Thursday, 20 October 2016

Drive Thru Sue Sourdough THM:E - Tips & Tricks

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If you've come this far, I hope you have eaten a few nice loaves of your own, wonderful homemade sourdough bread!  Isn't is amazing that you can bake bread for just a small amount of time and almost NO real work?!?  I'm still amazed that I can crank out fresh bread in just 2 hours!

This page will list some of the common issues that you will run across when working with sourdough, and also how to change the loaf size, and batch size.

Dough Refrigerator Life:

After your initial refrigeration overnight, you'll have around 3-4 days to make good bread.  One of the downsides to sourdough (which is also it's greatest strength) is that it is a living organism.  The yeast replicates, feeding on the natural sugars and carbs in the flour.  Their by-product is both carbon dioxide and alcohol, which cause the bread to rise.  Eventually, however, the yeast will consume all available carbs and there will be so much CO2 that the yeast will die.

In your refrigerator, you'll notice that the bread will slowly get poofier for about the first 3 days that it is in the fridge.  Day #3 is really your last *perfect* day to bake.  On day 4 it will stall out, and you may see larger bubbles forming through the walls of your container - those are large pockets of CO2.  Your bread wil still turn out OK, but may not rise as high.  You may smell an off-odor.  Not bad, but a tad alcoholic.  By day 5ish, the entire bulk of dough will begin to flatten, lose elasticity, and will pull apart in a similar fashion to the newly mixed dough.  Except this time - instead of needing to stretch more like freshly mixed dough - the dough will be over stretched, the gluten falls apart and will no longer hold together.  As you smooth your dough, you'll find that it breaks and crumbles apart.  Your loaf will flatten instead of rising, as it sits at room temp, and it will not puff at all in the oven - just bake into a flat, dense brick.

The good news is that all of your yeasts are not dead, but the flour is just not strong enough to hold together - all the carbs have been eaten!!  You can still take your starter piece, mix up a new batch of bulk dough, and make bread the following day.

One way to avoid this problem of over-risen dough, is to simply bake your bread earlier.  This bread keeps very well in the fridge once it has been baked.  I've had a loaf in there for a week and longer with no signs of mold or funny smells.  If day #4 comes along and you don't really *need* another loaf, go ahead and bake it anyway (while making dinner, watching TV, etc) and just stick it in a gallon ziplock in the fridge.  You can either mix up another batch of dough right then (if you have time for the folding) or in the next 3-5 days.  It won't last forever without being fed, however, so don't leave it in there for too long.

Making 2 larger loaves:

Nutritional Info for 1/4 of the medium "double" loaf
Another option is to just divide the dough in half (instead of 4 pieces) and bake 2 larger loaves.  I use a medium-sized stoneware loaf pan that is about 3.5 x 6.5.  It's still half the size of a standard loaf of bread, but because of the tall sides it forces the bread to rise *up* instead of spreading *out* as it bakes.  I absolutely LOVE the cute little slices!!I don't waste a big piece on the end because it was thinner and got too dry and hard in the oven.  Also, I only bake bread half as often!  My kids really like my sourdough and ask for it over store-bought bread.  Since this bread is cheaper to make anyway, not to mention healthier, I can give it to them for lunch and still not be baking every single day, if I use the loaf pan.

Notice the nutritional info to the right.  This is for eating 1/4 of the medium loaf, which would be quite a bit along side other items in a meal.  However, it's hard to estimate 'slices' when everyone has their own favorite thickness.  Use this info as an estimate of fat, carbs & protein, depending on how much less than 1/4 loaf you eat in one meal.

To use the loaf pan, I cut a strip of parchment that is the length of the inside of the loaf pan and set my dough to rise in the center.  When I heat the oven, I place the storeware loaf pan in to get hot.  To bake, I lift the parchment and rock it back and forth a few times to help the loaf to get a bit skinnier, then lower it into the hot pan.  The ends will touch the pan and the long ends of the parchment will hang out really far, but both of those things are ok.  Slash the top as best you can.  After baking I use the parchment to lift the loaf out of the pan and onto the cooling rack - save the parchment strip for next time!  It can be reused until it gets so brown that it starts to crumble, which should be at least 4-6 times.

I have not yet tried baking ALL of the dough in a standard loaf pan.  Probably you'd need to heat to 450 (to get the stone good and hot), then reduce to 350 for baking, and bake for 45 minutes or longer.  Let me know if you try it!

Reducing the amount of dough:

If your house has only 1-2 people eating the bread, or not eating it every day, the original amount of dough might just make too much for you.  Below are the amounts to use to make smaller batches of dough.  Always check your dough consistancy and add a tad more water or flour if needed:

4 small loaves + starter piece (original recipe)

3 small loaves + starter piece (uses same amout of oil & salt)
  • starter from previous batch
  • 1T oil
  • 1T salt
  • 2C hot water
  • 4C white whole wheat
  • Cut into 4ths, save 1 for starter and bake 3
2 small loaves + starter piece
  • starter from previous batch
  • 2 teaspoons oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1.5 C hot water
  • 3C white whole wheat
  • Cut into thirds, save 1 piece, bake 2

Storing Your Starter For A While:

Eventually, everyone needs a vacation.  You might need to just not bake bread for a season, but don't really want to go to the trouble of creating a wild yeast starter again later.  You might really go on vacation and leave your house for several weeks!  As a living organism, the starter can't be completely ignored, but it can be neglected quite seriously for a while.

To put your starter in indefinite standby, you'll want to take around 1/2 C of your bread dough and put it back into the quart jar.  There's no need to feed a huge tub of dough all the time.  Whisk in about 1/4 C of hot water, then use your wooden spoon to add 1/4C whole wheat flour and put it back in the fridge, covered loosely (use the jar lid but leave the band very loose).  You can leave it that way for up to 2 weeks, then add another 1/4 C each of water and flour.   If the jar gets to around half full, throw away all but about 1/2C the next time you feed it.  Repeat forever!  Your yeasts will constantly have new food introduced, but without being allowed to warm up they will stay dormant and won't consume it very fast.  It would be good to bring it out and let it warm up after a month or 6 weeks and let the yeasts really grow and get strong for a while before returning to your 2 week rotation.

If you have to go longer than 2ish weeks you probably can, but it will take longer to bring your starter back to life.  In any case, when you're ready to bake again you'll need to treat your old, tired starter like a wild yeast starter for a while before using it to bake.  Leave it on the counter at all times, feeding it daily.  Leave it near fresh air and it will even attract new yeasts!  Since you already have (hopefully still living) yeasts, it should not take more than a few days to revive the starter and have it bubbly and sour again.

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