Sourdough for Busy People: Master Recipe

Do you love fresh sourdough, nice chewy sandwiches, crisp delicious toast? Do you like to bake but find you have Very Little Time? Please consider my Sourdough for Busy People. With this recipe, sourdough can be made regularly, quickly, and easily. I figure the whole process takes about 12 hours from start to finish. (That's fast!)

What I've come up with is actually a combination of 3 recipes or systems. The ingredients and measurements are from my mother's "Tried and True for 20 Years" recipe. The kneading ritual is from SourDom's helpful tutorial on The scoring and baking (and a few other tips along the way) are from Peter Reinhart's excellent book The Bread Baker's Apprentice.

So first, I figure out my schedule. The kneading/rising/baking time takes about 3 hours. Before that, figure on about 8 hours to wake up the starter. This means that if you want to knead and bake at night (say from 6 to 9pm), you can prepare your starter in the morning (by 10am at the latest) and you'll be good to go. Or if you want to bake in the morning (a nice weekend ritual), prepare your starter the evening before and leave it overnight. Then you can knead/bake from 9am til noon. Sometimes I write myself a little timeline, like this:

8am: Prep starter.
5:50pm: Prep yeast
6:00: Combine yeast with other ingredients. Cover and let sit.
6:10: Knead briefly. Cover and let sit.
6:20: Knead briefly: Cover and let sit.
6:30: Knead briefly. Cover and let sit.
7:00: Knead briefly. Cover and let sit.
7:45: Punch down. Shape. Cover and let sit (proof).
8:25: Turn on oven to 500˚.
8:30: Uncover and score loaves.
8:30: Bake at 500--mist every 30 seconds 3 times.
8:40-ish: Turn loaves in oven, turn down to 450˚.
8:55 (approx): Done! Let loaves cool one a rack for at least an hour before eating.

That's it! OK, here are details.

Prepare the starter

As mentioned, do this at least 8 hours before you'll start to mix and bake. To prepare the starter, I take it out of the fridge and if I have an hour or so to spare, let it come to room temperature. Then I scrape it into a bowl (there is 1/2 cup of it) and combine with 1.5 cups of flour and 2 cups warm water. Cover with a towel and leave it. If it is very cold or hot in your kitchen, you can put it in your oven for a more even "room temperature" experience. Just remember it's in there. (I write myself a note.) (See very bottom of post for starter recipe.)* I use All-Purpose flour for this step.

After 8+ hours

Remove starter

This is a simple step, but very important. When you're ready to mix, knead and bake, the first thing you do is take out 1/2 cup of starter from your bowl. I use a glass 1-cup measure and just scoop out or pour 1/2 cup into it. Put it in a dedicated starter crock and stick it back in your fridge for next time. If you miss this step, you'll have no more starter for next time.

Prepare the yeast

I just use regular active dry yeast, such as comes in a packet like Red Star or Fleischmann's. Recently I found that our coop sells this type of yeast in bulk. I figured out that 2.25 teaspoons is the same amount as one packet. I put the yeast in the same 1-cup measure I just used for removing the starter (I don't wash it). I add 1/4 cup warm water from the tap and let it sit for 5 minutes until at least some of the yeast is dissolved.

Mix ingredients

While the yeast is dissolving, I start pouring the dry ingredients on top of the mixed starter in the bowl. I put in 3.5 cups of flour. 1/2 cup is White Whole Wheat, and the other 3 cups are bread flour. (I used AP flour for this for many months, but I find the bread flour is really better. Go for it!) Also add 1 T salt. Mix in dissolved yeast mixture and stir everything together. It doesn't have to be mixed well yet--a ragged dough is fine. Cover it with a towel and let it sit for 10 minutes. The idea is that gluten (the structure strands) starts to form when the flour and water get acquainted. Just let it do its thing!

