Photo by Donna
Have been on a sourdough binge since the purple cabbage post (waffles last Sunday, bread, pictured above, by dinnertime) and loving Carri's ratio of 1 part starter : 1 part water : 2 parts flour with 1% salt by weight, though I back off by about 20% on the water because it's been so humid. I usually make a dough that's between 30 and 40 ounces total weight.
I've noticed various differences in the loaves and because I've put up the BLT From Scratch Challenge, I thought I should go over the 5 key steps of making bread, whether you're using sourdough or commercial yeast.
Mixing/Kneading:Mix or knead the dough to the point that it can be stretched to translucency. This ensures that it will adequately trap the gas being released. Not mixing enough will fail to develop the gluten that makes it elastic; overmixing can break up the gluten network. Mixing flour, water, salt and yeast is the first pleasure of making bread--I like my hands in the dough and always finish the kneading by hand (I'm not a fan of the no-knead bread—it diminishes both fun and flavor; but then again, I have a mixer to do most of the labor).
The First Rise:Sometimes called fermentation, allowing the yeast to create gas and flavor, and good elasticity in the dough, but not so much that it becomes slack from over rising. It should roughly double in size, and it should not spring back when you poke it with your finger.
Shaping:After it's risen, knead it again to force out as much gas as possible and redistribute the yeast. Let it relax a little so the gluten doesn't work against you, then shape it as you wish, into a baguette, into a boule. Make it as tight as possible.
The Second Rise:The second rise allows the yeast to get back into action, aerating the dough into the shape and interior structure. It should take about an hour at room temperature. In my opinion this is the most important step. You can also refrigerate it for up to 24 hours to develop more flavor. If you do, let it warm up a bit at room temperature for an hour or so.
Baking:Start it in a very hot oven. You can turn the oven down if you think it's making the crust too dark. I cook my bread till the interior is about 200 degrees.
That's really all there is too it. There is of course more in Ratio, but these are the basics.
One last thing though. Jim Lahey, via Mark Bittman, introduced baking a boule in a Dutch oven. This is a fantastic idea. Moisture released while it bakes remains trapped in the the pot, resulting in a fantastic crust. Highly recommend this if you're making a bread for your BLT. Highly recommend anytime you're making bread.
Great bread at home is not a mystery or a science, it's simple a matter of recognizing the key steps above and paying attention to them.