Tag Archives: Sourdough

Cerignola Olive Sourdough

Cerignola Olive Sourdough
3 Large or 4 Smaller Loaves

1/2 cup rye sourdough starter
1 cup water
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, more as needed

-mix the starter and water with enough flour to make a thick batter, leaving it loosely covered in a large container until it is risen and bubbly (a few hours, depending on the temperature)

bubbly sourdough starter, from above
3 cups water
6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, more as needed
1 level Tablespoon fine sea salt
1 pint green Cerignola olives, pared of their pits and chopped course

-mix the bubbly starter with the water, 4 cups of the flour, and the salt to combine, adding more flour and mixing until a very wet dough forms (this is the key to airy ciabatta-type loaves)

-stir/knead the dough with a sturdy wooden spoon, adding just enough flour to make a dough; you will very nearly have to pour the dough into whichever container you wish to raise it in

-once the dough is mixed, stir in the chopped olives and continue mixing until they are evenly distributed throughout the dough

-place the dough in an oiled bowl or bin, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag, in a warmish place for 40 minutes

-after 40 minutes, turn the dough out onto a floured board and fold it like a letter. Rotate it and fold once again like a letter. Use plenty of flour, as the dough should still be very wet and almost batter-like. If you don’t quite understand the folding part, no big deal. Just fuck with the bread a little bit, forming some gluten and maybe incorporating a little flour if it is super sticky. You will notice the dough is getting springier. Return it to rising in the bowl or bin for another half hour, then repeat the folding. Repeat this rising/folding twice more

-after all the rising and folding, turn the dough out (it should be getting pretty airy and risen by now) onto a floured board and cut it into 3 or four even-sized pieces. Roll each one loosely like a rug.

-oil 3 or 4 bowls (depending how many loaves you are making) and dust them with semolina or cornmeal. Heat the oven at 475 degrees with a heavy pot in it*.

-take the dough pieces one-by-one and roll them into round loaves, careful not to deflate them if you want airy bread. The dough should be very soft, sticky and full of air bubbles. Place each loaf bottom-up in one of the oiled bowls. Wrap loosely in a plastic bag. Place 2 of the loaves in the refrigerator and keep 1 or 2 out to rise. They will take a half hour, maybe more, to rise. Perhaps. It depends on the temperature. Let them rise fully if you want airy bread, but if one deflates when you put it in the pot to bake, let the next one rise a little less.

-once the first loaf is risen, and the oven is hot, turn the loaf out into the pre-heated pot. Slash the top to let steam escape and place the lid on the pot before closing the oven. After 30 minutes, remove the loaf carefully from the pot onto the oven rack to continue baking for another 15-20 minutes. You can put the next loaf in the pot to bake at this point. Remove the loaves one-by-one from the refrigerator as the room-temperature loaves go into the oven.

-bake the loaves all the way. The crust should be caramel brown and will be very hard just out of the oven, but will soften to the crispy texture as the loaves cool. Cool them all the way before eating, or the texture suffers.

-for more bread baking instruction (more patient bread-making instruction!) see the Sesame Sourdough post. But remember, nobody can teach you to make bread, you just have to make some and learn. Homemade bread never turns out that bad!

*baking bread in a pot is nothing new, but the idea was made popular by Mark Bittman’s NY Times article featuring Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread. It is a technique worth learning, for kneaded bread or un-kneaded.


Sourdough Starter

For Those Who Want to Make Naturally Leavened Bread

In order to make naturally leavened bread (also known as sourdough or simply levain), you will first have to catch or acquire a colony of wild yeasts.
Wild yeasts are different from ‘commercial’ yeasts (Active Dry, or Quick Rise, or even the fresh moist cakes used in bakeries). You will not find them granulated in the baking section, but invisibly in the air and upon the grain itself.
If none of your friends has a sourdough starter to share, how best to colonize these yeasts you cannot even see? Actually it’s as simple as remembering where they lurk and what they eat.

Ripe Sourdough Starter From the 'Fridge

Home For a Yeast

Attracting wild yeasts with a flour and water paste is something like attracting your own nest of birds by building them a house. The main difference is that yeasts are gluttonous and don’t know how to go out and find worms, moths or caterpillars. So you have to feed them often, especially while your colony is growing. The other difference is, no matter how light the chirping baby birds may seem, you will not be able to use birds to raise a loaf of bread.

Developing a Practical Sourdough Method

My current advice on sourdough starters comes from combined experience and the teachings of various bakers. I have followed Peter Reinhardt’s and Jeffrey Hamelman’s methods, more or less precisely, for building sourdough starters. During my Advanced Bread course at Johnson & Wales, my group kept and baked with both rye and wheat starters. Perhaps most influential, though, were the big buckets of sourdough starters I saw in bakeries where I worked, kept by bakers either totally ignorant or particularly aware of just how much neglect wild yeasts will tolerate.

