. These methods refer to dough made with commercial or standard yeast, which is great for those who aren’t familiar with sourdough or don’t have a sourdough starter, but I think it’s great to let people know that they can make fantastic bread with flour, yeast, salt and water (nothing fancy there), and then later they can apply the same methods to sourdough (which is really the same elements except the yeast is ‘wild’ and works a bit slower). Anyway, I’ll leave that research to you and get back to this loaf here.
This loaf was made from a basic lean sourdough recipe (lean meaning without any fats or sweeteners), and instead of mixing, fermenting, shaping and baking all in the same day like I’d usually do, I made a double batch of dough and got 3 loaves out of it over a 2-3 day period. On the first day I roughly mixed my flour, sourdough starter, water and salt (no kneading required), and left it in the bowl on the kitchen table to ferment for about 4 hours. Once it was rising and bubbly I then gave it a bit of a stir (a ‘knock back’ to release the air bubbles), covered it again and put it in the fridge. Over the next couple of days I made a few loaves out of this dough, and the one shown here is the last of these. I simply took the dough out of the fridge, shaped it into a tightish ball, and placed it into a floured banneton (or an oiled and floured bowl will do) until it warmed up and got to about 1¾ it’s original size. Then when it was about half an hour off being ready to bake, I preheated my oven and casserole pot with lid to 250°C (as hot as my oven will go). When the oven was hot and the dough ready, I gently tipped the dough into the hot pot, and baked for for 30 minutes with the lid on and 10 minutes with the lid off. Even though I didn’t flip this loaf very gracefully, and the bottom ended up being the top, the result was still fantastically flavoured, with a rich golden/orange crackly crust and a wonderfully open fancy looking crumb (the holes and overall internal structure). That’s what refrigerating dough does – it gives it time to develop more complex deep flavours and without it going off (your dough wouldn’t have the legs to do anything after sitting on the bench for 3 days). This guy has a few good points on this too.
Sounds complicated? Not really. Here are the steps again, simplified:
- Mix dough (3 cups flour, 1 cup water, 1 cup sourdough starter and 1½ tsp salt – or double this as I did. Note I used a combination of plain flour, wholemeal and spelt, but any wheat flour combo will do. It needs to be a fairly moist and pliable dough).
- Leave the dough in it’s mixing bowl on a bench covered for 4 or more hours.
- After it’s risen and a bit bubbly, stir the dough down for a second or two, then re-cover and put it into the fridge.
- When you want to bake (up to 3 days later), take out required amount of dough, shape it as needed and place into a proofing vessel or a well oiled tin.
- Leave it for an hour or two to rise again (somewhere between 1½ or double the size)
- Bake it in a hot oven (note if you want a fantastic crust and crumb, I would definitely recommend throwing your dough into a very hot pot to bake – oven within an oven. See this post)
- And presto! After 30-40 minutes baking you have a gorgeous artisan loaf.
Here are a couple of my basic sourdough and standard yeast dough recipes that can also be used with this method, ie. use their ingredients lists with this method here, they will all work well:
- Easy Oatbran Sourdough
- Easy and Best No Knead Sourdough
- No knead Spelt Bread (this one uses yeast)
- Light Rye Soudough with Rolled Rye Berries