The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Vermont Sourdough in Five-Minutes a Day

ericb's picture

Vermont Sourdough in Five-Minutes a Day

It's been a long time since I've posted on The Fresh Loaf. The last several years have seen many changes in our lives, the primary one being that we chose to go "car free" back in December. Doing this is challenging, but not impossible in our hometown of Louisville, KY. While friends and family suggested that we just move on to more "bike friendly" cities (perhaps they're just trying to get rid of us and they figure Portland is as far from Kentucky as one can get), we decided to stick it out in Derby City.

It was one of the best decisions we have ever made. Relying solely on bike and bus (and the occasional ride from a friend) has forced us to become more efficient with our time and cut out unnecessary activities, but it has also led us to meet some amazing people. Who knew that there is an entire "car free" community in our city? Who knew we would have become passionately involved in our upcoming mayoral election? We find ourselves to be constantly advocating, even if only passively, for a city where owning a car will be seen as a burden, where traveling across town will be seen as a well-earned luxury instead of a necessity, and where everyone has the option to travel safely and freely (though not "for free.")

One thing that has had to change is my baking schedule. It is no longer reasonable for me to meander five hours coddling loaves of bread. Instead, I have adopted (and adapted) the five-minute method. It's not perfect, but it has allowed us to continue eating and sharing delicious homemade bread.

Lately, though, I've been getting the itch. A few weeks ago, I decided to make a new starter. Following the recipe in the back of Hamelman's book, I had a vibrant starter within a week. Still not able to carve out half a day for baking, I decided to take a chance oncombining sourdough leavening with the typically yeast-intensive five-minute method.

The results were surprising. In a thousand words...

Vermont Sourdough

As I mentioned before, the method I used was a hybrid. For the most part, I followed Hamelman's directions, although I didn't fuss over temperatures due to the warm weather, and I used a little more water (maybe 1/2 cup) to make the dough easier to work with. The dough rested in a covered bowl for about 1.5 hours. I folded in the bowl one time halfway through, and put it in the refrigerator for the night. 

The next morning, I pulled out the dough, immediately shaped it into small boules (around 1/2 pound each), arranged them on parchment paper, dusted with flour, and covered. After an hour, I turned on the oven. Within 1.5 hours of shaping, the dough was in the oven. 30 minutes at 450, steam for 15 minutes.

The primary way this differs from Hamelman's recipe is that I shaped the loaves *after* refrigerating, not before. Since the gluten develops overnight, less folding was needed, so I was able to reduce bulk fermentation time, too. This saved about 1-2 hours the night before.

Another advantage to waiting to shape the dough is that it is *much* easier to work with cold dough. Following the "five minute" method, I cut chunks of dough, quickly formed them into tight boules (using wet hands), and plopped them seam-side-down on parchment. No proofing in baker's linen, no preshaping, reshaping, no messing with flour all over the kitchen. After an hour of resting and warming up, the dough was ready for the oven.

I realize that this is not a "new" method, and that many others have advocated an overnight cold fermentation. Still, if you're pressed for time, but still want to make naturally leavened bread, you should give this a try at least once.

Happy baking!


Franchiello's picture

Those are very beautiful - when it cools down here in a few months I'll have to awaken my frozen starter and give your method a try. 

It would be nice not to have to rely on a car so much, but here in San Diego everything is so spread out and the public transportation is rather limited.  Fortunately, I live within walking distance to the grocery store, bank and a few other essential things, so I try to walk as much as possible but getting to work means having to go out and do battle on the freeways 5 days a week!!  After I retire I want to move to a place where it is more "foot friendly" and just slow down.

EvaB's picture

I did a lot of busing and walking, but I had to move out of the small city and into the country for my lungs. The city sits in a sort of bowl surrounded by higher land and hills, and this holds in all the exhaust fumes and I spent every summer on antibiotics for my lung infections and chronically ill.

We live 10 miles out of the city now, but any trips are double duty if at all possible, and if we don't get something then whatever that is needed for is put off the schedule until we can get it on another intensive trip to town.

We get horrid winters here, so of course I stock up on things starting in the fall, so I don't run out of essentials like TP and flour! Wish we did have the bus, as several times I've had to take a taxi and you pay for both trips each time, so the trip costs me over 50$ to go to town and come back, around 25 each way. So be glad you do live where you can walk to most places, even if you do have to do battle with the freeway.

ericb's picture

Thanks! I wouldn't go so far as to call it "my method," but I was pleasantly surprised that it worked.

