Sondag, 22 Januarie 2017

Sourdough - Into the oven

My quest to good sourdough bread took me on a mission where I encountered many great moments but I also met some desperately disappointing moments. Those of you that have read my other sourdough articles will know by now that one of my missions was to separate the facts from the folklore when it comes to sourdough and I have stripped many of those "secrets" out of the process.

Fresh from the oven
Sourdough baking is not merely a hobby with me, I bake all the bread that we consume in my home and the "factory" bread was clearly not good for our health. One of my passions in life is to resurrect our South African traditional food and I have been doing it for quite a few years now. I also try and write my articles in a style and language that will help a reader to understand the process and empower him or her to succeed in making the dish. I rarely do recipes because the internet is full of recipes, what most home cooks struggle with are the methods and techniques. My main focus is to get more men to cook hence the title of my blog ... "Man Kos" ... loosely translated as Man Food or Dude Food.

Ready to bake
Bread is something that almost all men enjoy and to me Bread is almost sacred.

Peel back the cloth
Let us talk about baking your sourdough. Most of us start off with sourdough and then we join some groups and pretty soon you see the most magnificent Breads on display and they make your Bread look quite inferior and more important, it makes you feel vary much like a stumbling amateur. First of all, most of those exquisite loaves are baked by people that bake everyday and they bake volumes, so they have the experience plus they can pick the best one out and place it on show. This is important to remember because I can assure you that sourdough has a will of it's own and sometimes for no clear reason you will get a loaf that does not peak out to become a star, no, it will turn out fairly average.

There are lots of stories on the baking utensils and the use of baking stones and Dutch Ovens (DO) ... all of the methods do have merit but is not required in order to get a good loaf.

The aim of this article is to allow the average Home Baker to get a good loaf of Sourdough and I will explain the simple things you need to do to achieve that. Remember our ancestors had very primitive facilities and they made their Daily Bread with that what they had.

Loaf pans for steam
For a start you need an oven obviously and I personally use a Defy Gemini Gourmet double eye level oven. Something that most homes have in one or other shape. I spent money on baking stones and have a large range of Dutch Ovens, none of it really needed to bake a good loaf.

You need a simple sheet pan or baking tray, two small loaf pans. Look carefully at the picture to see how I set my racks and the small loaf pans. You will pour a cup of boiling water into each pan when you place your bread in the oven. I have also bought some volcanic rock that I have placed in the loaf pans to accumulate some heat and steam the water more efficiently but the rocks are a "nice to have" and not required. Many bakers place a roasting tray on the bottom shelve and then add the water or ice blocks to it ... for me that did not work well because that pan were cutting heat from the bottom element and affected the crust. The two small loaf pans sit at the edges and does not shield the element.

Next you will need a simple water spray bottle and some sort of a blade to slash your loaf.

Slashed and ready
Now back to the dough ... you have gone through the whole process of preparing the dough and it is now time to shape the loaf and place it in some form of proofing utensil for the final rise. Bannetons are popular but expensive. What you need is a some muslin cloth to line your proofing basket. I have bought a roll of the kitchen wipes, they come in all sorts of colours and are very absorbent and I use that when I work with small dishes.

You have allowed your loaf to proof properly and it is time to bake it. This is where many tears are shed because you tip it out of the proofing basket and things goes sideways. The loaf collapse and spreads over your bench like a blob of butter in a hot pan. You scrape it together and ditch it into a Dutch Oven and hope for the best. If you were preheating your Dutch Oven this process goes hand in hand with some scalding of your fingers and in my case, profuse swearing. I am sure many of you knows exactly what I am talking about.

Fresh Sourdough Bread
Let's take the ManKos route and make life simpler ... Step back to the stage where the loaf is properly proofed in the basket or dish. I line my baskets and dishes with the muslin cloth that is then dusted with flour, plain flour and some semolina ... no rice flour. So I know that the cloth will not stick seriously to the dough, no matter how wet it is.

My oven takes around 20 minutes to reach 230C. So when I switch the oven on I place the proofed loaf in the basket or dish into the Freezer. Mine runs at -18C and I leave that basket in there for 30 minutes. I know the purists will frown on this but this works for me.

With the basket in the freezer and the oven building up heat, you must prepare your tray, place some baking paper in the tray and boil the kettle. Keep a glass measuring cup handy that take 500ml of water. Have a pastry brush and a cup of cold water on your bench and your blade. Make sure your spray bottle is filled up.

Prepare for the flip
Time is up and the oven is ready. Take the loaf out of the freezer and place it on your bench. Dust the loaf with flour in the basket. Flip the baking tray upside down on the loaf. Move the banneton and tray to the edge of your bench so you can get your one hand under the proofing basket and gently flip the tray and basket over, right side up. Lift off the proofing basket or dish. Your loaf should be on the tray, covered with the cloth.

Pull the cloth gently off the dough. You should have a very stable dough on the pan now. The freezing has enhanced the outer skin and this is good for those times that we struggle to build enough tension into the skin during shaping.

On the baking tray
You must move quickly. Take the pastry brush and cold water and gently paint the loaf, you want it wet. This is what will create the sought after blisters during baking. Next you must slash it as you wish and then get it into the oven.

With the tray in the oven, pour a cup of boiling water into each small loaf tin. Be careful it can be quite feisty. Close the door to a crack and spray a good amount of water into the oven with the spray bottle. Close that door and step back. In the next 20 minutes the magic will happen.

Washed down
This is all you need to do in the oven. Everything needed should be in your kitchen already. If you have prepared a high hydration dough ... lengthen the time in the freezer to 45 minutes or so. Do not be too scared about this because freezing that dough will not affect the outcome, at worst it could lengthen your baking time.

So twenty minutes is past, now you need to check if that loaf is done. As a rule I work with 500gr flour and for that 20 minutes is fine. Now I turn the oven down from 230C to 190C and let it go for another 10 minutes. After this I pull the Bread from the oven and use a pin thermometer to measure the internal temperature. You want it over 195F ... if it is still a bit off, I put the loaf back in the oven, leave the door slightly open and switch the oven off for another 10 minutes.

The final test
I am sure if you read this carefully and think about it, you will realise that baking a good loaf is not that hard nor that complicated. I have ditched the DO method completely and only use my baking stone for pizza.

Most accidents happen when the loaf is tipped out of the proofing baskets. This when things can go sideways and you loose all that carefully built bubbles in your loaf. The freezer is your friend here. Many accidents and incidents happen in the transfer of the dough to the hot Dutch Oven ... it is not really needed.

Here are my other Sourdough Stories ... LINK

Enjoy your baking till I write another story.

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