This is a five-part article. Here are links to the parts.
Part 1: The basics
Part 2: Creating a starter
Part 3: Mixing dough
Part 4: Baking
Part 5: Upping your game
MIXING THE DOUGH - OVERVIEW
Great bread takes time.
If you’ve reached this step in the process, you’ve already invested multiple days creating sourdough starter from scratch. Now we’re going to use that starter to prepare dough, and that takes time, too.
The process I’m going to describe takes about twenty-four hours, starting first thing in the morning on Day One and ending when your bread goes into the oven, first thing in the morning on Day Two.
My process is leisurely. You can speed it up, but you’ll sacrifice some flavor. And anyhow, what’s the hurry? This process is meant to be relaxing and pleasurable, and it’s meant to build anticipation.
Also note that my process assumes you want your bread to be fresh and warm in the morning. If that’s not your preference, you can adjust my schedule.
Here’s the schedule I follow when I’m baking my standard recipe. Note that the times are very flexible. I'm giving you precise times just to keep things simple.
8:00 AM: Prepare leaven
3:30 PM: Mix the dough
4:00 PM to 8:00 PM: Bulk rise
8:00 PM: Shape the boule (twice)
8:30 PM: Put the boule into the refrigerator
8:00 AM: Bake
Most of your time is spent waiting, while the starter and the leaven and the flour and the water do what they need to do. For the entire length of this twenty-four hour process, your active time investment will be about thirty minutes. No single active time block will be more than ten minutes.
HOW MUCH BREAD WE'RE MAKING
The standard Tartine recipe -- and the New York Times recipe -- makes a lot of bread. It uses one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of flour and makes two large boules. That's more bread than I want to make at one time, so I've adjusted the recipe to make one slightly smaller boule.
I use just 400 grams (14 ounces) of flour, not counting the flour in the leaven. The result is a single boule weighing about a pound and a half.
Of course, that means that I bake more frequently, but I enjoy that.
If you prefer to make a bigger batch and more boules, all the ingredients can simply be scaled up proportionately, and when the time comes to shape your boules, just divide your dough before shaping.
Let’s get started.
8:00 AM: PREPARE THE LEAVEN
Leaven is just a big batch of starter. My process for creating a batch of leaven is no different than my process for feeding my starter. In fact, if I’m creating leaven, I just adjust how much I feed my starter that morning so that I have enough to use as leaven in my recipe, plus enough left over to serve as my starter base the following day. However, if you want to make a 'dedicated' batch of leaven, here's the recipe.
1 tablespoon of active (bubbly) starter
80 grams of water
80 grams of 50-50 flour mix
Put the starter into a jar
Add the water
Add the flour
Mix well with a spoon
Cover the jar with a hole-punched lid and some cheesecloth
Set aside for six to eight hours, until the mixture becomes bubbly and roughly doubles in size
3:30 PM: MIX THE DOUGH
When the leaven is ready, you can mix the dough.
To determine whether the leaven is ready, I suggest looking at the side of the jar. Is it bubbly? Has it doubled in size? You can also test it by taking a spoonful and dropping it into a bowl of water. If it floats, it’s ready to go.
We'll prepare the dough in three steps -- mixing, adding salt, and 'turning'.
For your dough, you'll mix the 80 grams of starter, 280 grams of water, 40 grams of whole wheat flour, and 360 grams of bread flour. You'll add the 8 grams of salt and a sprinkling of water after the dough rests for a while.
8:00 PM: SHAPE THE BOULE
Once the dough is billowy, you'll shape it. Actually, you'll shape it twice. Here are the steps:
The first shaping
Dump the dough onto a clean countertop; there's no need to flour the surface. (Note that a dough scraper is handy for getting the dough out of the container.)
Dust the top of the dough with some of your 50-50 flour mix.
Flip the dough, so the flour side is down.
Stretch one side of the dough and fold it all the way over the top, so that the entire outside surface is now covered with flour.
Tip the dough onto the seam -- the edge where the folded top side meets the bottom side.
Now, using your hands, rotate the dough. The seam will stick slightly to the countertop (that's why we didn't flour the countertop), and the dough will take on a boule shape as the exterior 'skin' tightens. That's your goal here -- increase surface tension and tighten that skin.
Now cover the boule with a towel and let it rest for thirty minutes. You've completed the first shaping.
The second shaping
After the dough has rested for thirty minutes, you shape it again.
