Breakfast Sourdough Bread - introduction
Updated: Mar 31, 2020
You have asked us for a simple recipe for breakfast sourdough bread. Well, this is it. The dough is easy to work with, kneading reduced to minimum. As a result you get nice and airy centre (open crumb but not with massive holes - ‘let’s keep that butter on the slice’ sort of a thing).
We are using the word ‘recipe’. However, in our view, there is NO recipe for sourdough bread. Yes, you read it right! It’s flour, water, salt - only 3 ingredients. That’s it. Surely, these can be used in different proportions but this should in no way be treated as a full recipe. Then - when you add variables like - temperature, timings, different types of flour, sensory aspects (feel, look, smell), microflora in your house, your grasp of the process - these soft variables complete the baking process and the recipe. We will give you directions around the process to set you up for success. If this is your first bread - treat it as a journey (we hope you will enjoy the ride!). If it isn’t - this is our favourite baking approach that produces simple and delicious breakfast loaf.
If you are searching for sourdough bread recipes - search for those that give you guidance around soft variables mentioned above. Sourdough is very flexible - so once you are up and running you will see that these simple ingredients can be manipulated in many ways (with variables mentioned above) to fit your needs and taste!
As many of you are starting the sourdough journey, we decided to post this recipe with directions for both: young and mature starters. Directions for mature starter involve same ingredients, similar hydration, overnight ‘autolyse’ with salt. However, you will use 66% less starter, bulk will be longer and dough will be cold-proofed in the fridge to develop more mature flavour. This is our favourite approach as the flour is partially pre-digested during long fermentation and flavour is fully developed. A real treat!
For baby starters - we used here our freshly created starter (9-day-old). The challenges with freshly created baby starter are different. Starter will work different. In this process, we will also ‘autolyse’ with salt, use same ingredients. However, you will use more starter, bulk and final proof will be shorter. We will include directions for longer final cold proof (this would be a preferred option as results are better!) and quick final proof (making it a same-day bread).
In this way you will get sound introduction to different stages of bread baking process, you will use dough which is easy to work with and knead, is mild in flavour and the process is not too long. Mature starter allows for firmer dough - shaping is a breeze (the starter is doing all the heavy lifting). With younger starter - the dough is slightly more sticky and ‘fresh’. Once your starter matures - transfer to the first option (with 50g starter and longer overall fermentation).
Before we start baking - a quick introduction to different stages of bread baking:
Levain build - this is the stage where you are preparing your starter for bread baking. You will feed it with flour and water using set proportions. In this recipe we will give you a guide. However, you need to know your starter and adjust accordingly. You want to use it at its peak! This is important, if not the most important, part of the process. Strong levain will do all the heavy lifting for you. Don’t mix up this stage with your regular feeding schedule (like I did at the beginning of my sourdough journey!). Your regular feeding schedule may not produce starter which is strong enough. This is where predictability is so important. If you know that you starter peaks after 6 or 8 hours using 1:5:5 proportions (starter:flour:water, by weight) use it at that point. If you want to leave your starter to rest overnight - let’s say for 12 hours - you would need to increase feeding to 1:10:10 to have the starter at its peak when mixing with the rest of ingredients. In this recipe we will give you timings and ratios - do adjust it though to fit your starters’ dynamic (and the temperature at your home).
Autolyse - in this step flour is mixed with liquid to form soft and shaggy dough. At this stage, mixing is done only to incorporate all the flour. The dough will be sticky. There is no extensive kneading at this stage, you don’t want to develop gluten (just yet). For this recipe, we are using water at 21C (different recipes may use different water temperature for autolyse). This stage can last anything from 20 minutes to 4-5 hours (at room temperature). Colder temperatures allow for longer autolyse. You can also autolyse with salt which will slow down the process and allow for slow gluten development (that’s the option we are using in this breakfast bread). Once the dough is mixed, it’s covered and left to rest. Not all recipes will include autolyse. It’s beneficial that you complete this step. Why? This simple and hands-off step allows the flour to more completely absorb the water. It also activates enzymes. These enzymes will help to break down complex carbohydrates in the flour into simple sugars the yeast will feed on and will naturally degrade the gluten forming proteins, in a way that makes the dough more extensible. To cut it short - the dough will be way easier to work with, gluten will be already partially developed and part of flour will be pre-digested. If you are thinking of baking high-hydration breads - it’s excellent process for water incorporation. Autolyse may also help to spread water introduction into steps (portion of water is mixed at autolyse stage and the rest at mixing stage). Simply - win-win with little effort. If you are still unsure - compare the texture of flour and water straight after mixing with that of mixed flour and water after autolyse! Some difference!
Mixing - the approach is - the less effort the better. You want to develop the gluten fully but you also don’t want to over-work the dough. We like to knead the dough in short turns - 5 minutes of mixing, 15 min break and then final 3-5 minutes of mixing (some doughs may require another 'go'). You can use different kneading techniques - slap and fold (this is what we use for wet dough and dough with high content of grains or wholemeal), Rubaud method, or mixed. You can check our Instagram - there is a short video on how to mix the dough for this recipe (we used mixed method).
