Baking Bread, Sourdough for Non-bakers

Recording and transcript of my seminar on August 25th 2021.

My name is Frithjof, and I am grateful to live, work, play and bake on the unceded traditional lands of the Syilx Okanagan Nation.​ I offered this session as a general interest course during the annual “Connections” conference of Okanagan College.

I am not a professional baker. In fact, I used to dislike baking before I started getting into sourdough bread.

Bread is an important part of my diet and my heritage. As it turns out, baking is quite common in our family. My great grandfather was a pastry chef in the 1930s. There is a bakery in East Germany that was founded by my Great-uncle.​

And my brother Ole and his wonderful wife Rahel have a bakery in Northern Germany. They bake bread with special flours, and I am honoured to wear the t-shirt with their logo today.

​In 2019 I began baking yeast bread in the bread maker and enjoyed experimenting with different recipes.
But during the pandemic at the end of March 2020, the stores ran out of yeast. A friend gave me some of her sourdough starter and I have baked sourdough bread every weekend since.​

Today I would like to share with you what I have learned. I will share some of my methods, tools and ingredients. I will briefly talk about the history of sourdough as a leavening agent. We will touch on the chemistry that makes it all work.

Sourdough baking is an ancient trade and there are many very good bakers worldwide. I focus on the bread we like to eat – I encourage you to experiment and grow beyond what I can show you.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sourdough
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/may/23/the-science-of-making-sourdough-bread

You find the details about my tools and the ingredients I like to use in the Resources section of my site.

Starter

Sometimes it feels like keeping a sourdough starter is like keeping a pet. It is not quite like that.  Yes, you have to feed the cultures regularly but kept in the fridge these cultures can survive for quite a while. You just have to wake them up a day or two before you want to bake.

Because it takes about 4 to 6 hrs for the starter to be ready to use, I created a little time-lapse to speed it up.

Baking is a two-day process. Because I usually bake on Sunday, I often begin the cycle on Thursday. I take the starter out of the fridge and feed it twice daily.

Early on Saturday morning, I feed the starter again, making sure I end up with enough for all the bread I want to bake that weekend. Using my scale, I carefully combine the ingredients. I begin with the starter – this is the only point where I alter the weight recommendations from the recipes a little. Because I like to use more whole wheat flour and like the sourdough’s distinct flavour, I use a little more starter than the recipe calls for.

Then I add warm water and (if I use it) honey. At this point, I like to use the whisk to combine everything with the water. Now I add the different flours. The bread I am baking today includes whole wheat and white bread flour. Other recipes call for spelt, semolina, rye or other flours. If I bake a chocolate loaf, I add the cocoa at this point.

Now I mix up the ingredients with the whisk. Here is where the Danish whisk comes in handy. You can use a spoon or your hands here too. Then I cover the bowl and leave it on the counter for half an hour. This step is sometimes called autolyze.

In the meantime, I measure out the salt. A bread that has 500gr of flour, usually has 9gr of salt. I have noticed that salt hinders the rising somewhat, that’s why I wait until after the autolyse to add it to the mix.

I now prepare any inclusions too. For multigrain breads I use a seven grain mix – I really like this one from Chilliwack. I put 70gr to 200ml of hot water. If I use sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds I will add them to the mix too. After 30 minutes, I combine everything thoroughly with my hands.

I was surprised how little kneading is involved in sourdough baking. The slower process makes kneading almost unnecessary. At this point, the dough might seem too soft or sticky to you. Unless you are familiar with this particular recipe, please resist the urge to add flour or water. The dough will change significantly over the day.

Bulk Fermentation

To help the gluten form well, we add stretch and folds. Some recipes call this optional, but I like to do it about three times in the beginning of the bulk ferment. For this, I uncover the dough and pull it like this and fold it over.
I go around the bowl and you can see how it is elastic and stretches over. I wait about 45 minutes between stretch and folds. Some people wait longer.

Shaping

When the dough has risen to about double the volume, it is time to shape the bread. Pour it on a floured surface. If it seems to be too runny at this point, I sometimes add a bit of flour on top. Now it is time to shape the loaf. If I make a round loaf, I fold the edges over to the middle and pinch the edges together. Then I firm up the shape by turning it on the counter like this. Sometimes the bench scraper comes in handy.

When this process is done, I lay the loaf into the banneton and cover it.

Finished

It is important to let the bread cool down for at least two hours after it is baked. The baking process continues for a while. I keep the bread in a cloth bag in the breadbox and it stays nice for two to three days. I freeze my sandwich breads in portions and take them out to make my lunches.


I hope you liked this very basic explanation of my process. Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions or if you have a suggestion for further videos.

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