Professional baking authors typically instruct their readers to toss out a portion of starter and replenish with fresh flour and water daily, although it is sad throwing out that much flour. The more practical method, of using what starter you need, storing the rest in the refrigerator and replenishing when it gets low, eliminates the problem of waste. Also, you don’t have to spend time feeding your starter on days you don’t plan to bake.

Choosing an Organic Whole Grain Flour

Sourdough starters for bread-making are made from rye or wheat flour. Using a large percentage of rye starter, or experimenting with wheat starters made with varying amounts of water, will produce different distinct varieties of bread.

For simple leavening purposes (making your loaf of bread rise), either rye or wheat will work. It may be easier to get a sourdough culture going using rye flour, but wheat flour may be easier to find.
Certainly, it is best to use whole grain flour rather than refined white flour. Whole grain wheat flour is sold as Whole Wheat Flour, while whole rye flour is usually called Dark Rye.
Organic flours do not contain genetically modified grains, and you may even be able to find a source of organic whole grain flour milled locally from grains grown in your region. Some bakers are enthusiastic enough to buy grain mills and mill their own flour.
At any rate, choose a flour that appeals to you and keep a few pounds on hand as you get your starter going and bake your first loaves of flavorful sourdough bread.

How to Begin

Building a healthy sourdough starter requires from a few days to just around a week of consistent feedings, and minimal simple kitchen tools.

Leave a vent so the yeast can breath

It is important to use a glass, plastic or ceramic container. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to develop a sourdough culture in a metal container. I cannot remember why, but I can remember how disappointing it is to feed and feed a starter and to never have it grow. Since you will need to loosely cover the container, it may be easiest to find a 2-quart glass or plastic food storage container with a lid that can be placed over it but not sealed. One other warning regarding the storage container; do not use ‘self-sealing’ plastic wrap to cover the bowl. There is some kind of chemical on the self-sealing surface that effects the health of sourdough. Any kind of spoon or mixing utensil, including your hands, will be fine for making the paste.

Once you have chosen a flour and found a good container, stir together about a cup of flour with enough water to make a thick paste. Place the lid or another loose cover over the container and leave it at room temperature for about 24 hours.

Feed the Starter Regularly Until it is Doubling Between Feedings

Next day, you will not see much, if any, difference in the appearance of the flour paste. That is OK. Remove about half of it and throw it in the compost (or garbage). Add enough flour and water to double the portion of paste that is left. Remember, you will only have to toss out starter for the first few days, so don’t resist.

It is important to add enough fresh flour and water to match the amount of paste you are leaving. That gives the growing yeast plenty of food. Loosely cover the replenished starter and leave for another 24 hours.

Next day, toss out half and add another portion of flour and water to match the amount of paste you have. This time, leave for only 12 hours before repeating the feeding procedure.

After a few days of consistent feedings, your starter will begin to bubble and grow

Continue to toss half and feed the starter with fresh flour and water every 12 hours until it shows signs of life. After 3-5 days you should have a pretty healthy sourdough starter. Soon it will be growing to double its size between feedings, and is ready to use for leavening bread. If you have a clear container, you will see bubbles in the starter. Sprinkle flour on the surface of the starter before leaving it to rise, and you will see cracks in the flour as the starter expands.

Cracked surface of a ripe rye sourdough starter, sprinkled with flour

Naturally Leavened Bread Requires Only Patience

When your starter is healthy and has doubled in size, mix it into a batch of bread dough in place of commercial yeast. Wait long enough and the dough, like your starter, will double. Form loaves, let them double again, and bake.
Sourdough is less consistent in the amount of time it takes to rise, when compared with commercial yeast. The longer rising time, however, gives the dough a chance to develop more complex flavors. If bread does not rise long enough, it may be dense and heavy. Be plenty patient and the bread should turn out good and light.

Between Loaves

When you use your starter to make bread, be sure to reserve a small amount to perpetuate it. A tablespoon or two is usually plenty.
Add fresh flour and water, allow the sourdough to ripen at room temperature until it is nearly doubled, then loosely cover it and store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake again.

When using starter directly from the refrigerator, your loaves may take longer to rise. For a faster rise, remove the starter and give it one feeding the day before you plan to bake. This is also a good idea if you go 2-3 weeks between batches of bread.

Always, always remember to keep and replenish a small portion of the starter so that you do not have to start from scratch!

