“How to make your first home-made sour-dough bread” is a post I wanted to write for a while and which took me ages to prepare. My idea was to share with you my trials and error. I had to note everything I did, all the problems I was confronted to and the few good ideas I had.
The type of bread I like and I wanted to achieve is rough, it a bit heavy or you might call it dense, with a thick crust which cracks open. Its inside has holes, large holes. I like the taste of rye and now I am addicted to freshly milled wheat grains. I do add a few grains, not overwhelmingly but 20g of sunflower seeds and 20g of linseeds. You can add nuts instead or any other grains.
It all starts by “giving birth” to you first sour-dough starter called levain in French.
This was for me a tricky part as you will read it in THIS ARTICLE. I started to follow Eric Kayser’s recipe with 50g rye flour 50g water, and more and more each day. I used a container, a bowl that was much too big, my rye absorbed the water completely, it made a terrible smelling and looking paste that quickly dried up. I was totally disappointed…
I chucked 2 levains, one after another, all dried and smelly. Then I tried using organic unbleached baker’s flour and water 50-50, adding a bit more each day. I started at 100g flour and 100g water in a smaller Pyrex round bowl which has a lid (the same as the one on the photo above but smaller). I didn’t close the lid, but left it on top. It was much better than the usual wet towel which is recommended everywhere and by Kayser, which I find so unhygienic after a short while. It falls into the levain, gets dirty, too dry, dusty, impossible to wash with all the hard crusted levain on it. I am not a bakery with a laundry service ;)
I started this experiment a bit less than 2 months ago, when I got back from France and could finally commit to this strange pet you have to feed every day. It was the middle of the Australian winter and the temperatures in my kitchens were mostly very low (around 8 to 12 at night). So natural and good bacteria and yeasts couldn’t fully develop. I patiently filled up my Pyrex with a bit more of flour, a bit more of water in equal quantity, respecting no rule at all, until after 3 days, it started finally to bubble!
So of course, I am a total beginner in this adventure and what I want to do here is to share my experience with you exactly as it happened and in details and photos. I am actually writing all this especially for my brother Louis (salut ma voute) who is very keen in not only starting the sour-dough journey but also has in mind to fix the ancient wood-fire oven which partially collapsed in his holiday house in Normandy. He wants to revive the old ruin and make his bread in there.
I love using wheat grains. The fantastic thing about freshly milled grains is that they are still full of vitamins and good oils. In a matter of hours, flour loses a lot of its nutritional values. This is the reason why in the past flour was enriched with vitamins and chemical products to avoid the oils getting rancid. A lot of gluten free crusaders argue that modern day flour has been robbed of its essence and has become a dangerous product.
My idea is that if you use a simple electric coffee grinder (very cheap) or a food processor to mill the grain. Depending on the type of appliance you will obtain cracked wheat to flour. Even medium cracked wheat is delicious in bread. It gives it a fantastic fresh taste. The weight of grain you mill will be the exact weigh of flour you obtain.
The home-baker’s dream is of course to buy a “domestic electric mill”. They usually have a synthetic stone (no more sand in your bread and ruined teeth like in the ancient times). They are pretty quick and make fantastic flours. All you need to do is to find a good grain provider and find the best organic wheat, rye, etc.
In this bread recipe I use organic flour and home milled rye and wheat, 50g each.
I love the look of rye. It has a vintage to it :) The metal bowl you see is very small, it comes from my coffee grinder which I use for my grains only.
This is the texture I get. It is a real close-up so you can see bits and pieces. It is not as fine as flour but not as coarse as cracked wheat. I have tried making bread with coarsely milled wheat and the bread was delicious. So don’t worry too much about fineness.
I also add a few seeds: linseed and sunflower seeds. You can see the baker’s flour, the milled wheat on the right (yellow) and the milled rye on the left (grey).
My favourite salt is “fleur de sel” (salt flower) from France, but you can use any fine salt. I use 10g per 500g of flour. If you put less, it is a real shame (I tried…) the bread is tasteless.
Often in books there is no indication of the water temperature. I find that intriguing… maybe it doesn’t play a role when you are using a stand mixer at high speed
All the ingredients are in the mixer’s bowl.
Start mixing for 4 minutes at low speed.
The dough is transformed into a paste that stays mainly at the bottom of the bowl.
Then, mix at high speed for 6 mins. The dough will form a ball at first and then become a massive chewing gum.
