First things first – choose your flour. I chose to do a wheat/white mix – about half and half. I like to use fresh-ground wheat, for a lot of reasons. It hasn’t had a chance to start losing any of the nutrients, it’s cheaper to buy wheat berries than pre-ground, it’s fun, etc.For reference, I weigh my flour, as it’s more accurate. Whole wheat flour is 114 g in a cup. All purpose flour is 120 g.As the wheat ground, I grabbed the first cup of flour and scalded it. You do this by mixing in boiling water. About 1 1/2 cups of water for the 1 cup flour. Then mix in another 1 1/2 cups of water, this time cold. Give the mixture a chance to come back to room temp. (By the time my wheat was done, and I’d put the water on in the garden, and gotten dressed, it was ready. I walked away about 6:30, came back around 7:00.)
Why scald? Well, you don’t have to. But it adds flavor, and can make the dough more tender. I don’t know more than that.
The recipe I’m using calls for 10 cups of flour. So if I were making a smaller batch, I’d scald less flour.
Next comes the mixing. Any recipe you want to use is fine. Everything goes into the bowl but the salt. You’ll add that later.
Once a shaggy dough forms, you’re good to stop mixing. Cover and walk away. You want to let it sit for up to an hour – but give it at least 15 min. This gives the flour enough time to soak up the water. It also lets protein chains lengthen. And if you want that sourdough flavor, you want that fermentation to have enough time to start developing.
When you come back to it, add the salt. Please don’t use iodized salt! Any other salt should be fine, but try to use a finer grained salt rather than the giant crystals, as those can tear up the strands of gluten.Then comes the kneading. You want to knead it really well. This takes time – plan on at least 10 minutes.
Now your dough needs a chance to raise. I put it into a large glass bowl and used tape to mark how high it came – that makes it easier to see how much it’s actually risen. Cover with plastic wrap, and a kitchen towel. Now Bob’s dough needs to sit somewhere warm for a while. I left it basking in the sunshine coming in through the window. It would be plenty warm – outside temp at 8:00 a.m. is 80 degrees.
We’ll come back to check on it later!
Partway through the morning
You can knock the dough back by gently pushing on it. This gives the bread a chance to further develop the flavor.
Time to divide and shape the dough! I divided by weight – I did 1 3/4 pounds of dough. This was pretty close to even. The 4th loaf was at 1 lb 6 oz – so I took a pinch from each of the other loaves to make them all fairly even. Another option would be to break that last load into smaller pieces and you could make out as with them once you heat the oven. (I put the dough in bowls as I divided to make it easier to weigh.) be aware – the dough is sticky!
Once that was done, I got out some bowls and lined them with cloth napkins, rubbing plenty of flour into them. Why? Well, unlike commercial yeast, a natural leavener takes longer to raise and could use a little support. There are proving bowls you can use for this, but as I don’t yet have any, this will do.
To shape the dough, dump it out on a lightly floured surface. You don’t want too much flour! Sticky dough is good. I pushed it down a bit so it was fairly flat, then folded the sides in (folding one edge to the middle, bringing the edge across in to meet it). Then I pushed down and folded in again. If that seems good, stop there – if not, do that again.
Now, dough should be somewhat roundish. Put your hands on the far side and pull it toward you, letting the dough roll very slightly on your work surface. Turn the dough a quarter turn and so that again. Continue until the dough has a nice, tight, smooth top. (The one in the picture is about done.)
Now, set it gently into your prepared proving basket (makeshift like mine, or real ones) WITH THE SEAM ON TOP. Now, re-cover the loaves with plastic wrap and a towel. You can walk away again for a while.
I left the bread to raise in a warm place for a couple hours (I put my heating pad under them and turned it to low).
A couple hours later…
Turn the oven to 500 degrees. I heated a baking stone at the same time, in order to keep the oven from losing heat, especially when opening the oven.Turn the raised loaves out of the proving basket and into your pans. With a thicker dough the loaf can go directly onto a baking stone, but these loaves were very loose. Another great option is a Dutch oven.When is it done? You can check the internal temperature of the loaves with a stick thermometer – it should read about 190 degrees. Today it took about 40 minutes.
Now comes the hard part – not cutting into it! Allowing the bread to cool for an hour before cutting into it allows for a little carry-over cooking, and helps keep the loaf from being gummy on the inside.
I usually add some good slashes to the top of the loaves before baking them. I tried on these loaves, but the dough was so wet it didn’t work very well. However, in the picture, it shows one that sort of worked. So if you want to add something about that, you can. Why would you slash to tops? It gives the steam a place to escape, which helps get that great crust. It also gives a place for the loaves to raise into (didn’t actually happen on mine….). There are different patterns you can use. Unless I’m mistaken, bakers use the pattern to mark what type of bread it is. (I believe this is different by baker, but I don’t know…)