Knead briefly 4 times

According to SourDom, just knead for 10 seconds at a time. Sometimes I get carried away and knead a little longer. Do the kneading 10 minutes apart 3 times, then wait half an hour and knead one more time. How exactly? Here's what I do:

Spray a countertop or other smooth surface with oil. (Spray oil seems like an odd ingredient, but Peter Reinhart recommends it and I do find it SO handy. If you flour a surface, you're changing your flour ratios.) Dump the ragged dough onto the area. Knead for 10 seconds or whatever.

Still life with spray oil and dough scraper

Then, oil a new bowl and plop the dough in. Spray the top of the dough too if you like. Cover with a towel and let sit for 10 minutes. (You could also just wash your first bowl, dry and oil, then plop the dough in for however long is left of your 10 minutes.)

After 10 minutes, do it again. You can re-oil the bowl before plopping the dough in again. Or not.

After 10 minutes, do it again. You'll find the dough is starting to look a lot smoother and be more stretchy when you knead. Perfect.

After 30 minutes, knead for 10 seconds one more time. You're done kneading! Put it back in the bowl and cover.

Let the dough double

I give it about 45 minutes. I let it rise until the dough touches the bottom of the towel that's covering it. This is an imprecise measurement, but it's the way my mom did it (or that's how it looked to me).

Divide, shape, and proof

This recipe will make at least two loaves. There are many different ways to shape and proof each loaf--just doing it on a counter or baking sheet, using a brotform (rising basket), using a baguette pan, using a towel or piece of canvas to hold the dough up, and so on. I have a double baguette pan and two brotforms (one round, one oblong). I find this recipe makes one baguette and one loaf from either brotform. Or it could make two small baguettes and one small round loaf. This time I decided to make an oblong loaf and one baguette. Whatever you decide, here's what to do:

Dump dough on oiled counter. Dimple it with fingers to "degas" some of the air bubbles. Cut it with the scraper, guesstimating sizes needed for individual loaves. Shape each loaf by kind of tucking it into its own center. (It's kind of the gestures you'd make if you were rolling a shower cap into itself starting at the outer edges and tucking everything equally into a small mushroom shape.)

Spray surface of loaves lightly with oil and cover with towel. Let loaves rise--"proof"--for 45 minutes.

Loaf in (oiled and sprinkled with cornmeal) baguette pan is seam-side down. Loaf in (floured) brotform is seam-side up.

Same loaves after 45 minutes.


After the loaves have proofed for 45 minutes, turn on the oven to 500˚ Fahrenheit. When it's getting close to heat, I carefully tip out the brotform loaf onto a baking sheet that's oiled and sprinkled with cornmeal. (Parchment is easier, but I ran out.) Now the seam-side is down.

Then, score all loaves. I use a boxcutter for this. A sharp knife will also do. I like to put diagonal slashes on long or oblong loaves. A round loaf gets an "x" shape.

Bake 25 minutes

Here's my method, adapted from Peter Reinhart. Set oven racks low and high in the oven. Place loaves on racks and mist with water for about 5 seconds. Then close oven for 20-30 seconds. Open and mist again. Close oven for another 20-30 seconds. Open and mist again. Set timer for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, rotate loaves. Turn oven down to 450˚ and bake another 12-15 minutes. I found from trial and error that 15 minutes in my oven was too long (the bottoms turned black--almost burned). You want a loaf that is clearly golden-brown and baked through, and that sounds hollow-ish when tapped on the bottom, but is NOT dark brown or burned looking.

Wait! Don't slice 'til cool. It's still cooking in there!

That's it!

I hope if you try this, or even just read the recipe through, that the directions make sense. Let me know! I'd love to hear what works for you, too!

*One way to make starter:

Mix up slop that includes yeast and leave it sitting out for several days. Ideally it should look a bit bubbly with a layer of clear liquid on top. My mother's recipe is just to combine 1 cup of flour with 1 cup of water and 1 packet of yeast. Use 1/2 cup of this for batch #1.

Crock with starter

1 comment:

ValleyWriter said...

Wow - those loaves look incredible! All the directions make sense to me. I'd like to give the starter thing a try. (I usually just make a fresh starter each time and it only gets to bubble away for a few hours, so my "sour"dough isn't very sour...)