When at full speed, please hold your mixer firmly. I didn’t once and it left the bench, unplugged itself in the process and miraculously only broke its nose…
The dough of this recipe is very runny, don’t be worried.
Using my fav scraper, scrape down the dough in the bowl. The more you scrape, the easier it will be to wash it.
Dust silicon mat with flour. Then with your flat hand, spread it all over so the flour is lightly covering the mat.
Scrape the dough from the bowl to the mat. Same thing here, scrape well so that washing will be easier. On the photo above, I am not finished scraping.
This will seem funny in a recipe. You don’t often read about the cleaning up but in this case, if you skip this step it can become very time consuming later. Bread dough it atrocious to clean. When still wet is as sticky as chewing gum and when dry hard like cement.
The best way to do things quickly, which is one of my highest priorities, is to wash the mixer’s bowl, the dough hook and the scraper immediately after having scraped the dough from bowl to mat.
Using warm water rub utensils very fast with your hands. If the water is warm enough, and you have well scraped the bowl, it will be fast. You don’t need to use dish washing liquid. Just rinse at the end with very hot water.
Back to the dough on the mat. Dust your hands with flour.
Bring the side of the dough to the centre. When you get a sort of ball, turn it upside down.
Put your palms upwards. Tuck the sides under the ball (folds down remember, you turned the ball upside down at the previous step). With the sides of your hands, keep tucking, making the ball turn on itself, folds always down.
Cover with a wet towel and let rise for 2 hours.
Uncover the risen dough. Turn the ball upside down.
It looks pretty deflated…
Fold in a third toward the centre. Seal with the heal of your hand. Turn dough 180° and do the same.
Turn dough 90° and do the same…
…and a last time at 180° and do the same.
Turn the dough upside down. Proceed like before to make a pretty ball. Tuck the sides underneath all around, rolling the ball between your hands until a ball is formed.
Place this ball on a sheet of baking paper and let proof for 2h.
Ten mins before the end of proofing, slide an oven tray at the very bottom, 1 rack just above, place a pizza stone. These stones are great for bread. My dream would be to find a rectangular one which would be the size of my oven. Pre-heat oven at 230°C.
Dust ball generously with flour if you want to have beautiful cooked flour on top and a nice “drawing” on your loaf.
Cut a cross using a baker’s blade or a serrated knife or any other design. Be creative.
Just before putting the loaf in the oven throw 50g of water on the bottom tray. I have tried with or without this step… I don’t see much difference. I have to experiment more on that one…
With a very safe and high temperature proof silicon oven mitt, grab the pizza stone. SECURITY ALERT HERE: you need to check that your oven mitt can handle more that 230°C before doing this.
Place it very close to your bench and slide the baking paper with loaf on the stone. Put quickly in the oven. This is the easiest way Wendell and I found to do it. If we move the dough at this stage more than sliding it, it deflates and the bread is awful…
I bake for 30 mins and after that, I keep an eye on it. If it is too burnt at the top, I sometimes open the oven and leave it on the stone for a few minutes if I have the feeling that the bread might be too cooked on top and not enough at the bottom.
Grab your loaf with the oven mitts and place on cooling rack. Let cool for at least a few minutes. The bread need this time to rest :)
If your kitchen is not freezing cold during raising and proofing, if your oven is good, if your flour is a proper baker’s flour, this is what the bread looks like. I think that the cracks should be more “frank”. The reason is probably two things, 1) I used a bad kitchen knife to score it, 2) I forgot the water throwing part just before putting the bread in the oven.
This loaf was full of holes but not as holy as I’d want it to be. I love dense bread though and it was delicious.
OK, I had to take lots of pictures of that one :) I liked its looks!
I looooove thick crust in bread. I couldn’t at all achieve that even with water
This version had more flour thrown just before scoring and probably was not scored enough vertically… I’ll get there… I’m sure :)
To make the whole experience more useful, I created a few simple lists to help you make your first home-made sour-dough bread:
List of materiel you need to make bread
– stand mixer with dough hook attachment
– food processor or coffee grinder
– silicon mat
– plastic kidney shapes scraper
– scale with 1g increment for weighing salt
– scale which goes up to more than 2 kilos
– jug for water
– large glass jars for your grains
– deep wooden spoons or scoop for scooping and pouring grains.