Sesame Sourdough

Please Learn How to Make Bread
Anyone can make piles of homemade bread that will far surpass the quality of store bought loaves. Once you learn this simple skill you will see how ridiculously complicated most bread has become.
Cooks and bakers who are afraid of yeast are simply forgetting its nature; yeast is not a precise chemical leavening agent but a living thing. Commercial (Active Dry) and Wild (sourdough) yeasts all consume sugars and oxygen, creating various acids and carbon dioxide. The acids provide flavor while the carbon dioxide, trapped within the structure of the dough, causes the bread to rise. The warmer the room, and the dough, the quicker the yeast multiplies. The more yeast there is in the dough, the more carbon dioxide there will be to raise a loaf of bread. With less yeast or in a colder room, the dough will take much longer to rise. Be patient. The dough will rise eventually.
So, with the simple distinction of Living Thing vs. Chemical leavening agent, one can be quite comfortable working with yeasts to make bread. Now please learn to make your own bread.

Whole Wheat Sesame Sourdough
This is my approximation of the bread served at Souen, the great macrobiotic restaurant off Union Square in New York City. Actually I am pretty sure they didn’t make the bread in-house. The flour:water ratio and dry yeast measurements are based loosely on a scaled down version of Ed Brown’s Tassajara Yeasted Bread. He taught me how to make bread in the first place. The idea for baking bread in a Dutch oven came from my dad who learned it from the famous no-knead bread recipe. I learned this killer method of making sesame crust when I trailed the bakers at Grandaisy (formerly Sullivan Street) Bakery also in New York. They had a big soggy sponge the size of a half-sheet pan that they’d roll the loaf around on before rolling it in another pan full of sesame seeds to coat.

3 cups water
1/2 cup to 2 cups rye sourdough starter, OR 1 Tablespoon dry yeast
6-7 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
sesame seeds, about 2 cups, spread out in a wide dish

If you want the bread to rise faster, use warmer water. Make sure it isn’t too hot; you should be able to easily hold your hand in there.
Add the yeast or starter to the water. Make sure the yeast dissolves, if you’re using dry yeast.
Add 5 cups of flour and the salt to the water and yeast and mix with a sturdy wooden spoon. Once it gets too thick to mix with the spoon, use your hand. I find it easiest to hold onto the bowl with my left hand and use my right hand to knead the dough.
There is nothing complicated about kneading the dough. You just want to make a nice soft dough. Quit thinking about how long it is going to take and concentrate on what you’re doing. Add enough more flour so that the dough is not too sticky, but not too dry. Six and 1/4 cups seemed about right when Ryan was learning to make the bread but who knows. If you accidentally add too much flour then add more water. Keep on kneading it until it is nice and soft and smooth.
Oil a large bowl and place the dough in it, and wrap it with a plastic bag. Leave it alone until you can see it is swelling. Remember you’re not looking what time it is, you’re looking at the dough. It might take an hour or three. When it is definitely swelling but not huge yet, put the wrapped bowl of dough in the refrigerator to rest overnight. This makes it all the more flavorful and gives you a chance to do something else for a while.
In the morning, pull out the dough for an hour before you want to shape the loaves.
Shaping and Rising Again:
After an hour, cut the dough into 2-3 pieces and shape them into rounds. A good bread book or website will teach you how, or improvise. Get your hands under the faucet and rub down the outside of each dough round with water, then roll it around in sesame seeds to coat it. Place it into an oiled bowl and wrap again with plastic.

Heat the oven as high as it will go. Do you have a heavy, oven-proof Dutch oven type pan? Put that into the oven, including the lid, while the oven heats.
You can tell that the bread is ready to bake when you poke it and the indentation is slow to disappear. At first, the indentation will pop right back out. You will eventually be very good at telling when it is ready to bake but at first you just have to trust your gut instinct and accept the fact that you may not bake the loaves at exactly the right time. Just don’t bake them too early because you are impatient.
Get a knife ready, pull out the hot dutch oven and carefully get the risen loaf in there. Be careful. You don’t want the loaf to deflate and you certainly don’t want to burn your damn hands.
Once the loaf is in there make some quick cuts on the top of it. Put the lid on the dutch oven and get that hot thing back in the oven for 25 minutes or half an hour (depending on whether you made 2 loaves or 3; larger loaves will obviously take longer to bake).
Remove the loaf from the dutch oven and bake it another 10 minutes or so straight on the oven rack. You can put the second loaf in at this point. It will sound hollow if you tap it. Bake it until the bottom is pretty dark. Sometimes it is nearly black.

Let the bread cool a few hours or overnight before you slice it. It makes a difference.

Recently I have been making three loaves; freezing two in tightly sealed bags to have fresh bread all week.