I could write a short book on the subject because I feel new bakers are being brought to believe there is one, highly complicated, way to produce good bread. Having spent all my baking life trying to reduce bread-making to its basics and through this to promote the spread of sourdough baking, the situation does not exactly fill me with joy.
But, let’s try and keep it simple. This is how I made a recent loaf; Mick’s Classic Sourdough, the first bread formula I developed that I was satisfied with and which approached what I was wanting to achieve – a French style mîche. A simple loaf 50% strong bread flour, 50% wholemeal wheat – formula at https://thepartisanbaker.com/micks-classic/
I keep my starter, now in its 20th year, at 100% hydration (equal weights of flour and water). I keep it on the kitchen counter at room temperature. It is often neglected for two or three days but always fed in advance of mixing. I refreshed it the evening before the mix at a ratio of 1:1:1 (starter:water:flour). I have never given my starter swimming lessons or checked to see if it doubles or trebles – I refresh it and 7-8 hours it’s ready to go.
About 9.00 a.m. I hand mixed the dough. All the ingredients (2 flours, water, starter, salt) go in the mixing bowl. I mix by revolving the bowl with one hand while scooping down the flour into the water. Once the flours are damped down I continually squeeze my hand into the mixture while revolving the bowl until a rough dough is formed. This gets scraped out onto the work surface and the dough gets three short kneads with a few minutes rest in between. I use the simplest of kneads – stretch the dough away from me with my lead hand, roll it back, lift with both hands, turn a quarter and repeat. I do this ten times and the rest for a few minute, then repeat, then repeat a third time. The dough goes into an oiled plastic box for four hours fermentation at room temperature.
Note: no autolyse, no slap and fold. I have experimented with autolyse and got a marginal increase in volume but not enough to make it worth factoring in the time. See https://thepartisanbaker.com/2014/12/10/autolyse/
My intention was to fold three times during the four hour period. I think I managed two. I tip the dough out of the box, stretch, fold it in thirds, turn a quarter and stretch and fold again – probably three times depending on how the dough tightens up.
After four hours (about 01.30 p.m.) the dough came out of the box, was shaped, placed in a rye floured banneton, covered with a tea towel and plastic and proved for three and a half hours again at room temperature.
About 5.00 p.m. the dough went into the oven, preheated to 210C, for 65 minutes.
Note: no stone, no Dutch Oven (or casserole as they are called in the UK), no steam – just a steel baking sheet floured with rye. I tried a baking stone but I get as good results with a straight, unheated baking sheet. Steam doesn’t make a blind bit of difference in a convection oven. I could probably squeeze an extra bit of volume using a Dutch oven but what an inconvenience. When I’m baking for customers I want two racks of three large loaves in this oven and when the first batch comes out the second batch goes in, with the third and fourth batches queuing.
That’s exactly the sort of crumb I would expect and would want from a loaf that was 50% wholemeal. You needn’t worry that it is 2 kilo, you can bake it any size you want. But for me it is the optimum size for a loaf – the right crust/crumb ratio. In France they would sell you a piece of it – me, I cut it in quarters and freeze three of them.
These days I’m down to one bake a month for customers when I would expect to bake 40+ loaves. My routine then is to mix Wednesday evening, overnight bulk fermentation in the fridge, Thursday scale, prove, bake, 5.00 p.m. – 7.00 pm. customers.
So on bake weeks my starter would probably be refreshed Tuesday morning and evening and finally Wednesday morning, partly to make up for the neglect and partly to build to my required weight which is going to be in the region of 5K
The dough is mixed, some by hand (same method as above) some by mixer between 4.00-6.00 p.m. and goes straight into the fridge in boxes that will hold up to 7K. This way I can get up to about 45K of dough fermenting overnight. If the dough was shaped and in baskets I could only get a fraction of this weight in the fridge. Definitely no autolyse or folds.
From 6.00 a.m. Thursday morning I work in batches of 10 loaves (my oven capacity) per hour (roughly the baking time), scaling, shaping and putting in proving baskets. They get the same treatment as my domestic loaves – three and a half hours prove at room temperature, 50 minutes bake at 210C. See https://thepartisanbaker.com/bake-day-26-27-september-2018/ for a typical bake day.
Another method I usually have on the go is a batch of 80% hydration dough kept in the fridge for pizza and instant buns, baguettes, flatbreads, etc. See https://thepartisanbaker.com/80-hydration/ – could be the best bread of the lot!
Beginners can save themselves a lot of hassle by reading my short sourdough book – pdf here https://thepartisanbaker.com/library/
Finally, if you have found anything helpful here you might want to make a contribution to support the site development – paypal.me/partisanbaker