027 Baking sourdough bread by feel

027 Baking sourdough bread by feel

I bake my sourdough bread by feel. I’m really bad at following recipes, but baking without always scared me. Until I learned how things need to feel instead. Since then, my breads have been really good–even if I forget them in between.

I’m getting visitors this weekend. There is a lot to get ready: The apartment needs cleaning. The roof needs finishing. And there are all the things that always need to be done.

So, let’s bake some sourdough bread, and get to work.

Baking bread is a two-day process. Like every morning, I feed the starter. The same evening, I make a preferment by adding all the starter, the same amount in water, and the same amount of flour–again, roughly.

Don’t worry about using all your starter. What’s stuck to the jar will be enough. Just scrape that down and feed it.

The next morning, I’ve got a beautiful bubbly mess. To make sure I end up with roughly the right amount of bread, I measure out the water. Everything else is done by feel.

I add the water, two cups of flour to start, and then I start stirring things up.

This is supposed to turn into anything edible? Yes, yes, it always does.

Another cup of flour, and things are getting hard to stir. And then I remembered the salt. So, I use the tools evolution has given me, and switch to my hands. It is a sticky, lovely mess.

I usually move things to the (yes, dirty) floor, and keep stirring, folding, punching. The dough needs to build strength, so I keep at it until the dough turns into a smooth ball. This takes time.

If it really doesn’t come together, I add a spoonful of flour. But more kneading is definitely preferred.

As soon as the dough isn’t super sticky, I add the tiniest bit of flour to my workbench, and knead some more. The goal is a smooth dough. With whole wheat, it won’t ever be perfect, but get as close as you can. Smooth!

Cover with a towel, and let it rest while you do other things. Fold your laundry, clean your floors, or clean that sticky bread bowl you’ve been ignoring. Start yet another batch of granola? Chop up a bunch of cherry tomatoes for roasting?

Just don’t forget that bread in whatever warm place you chose for it.

Once it looks large and beautiful, do a poke test. You want it to spring back slooooowly. Immediate spring back? Not done yet. No spring? You overdid it. Cracks all over? You overdid it a lot. Ahem…

Lucky for me, even overfermented bread usually turns out well.

Dust your surface with flour, and get the bread on there just the same. Punch it flat. Satisfying!

You can even add nuts and seeds at this stage if you like. And then it’s time to fold it a few times. Don’t knead too much at this stage. Just fold things in and roll over the seams a bit. It’ll be fine.

I rise the dough straight in the final baking form with some oil. If it’s overfermented, I just let it rest for a bit. Otherwise, it rises for another few hours (or overnight in the fridge) while I tackle other things.

When the poke test succeeds again, I bake it for 30 min at 200 C (400 F) in the air fryer. Adjust that for your oven until the inside is 90 C (195 F).

Definitely let the loaf cool before cutting, as it finishes while cooling. Don’t get tempted. Seriously, do something else while you wait. It is worth the wait. Trust me.

So long, and thanks for watching.