– metal mesuring cup I use to scoop flour out of my 12 kilo bag
– baker’s blade
– glass Pyrex bowl with a lid for your starter
– a small whisk to mix flour and water in your starter
List of basic ingredients
– sea salt, a good “fleur de sel” is ideal
– a flour with more than 12g of protein per 100g
– grains of wheat to mill just before making bread
– grains of rye for the same purpose
– filtered water (I don’t do that, too hard basket…)
– I don’t use baker’s yeast or dry yeast unlike Eric Kayser, I think it defeats the purpose of making your own starter…
List of mistakes
– letting my sour-dough rise in the sun with a tea towel which was not wet enough… the dough becomes crusty and doesn’t rise properly
– making my first starter with rye flour (or I should have used more water than flour)
– not using organic baker’s flour in a starter
– making my starter in a bowl that was too large
– trying to knead dough with my Magimix Cook Expert, it is disastrous, looks like a rabbit cage after the little bugger had lunch…
List of good ideas
– “milling” part of the flour myself immediately before pouring in the mixer’s bowl using an electric coffee grinder
– using a Pyrex glass bowl with a plastic lid for my starter
– sticking a post-it on my starter’s bowl with the bowl’s empty weight to easily calculate the starter’s weight.
– washing mixer’s bowl and hook plus scraper immediately at the start of the first fermentation.
– creating an excel file with the main criteria, stick it on the fridge and fill it up accurately for each new batch, experiment… ( for each of those indicate the weight or figure): name of flour(s), milled grain(s) added, salt, water, kitchen temperature & humidity rate, raising time 1, division: in how many, resting time, shaping in which shape, proofing time)
– not using dish washing liquid to wash my starter’s bowl and utensil to avoid polluting it. Using very hot water instead.
– buying a pastry chef scraper
List of some of the remaining mysteries which I intend to solve soon :)
– right temperature of water
– right speeds for kneading in my Kenwood Chef equipped with a dough hook. What is the proper slow speed, what is the proper high speed. Am I going too fast?
– when to stop the second mixing or fast speed kneading, before or after the dough goes back to gooey
– how to get bigger bubbles
– cook “grain and heavy flours” breads more inside without burning the crust
– how wet should the towels be during raising and proofing?
– what sort of towel?
– how to deal with all these wet towels encrusted with dry dough?
– how long after I have fed my sour-dough with half of its weight of new matter can I use it again. Should I wait for it to rise and start to deflate?
– what is the “right smell” for a healthy start?
Also, to make things easy, I have summed up this extra long post in a printable recipe.
- 150g sour-dough starter
- 400g flour (T65+ or 12g+ of protein per 100g) plus extra for dusting
- 50g wheat grain
- 50g rye grain
- 10g salt (fleur de sel is gorgeous)
- 20g linseed
- 20g sunflower seeds
- 350g water
- Tip rye and wheat grains in a food processor or electric coffee grinder, mill until fine.
- Put all ingredients in a stand mixer's bowl. Install the dough hook.
- Mix at low speed for 4 mins.
- Mix at high speed for 6 mins.
- Dust a silicon mat with flour. Tip elastic dough. Lightly flour your hands. Bring the outside of the dough in the centre. Turn ball upside down, dusting underneath. Palms up use the sides of your hand to tuck dough under the ball rolling it at the same time (keeping the folds facing down).
- Cover the ball with a wet towel. Leave to rise for 2h.
- Turn the flatten ball upside down. Fold ⅓ and seal with the heal of your hands turn 180° and fold ⅓ and seal the same way. Turn 90° fold the same way. Turn 180° and fold & seal again.
- Turn the ball upside down, folds facing down. Proceed as before, gently tucking the sides underneath the ball.
- Place ball on a baking paper.
- Let proof for 2h.
- Ten mins before the en of proofing, slide an oven tray at the very bottom, 1 rack just above, place a pizza stone. Pre-heat oven at 230°C for at least 10 mins.
- Dust ball generously with flour.
- When oven is ready, cut a cross using a baker's blade or a serrated knife. When the bread is scored you need to put it in the oven ASAP.
- Just before putting the loaf in the oven throw 50g of water on the bottom tray.
- With a very safe and high temperature proof silicon oven mitt, grab the pizza stone. Place it very close to your bench and slide the baking paper with loaf on the stone. Put quickly in the oven.
- Bake for 30 mins.
- I sometimes open the oven at 30 mins and leave the loaf on the stone for a few minutes if I have the feeling that the bread might be too cooked on top and not enough at the bottom.
- Grab loaf with oven mitts and place on cooling rack. Let cool.