I'm always happy to hear when communities are arranged in such a way that people like yourself can walk to the grocery, bank, etc. I didn't realize how "foot friendly" Louisville is until we gave up our car, but we have a long way to go. If I have any say in it, perhaps by the time you retire, Louisville will be the perfect "foot friendly" city for you!

jrudnik's picture

Hold on...

Did you just turn those tasteless no-knead loaves into Vermont Sourdough. If this actually works the universe may explode.

ericb's picture

No, but I turned Vermont Sourdough into tasty no-knead loaves! :)

It's not 100% like the Vermont Sourdough as prepared according to Hamelman's instructions, but I was very pleased to get the taste I remembered after months of no-knead dough. The crust was crisp and crackling out of the oven, although it has softened a bit throughout the day. I think the crumb is a bit more moist and tender than VS, but this could be simply because I chose to use a lower protein organic AP flour instead of something like KA AP. However, the flavor (and that's what it's all about, right) was wonderfully sour and complex. 


Jo-Anne's picture

Hi, I read your post with interest. (This my first post/reply to anyone - I am a new reader and benefitting tremendously from this wonderful site.) I have just made my first foray into sourdough - with Hamelman's formula. It did not seem to grow that much. My first sourdough bread was the vermont sourdough. Again, I did not get much rise out of the completed mix and NO oven spring. (I also used the delayed fermentation overnight in the refrigerator.) I've just taken out my loaves - I made the dough into 5 small long french-bread-type rolls/baguettes. They are too hot to taste, so I cannot comment on that as yet.

I do have a question about Hamelman. When he tells his readers to "mix" in the mixer, does he mean for us to use the dough hook or the mixer? (I have a 6 qt. Kitchen Aid).

Thanks for any help that will be forthcoming with any of this!


ericb's picture


To answer your last question first, I think Hamelman's intention is for your to use a dough hook. There was some discussion last year on one of Steve B's post (or maybe his personal site -- I can't remember) about how to best reproduce the aeration that occurs with commercial spiral mixers on your Kitchen Aid. However, since I don't have a mixer, I just use a spoon and my hands, and that seems to do well enough.

Regarding your question about loaf volume, I guess I'll ask the obvious question: is your starter active and healthy? Does it double within a few hours after you refresh it? 

Do you have pictures of your most recent bake? How did they turn out?

Jo-Anne's picture

Thank you, Eric B, for your reply. I will use the dough hook in future. And I have yet to develop camera proficiency - but am working on it! So, at this point, no images of my loaves. My starter did not develop as it should have, so I will now start all over again. The loaves tasted ok - but much room for improvement. I find Hamelman's book a little confusing. Is there a more "beginner" book that you might suggest?

LindyD's picture

and indeed, quite a change, Eric.   I can only imagine the challenges of getting rid of your vehicles and using bikes and buses to get around.  It's certainly a great opportunity for getting in lots of exercise (not to mention a money-saver), but I wonder how you handle heavy loads of groceries?

Wish that were an option here in the boonies, but heck, we don't even have bike paths, let alone public transportation.  Plus, I'm not sure if they make snow tires for bikes.  

It was most interesting to read about your modification of the JH VS.  That's a very nice crumb on the boules and a wonderful method to bake good bread while not being tied to the kitchen for most of the day.

ericb's picture

Thanks for your comments, LindyD.

Yes, it has been a challenge, but a small city (or large town?) like Louisville is perfect for bicycle commuting. We have some bike lanes, but I have found that most motorists are respectful of my space in the road. 

To answer your question, we usually don't carry many groceries. My wife and I stop several times a week whenever we are out to add a few items to our saddle bags. We recently purchased a used kiddie trailer, so we are able to carry up to 100 pounds of groceries (or books, cats, whatever) at a time. The trailer has already been a life changer.

As for the bread, I think I'm going to try a few more recipes before I declare success. Maybe I just got lucky!



Mebake's picture

Funny, i did just the same thing with my late vermont sourdough with increased wholegrains.


Great post Eric!



knit1bake1's picture

Lucky you, Eric. Lexington is not very friendly at all in that way. Partually our fault, as we don't live near a bus route. But it's hard to live near a bus route, to be honest, and the buses don't even run directly to the university, the largets employer. I agree, it's hard sometimes to fit the bread into one's daily schedule. Kudos to you for having worked all of this out.