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Boston Sourdough

May 5, 2012

Life in Boston isn’t shaping up too badly.  Two weeks into my new job here, I’m starting to understand the way the stations are run and have begun to get to know my coworkers.  On my early days, I don’t even mind getting up at 5:15 so that I can be making bread at the restaurant by 6:45.  I’ve started to explore a couple of the surrounding neighborhoods and have already scoped out a couple of restaurants that I’d love to visit.  One great thing about living in a city again is the availability and convenience of all kinds of ethnic foods.  Dim sum… killer Italian food in the North End… Vietnamese delis… Senegalese food… and Chinatown is right at my doorstep!  (Take that, Napa Valley!)  I will say that I miss California’s unmatched produce and picking fresh herbs from my own terrace, but I guess you can’t have everything.

While I was packing up my things, I was looking at my giant stack of recipes–everything I’ve made in class since August–and I realized how different it would be to cook at home now that I’ve got some kitchen experience under my belt.  There will always be more to learn, but once I decided to start culinary school, I basically ensured that cooking at home would never be the same.

So now that I’m back to Real World Cooking, I’ve been going back to some of my old favorites, like these bagels.  When I made this batch, I tied them into knots and sprinkled them with garlic salt to make garlic knots!  My only regret was not using a heavier hand on the garlic salt.  The cheese accompaniment was a good idea, though.

You’ve gotta love that chewy crumb.

I also thought I would miss the West Coast sourdough, but I nabbed a bit of sourdough starter from work and have begun feeding it for my own personal use.  And now I feel completely comfortable tinkering with recipes to make them work for me.  When it comes to bread, this means lots of fun percentages and some pretty serious calculations.

I used this basic sourdough recipe twice.  The first time, I used the recipe as-is, but I had trouble getting the nice crust that you can only get from a steam-injected oven.  I did manage to get them into a nice, round shape…

And the scoring wasn’t too bad, considering I had to use scissors instead of a razorblade, but the crust was a little too soft and the interior a little too dense for my liking.

On the second try, I used the exact same recipe, but I allowed it to proof longer and filled it with raisins and cinnamon-sugar, baking it in a loaf pan instead of free-form.

And voilà, beautiful cinnamon-raisin sourdough.



Sourdough Bread

607 g bread flour

334 g water

15 g salt

2 g instant yeast

243 g sourdough starter

1. Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Mix on low speed for 2-3 minutes or until all of the ingredients are fully hydrated (no flour chunks!)  Increase to medium speed and mix for 3-4 minutes or until the gluten is well-developed: you should be able to pull a nice gluten window, even though the dough will be sticky.

2. Place dough in an oiled bowl, covered, to rise until double in size, about 90 minutes.

3. Divide the dough into two even pieces (each loaf should weigh between 580 and 600 g).  Allow to rest, covered, for 10 minutes before shaping the loaves as desired.  For round loaves, form a nice, tight ball and allow the loaves to proof, covered, until quite puffy, at least 60 minutes.  For loaves, shape the dough into cylinders (filled, if desired) and place in oiled loaf pans to finish proofing.

4. When dough is almost ready, preheat your oven to 400ºF.  Bake loaves for 40-50 minutes or until loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.  If making loaves, remove from pans immediately.  For any shape, allow bread to cool before slicing.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 5, 2012 2:45 PM

    I have beer had to measure out water in grams. Fortunately, the density makes it easy to convert to mL, but still…

    Does it matter how exacting everything really is? I understand baking is applied science, but in regards to production quality, how important are these ratios? IS there substantial wiggle room?

    • May 6, 2012 6:50 AM

      First, I would always argue for weighing your ingredients rather than using volumetric measurements. It’s more precise, so you get a more consistent product (more important in the world of commercial baking, but still important!) However, bread has some wiggle room built in, as long as you understand it. If I were to make this bread on a 114º day in Arizona, for example, I could have to add an additional 100-200 grams of water. If I were to make the same bread in Hong Kong during the summer, I might have to add 100-200 grams of flour. Being precise is important, but bread bakers more than anyone else have to be able to know how to manipulate the dough when the conditions are different than the day before.

      That being said, if you’re not very precise with your measurements, the differences might not be noticeable to everyone. If you accidentally add too much water, the dough will be very sticky and hard to work with… but (depending on how much water you added) once it bakes up, it should be fine. If you accidentally leave out the yeast, the natural yeast in the sourdough starter will eventually make the bread rise, but it will take longer and thereby change the flavor of your bread because of the slower, natural fermentation taking place. As long as the baker knows how to deal with variances, there shouldn’t be a problem. For example, a person who is unfamiliar with bread might leave out the yeast and then put the bread in the oven before it’s ready, just because the recipe quotes 90 minutes as the proofing time. A good bread baker will keep an eye on the fermentation and know when the dough is ready for each of the steps.

      So, yes, I think wiggle room is actually inherent in the nature of bread, since it is a living thing. You just have to understand it!

  2. Mom permalink
    May 7, 2012 1:28 PM

    I can almost smell each loaf! Great blog once again…:)

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