The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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I had an unmitigated success with my sourdough starter today. Two round loaves of something resembling my rustic bread but with my starter instead of yeast.

I pulled the starter out and started feeding it every 12 hours beginning Thursday evening. During that time I kept it in my oven with the light on so that it was in a 80 to 90 degree environment. It seems to require that: without it, I don't even get a doubling in 24 hours. With it I get nearly a tripling in size in about 8 hours. We must keep our house too cold.

I made my final dough Saturday night and placed it in "the cold room," a poorly insulated room in our house that stays between 45 and 50 degrees this time of year. In the morning I gave it a fold and put it in the oven with the light on again to take the chill off. Gave it two hours, folded, two hours more, then shaped them. After a three and a half hour final rise I baked them. Amazing how much pop sourdough loaves get in the oven. They came out great.

Thanks for all of the advice and encouragement everyone, particularly Sourdolady. The continued effort paid off.

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With the site turning one year old, I decided it was time to finally put together an article on French Bread. Regular readers probably have noticed that while I bake some kind of French Bread (rustic bread, pan sur poolish, etc.) almost every week, I've yet to do an article on it. It isn't because I haven't wanted to, I just haven't thought I was good enough at it to offer any advice.

Well, I'm still not great, but after a year of baking and chatting with folks here I have gotten better, good enough that I feel like it isn't presumptuous to offer some advice to newbies, particularly if they are offered in the grain of "Don't make the same mistakes I did. Because, believe me, I've made some doozies."

Initially I thought it'd be a short piece, but as I started writing I realized it is going to be longer. I was going to write them all and then drop them here with a big "tah dah!," but then I thought it'd make more sense to open them up for scrutiny to other community members. After all, probably a majority of the tricks I've learned I've learned from folks here.

So here is what I've got so far. The other tips will follow as I write them up the next few days. Please, add comments to offer advice, suggestions, corrections, criticisms, whatever tickles your fancy.

Once all of the tips have been written up and your suggestions and corrections have been incorporated into the text, I'll publish this article to the front page of the site. I think it'll be a good one, and I'm looking forward to hearing people's comments. I'd love to see this one be more of a collaborative effort.

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I've been meaning to mention that this site is one year old now. Check out the first post.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed and participated in the discussions.

May your bread always rise!

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This weekend:

  • Banana bread: good, as always. I haven't baked it since the holidays began. Nice to have again.

  • Sourdough batch #1: refrigerated overnight. Great flavor, but too dense. About like a bagel. I still ate two-thirds of the loaf.

  • French bread: Awesome. Perfect with the pot of soup I made on a cold, damp day. Pictures and more info to come.

  • Sourdough batch #2: I thought I did everything right, but instead of springing in the oven it just sat there. Came out with the consistency of mochi, so I just tossed it. I'm not sure if I used too much starter or too little. Shrug. I'm still getting the hang of it.

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As I mentioned in my previous post, last night I placed my new sourdough starter in the oven with just the light on to see if staying 80 degrees overnight would give it some pep. It did, having slightly over doubled in size by this morning.

I also started a poolish last night so I could do a standard French bread if my starter wasn't looking lively. It too was ready to go this morning.

"Hey," I thought, "Since I have both, why don't I try making a yeasted and a sourdough version of the same recipe and compare how they come out? That's a good idea, innit?"

It is if you can remember which is which, but I, alas, could not.

My head was just not together this morning and I mixed up the two. What I knew was that I had two batches of my simple rustic bread: 14 oz. bread flour, 1 oz. rye flour, 1 oz. whole wheat flour, 1 tablespoon salt, 12 ounces water. One of the two had a teaspoon of instant yeast and a cup or so of poolish in it, the other had half a cup of sourdough starter.

For the life of me, I could tell them apart: I was certain the one that was rising fast was the sourdough. It smelled like sourdough. Or maybe that was just the rye flour?

In the end I figured out which was which, but by then I botched the shaping of one of the sourdough loaves. Against all odds, the other one came out well.

The poolish bread:
poolish batards

The sourdough round:
sourdough round

The two side-by-side (sourdough on left):

A close up of the sourdough:
sourdough crumb

The poolish bread was much lighter and had a much more evenly open crumb. The sourdough was somewhat dense and should have been allowed to rise another half hour or hour (and would have, if I'd remembered which one it was), but it still developed a beautifully irregular crumb and tasted marvelous. That it came out not only edible but excellent proves my assertion that even a dunderhead can bake a naturally leavened bread if they are willing to keep trying.

Next weekend I bake ONLY sourdoughs, or a sourdough and something that I couldn't possibly confuse it with, like a brioche or a challah.

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I've been feeding my starter every 12 hours since Thursday evening. It isn't too lively: I'm getting some growth and bubbles, but nothing close to doubling in size.

I went ahead and fed it again this evening. I put it in the oven with just the light bulb on, which keeps it around 80 degrees. We'll see if a slightly warmer environment stimulates it enough that I can bake with it tomorrow. If not, I may cheat and make a sourdough that is spiked with half a teaspoon of yeast, since it *smells* like sourdough. I'd like to get a chance to taste it.

I went ahead and made a poolish tonight too, so at the very least I could make a decent loaf of French bread tomorrow.

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I tried baking with my starter yesterday but blew it. I left the dough too slack, so it ended up a puddle. I expected it to tighten up as it developed, but it did not significantly. Oh well, I'll try again in a few days!

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Today the starter is looking real good.

sourdough starter

It doubled in size overnight.

sourdough starter

I'll probably try baking with it tomorrow.

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I made pizzas last night using the Neapolitan Denominazione de Origine Controllata crust from American Pie. It is basically the same as the Neo-Neapolitan dough except it totally omits sugar and fats. I meant to make the pizzas the day before but didn't have time, so I just punched the dough down and left it in the fridge a second day.

I made a couple of small ones for the kids. I guess I didn't dress them w/ enough cheese and sauce, because they totally poofed up and ended up looking more like pizza bagels than pizzas.

kids pizza

I don't know if you can tell here, but they ended up being about 2 inches tall.

Our pizza came out more normal, with a thick, poofy crown and thin crust in the middle.

our pizza

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I'm still feeding my starter. Pretty amazing separation:


But there is still activity.


I'm not sure if that is hooch (an alcoholic by-product of fermentation) on top or if it is just water that separated out because it was so thin. I thought about tasting it, but then figured that might not be such a good idea.

I fed it again today, this time a bit more flour and a bit less water to try to stiffen it up some. It appears to be working, and I'm not seeing any fluid on top.

My hope is to be able to bake with it for the first time Sunday. It smells good, like sourdough already.


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