When you remove the towel from the rested dough, it will have flattened out into a fat disk. We're now going to fold that disk.
First, sprinkle the top of the disk with flour and then turn it over, so the flour side is down.
Then you'll perform what I call an envelope fold. You'll do four folds, turning the dough ninety degrees for each fold, so you're performing the fold on four edges of the disk, as though it were a square.
Each fold works like this: Grip the edge of the dough and stretch it out an inch or two (you may have to place the palm of your other hand on the center of the dough to hold it in place). Then fold the stretched dough back over the top of the disk, to about the center point.
Do that four times.
Now, flip the dough over so the seam is facing down. (A bench knife is handy for all this flipping).
Again, rotate the dough between your hands to shape it into a boule and to increase the surface tension of the 'skin'. Like before, the seam should stick a bit to the countertop to make this work (if it doesn't, maybe because you've got too much flour left on the countertop, you can moisten your fingers just a bit and use them to moisten the seamed underside of the boule; you don't want it wet, just a bit sticky).
Turning and folding the dough during the initial, bulk rise.
Step 1 ingredients
80 grams of leaven
360 grams of bread flour
40 grams of whole wheat flour
280 grams of water
Step 1 Instructions
Put the leaven into a large mixing bowl
Add the water, and stir the leaven with your fingers to disperse it
Add the whole wheat flour and the bread flour and mix thoroughly with your hands
Cover the bowl with a light towel and let it rest for 30 or 40 minutes
Make sure you've done a thorough mixing job; you shouldn't leave any dry flour. When you've finished mixing, the dough will be raggedy and sticky -- you'll need to use your dough scraper or a table knife to clean it off your fingers.
Step 2 ingredients
16 grams of water
8 grams of salt
Step 2 instructions
After the dough has rested, you'll discover that it has changed quite a bit. It will no longer be raggedy; it will be a lot less sticky; and the texture will have changed so that it feels a bit rubbery. Now we add the salt.
Sprinkle the salt on top of the dough
Sprinkle the water over the salt to dampen it
Using your hands and fingers, squeeze the salt into the dough
Move the dough to a smaller container (optional), and cover it with a light towel
4:00 PM TO 8:00 PM: BULK RISE
Once you've mixed the dough, you'll set it aside and let the leaven do its work, digesting some of the flour and producing gases that expand the dough and fill it with a network of bubbles.
For this bulk rise, I always move my dough from the big mixing bowl into something a bit smaller, but that's not required. Note also that the bulk rise will go a bit faster if it's in a moderately warm environment, but that's not required either. An easy way to achieve that kind of environment is to put the dough into a cold oven and then turn on the oven light. The light generates just enough heat to enourage the rise.
During this time, your job is simple. Every thirty minutes -- after holding your hand under the tap to get it wet -- you 'turn' the dough several times.
My turning method is to slightly stretch one side of the dough and fold it over the top. Then I grab another side, stretch it slightly, and fold it over the top. I do that three or four times, rotating the dough to get a different side each time.
The first few times you do this, the dough will feel heavy. After a couple of hours, however, it will begin to feel billowy. A nice billowy dough is what you're waiting for. That typically takes three or four hours.
Shaping the boule by rotating it between your hands; the bottom sticks a bit to the un-floured countertop, so the turning tightens the skin and rounds the dough.
8:30 PM: PUT THE BOULE IN THE REFRIGERATOR
When you're satisfied with the shape, you can put the boule into a bowl that you've lined with a towel (just use the towel that was covering the dough while it rested). The Tartine instructions tell you to dust the towel with rice flour so your boule won't stick. Feel free to do that, but I've never had a problem with sticking.
Just flip your boule into the towel-lined bowl, seam side up. Fold the towel over the seam, and put the bowl in the refrigerator for the final rise, which takes ten to twelve hours.
Putting the dough in the refrigerator is optional. You can instead let it rise at room temperature, which is a lot faster -- maybe four hours.
There are two reasons I refrigerate my boule for the final rise. First, this 'retarding' of the rise lets the flavor develop. One of the delights of home-baked sourdough bread is the flavor, so I shoot to maximize it. The second reason is convenience. Stretching the final rise for twelve hours means I can let it happen overnight and be ready to bake first thing in the morning.
Which is where we're headed next: Here are the instructions for baking your boule.
Jim Feuerstein is co-editor of LNF Weekly; he also designs and manages the website.