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Sourdough Country Loaf

Timeless bread recipe and technique using long fermentation time and high levels of hydration.

When my husband and I moved to the eastern townships after working and travelling abroad I took a job working at a busy French bakery making thousands of buttery viennoiseries and crunchy pain au levain. Although I had been making daily fresh bread when I worked in restaurants, nothing beats the learning experience of making several hundred artisanal loaves a day! When I became pregnant and went on preventive mat leave (turns out hauling 20kg bags of flour over your shoulder and running up and down flights of stairs with bins of fermenting dough is a no-no whilst with child!) I took up bread making at home.

During my pastry stage in St-Helena, CA Stu and I visited San Fransisco a couple of times, and by visit, I mean eat our way through it! I was excited to finally experience and taste the beautiful products at Tartine bakery and their sister restaurant Bar Tartine. I’m heavily inspired by Chad Robertson’s use of ancient fresh milled grains, high hydration percentages, and long ferments. Although sourdough bread requires a bit more forethought and time compared to a dough using active yeast, the payoff from the loaf’s flavour and the crumb’s texture are well worth it.

Following are the basic directions and timeline for creating a sourdough country loaf at home. If you feel you need more insight, I will be uploading a video tutorial in the near future, so be sure to sign up for my newsletter below to stay in the know!

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In the evening

  1. Pull sourdough starter* out from the fridge.

  2. Weigh out 100g of starter

  3. Add 200g of water and 200g of flour and mix.

  4. Put 100g of freshly mixed starter in a glass jar, cover and put in the fridge for next time.

  5. Cover the rest and leave it out on the counter overnight.

*Don’t have sourdough starter? You have options!

  • Ask your friend who makes sourdough for some of theirs.

  • Join a local FB sourdough community and find a new friend who will gladly share!

  • Up for a project? Start your own from scratch! Head here for instructions.

  • Sign up to my newsletter to find out when starter will be available in my shop!

In the morning

  1. Using a very large mixing bowl, pour 800g of water and add 250g active sourdough starter. It should float! (Active starter is full of air bubbles and causes it to float.)

  2. Add 700g unbleached bread flour and 300g whole wheat flour

  3. Autolyse: Cover the bowl and let it rest for 1-3h. This stage serves several functions. It allows the flour to fully hydrate, the protein (gluten) in the flour becomes stretchy and some of the starch is converted to sugar for the yeast to eat up. All of these important factors contribute to complex flavour and better texture.

  4. Mix in 25g of sea salt and 50g of warm water and wait 30 minutes

  5. Bulk ferment: Wet your hands and fold the dough onto itself, give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat until you have folded on 4 sides. This is called a fold. Turn dough upside down so that the seam is on the bottom and the top is smooth.

  6. Repeat this process every 30 minutes until the dough is noticeably firmer and larger in size. Approximately 2-3 hours depending on ambient temperature.

  7. Pre-shape: Flour your work surface and your dough. Turn out and divide into two pieces. Fold over along the top third and bottom third. Give it a quarter turn and fold it over itself so that the dough has a squarish shape and flip it so that it is seam side down. (Repeat for the second piece of dough). Let rest on the work surface for 20 minutes.

  8. Final shape: cup the side of the dough with both hands so that your pinkies to your wrist are touching the dough and the work surface. Drag the dough in a circular motion around the workbench to create surface tension across the top of the loaf and a nice round loaf. Stop before it tears! Let it sit there for a couple of minutes so that the seam seals shut.

  9. Flour your proofing basket with rice flour and place your loaf seam-side-up (or place in loaf pan seam-side-down). Cover and place in the fridge overnight.

Next morning

  1. Take loaves out of the fridge and preheat the oven to 500°F with a dutch oven inside. (I love this reversible one).

  2. Once preheated, take the dutch oven out and turn the loaf out of the proofing basket into it. Score the top to your heart's content. This is your baker’s signature which allows steam to escape and creates a beautiful crest.

  3. Bake covered at 500°F for 15min. Turn oven down to 450°F and bake for 15min. Remove cover and bake another 15min.

  4. Let cool and enjoy!

Pro tips

  1. Practice, practice, practice!! You will get a feel for the dough, how to manipulate it, how much flour to use on your workbench, etc. Even if it doesn’t look pretty the first couple of times it will still be delicious!

  2. The activity of yeast depends on the temperature. If it’s hot the natural yeast will act faster-eating sugars and “farting out” gas. When it’s cold they slow down and start to “hibernate”. So depending on the time of year and the temperature of your home your dough will ferment faster or slower. This is why you can feed your starter and put it back in the fridge to use a week or month later.

  3. Leftover active sourdough is called discard. I love using it for overnight pancakes, waffles, etc. feeding it to my hens, giving it to friends or throwing it in the compost!

  4. 30% of the recipe calls for whole wheat flour. You can substitute for whole rye, spelt, khorasan, etc to create different flavours and textures.

  5. If after a day you have leftover bread, the best way to keep it is to slice, place in sealable bag and save in the freezer. Or bring the second loaf to a friend!

Are you missing kitchen tools?

I've created a list of my pastry kitchen essentials in this post if you need some guidance!

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