Bulk - this is a crucial step. At this stage gas build-up and initial fermentation occurs. If you rush it, you will most probably loose the desired texture. Adjust temperature as stated in the recipe. Usually bulk occurs in warm temperatures 24-27C (or higher for rye) but long, cold bulk ferments are common too. During bulk you will stretch and fold the dough a number of times. This is done to add the strength into your dough (for oven spring and proper gluten development). Usually recipes will call for 3-4 S&Fs. For high hydration doughs or when you are using fresh starter - more folds may be needed. S&Fs happen usually in 45 min to 1 hour intervals. Handle your dough gently. You don’t want to degas it (the main benefit of bulk!). In the first S&F you may be more adventurous but while the fermentation progresses - handle that dough with care. We like to leave the dough untouched for the last 1hr30min to 2hrs of bulk. You can use here simple stretch and folds (the dough is stretched and then folded on top of itself, you are working all the way around the bowl doing 5 or 6 S&Fs) or coil folds (where the dough is folded under itself, you do 4 folds, or with wetter dough 2x4). At this stage you need to keep the dough covered to prevent it from drying out.
Shape - once the bulk is completed, you will gently release the dough onto work surface (lightly dusted with flour). Try not to degas it, let it flow freely. Dough scraper will help you with shaping. You may opt to pre-shape your loaf and leave on the bench for 30min. The gluten will have a chance to relax before final shaping. Alternatively, you can shape it immediately and pop it straight into proofing basket. Introducing enough tension at this stage will contribute to good oven spring later on.
Final proof - at this stage your bread has the chance to mature, relax before baking and develop the flavour! Proof at room temperature or allow for longer maturation in the fridge (usually 15-30min on the bench at room temperature and then fridge-time). We are cold proofing most of our breads. If you decided to proof in the fridge (retard) make sure your fridge is set at 3-4C. It’s ok to proof at higher temperature but remember that your dough will continue proofing (increasing in volume) - so there is a risk of over-proofing. Don’t worry if your bread does not increase much in volume during the cold retard - you will get oven spring during baking. Cold dough will also be easier to score. Think of it in that way - if your bread raises too much in the basket, your levain will use its all energy during that stage and there will be nothing left for oven spring.
Bake - baking sourdough breads in home ovens is always a challenge. In home ovens it’s all about the steam. Steam in initial stage of baking (first 20-25min) will create perfect environment for beautiful oven spring. If there is not enough steam - your bread will form thick skin too quickly and this will prevent proper raise. How to introduce steam? If you have oven with steam set up - great! (we don’t :). You can use Dutch Oven to capture the steam - this is our preferred option for bread baking. You can add few ice cubes into your Dutch Oven to introduce more steam. Baking times will depend on the recipe. In this recipe, the bread is baked 25min at 245C (230C fan forced) with the lid on, and 15min at 230C (215C fan forced), lid off. You can also bake your bread on hot pizza stone or hot tray - place a little baking tray underneath with hot water (to add some steam). You can also use high temperature resistant Pyrex-style dish (with lid), Challenger Pan is great too. You can use special coal or chains - warm it up and add some ice cubes when baking. There are numerous options and you will need to try few to find the one that suits your oven best. For us - it’s Dutch Oven or Challenger Pan + ice cubes and a bit of water mist sprinkled on top of the loaf just before baking (I use simple plant water mister). This works every time. When the bread is baked - wait for 2-4 hours before cutting into your bread for the crumb to set.
Final, quick note - baker’s percentages.
You will hear bakers referring to dough hydration or salt content, expressed in percentages. These are called baker's percentages and are relative to the total amount of flour used in the recipe. So - simplistic approach - if you use 22g salt and total of 1000g flour in the recipe, your salt content will be at 2.2%. Simple, right? Well, it gets more convoluted when you want to calculate dough hydration. If you added 680g water and 1000g flour your dough hydration should be at 68%. Almost. You need to include levain too! So - if you are using 100g levain (build: 50g flour+50g water) your dough hydration will be: (680g+50g)/(1000g+50g)= 69.5%. With large batches and small % of levain - the difference is not massive (only 1.5% in this case). However, if you bake 1 loaf with high % of levain the difference will be substantial. Always make sure that the recipe you are using calculates the hydration properly. There are online calculators for dough hydration too! If you don’t cross-check - you may unconsciously attempt a ciabatta recipe branded as a bread recipe! (result- flat pancake after final proof). Without extra strong flour or Manitoba-style flour it may not work. So - anything below 72% hydration is considered to be a standard loaf. If you are starting your bread journey - start with recipes with 64-72% hydration. Anything above 72-73% is considered a higher or high hydration dough (slightly more tricky to work with). Higher hydration usually requires few more S&Fs, benefits from autolyse (where water can be split between autolyse and mixing) and extra strong flour.
The recipes will follow here: