Category Archives: sourdough

Time to get started. Sourdough!

I get asked about sourdough starters a lot and am happy to give some of my starter away to any aspiring baker. Often these people look really anxious when they take their baby starter away from my kitchen. They know this is a big step in their Bread Life and for many, a challenging one.

Not everyone is as obsessed with sourdough bread as I am. But I’m always willing to share my passion and grow more sourdough bakers.   IMG_4946

Last week it was my friend Alana from Food Bloggers Canada.  She asked for a starter recipe in a simple text and had no idea I would send back a two-page email.  But she’s going to give it a go and I hope you, dear reader, might try making your own starter, from ground zero, following these instructions.

Why have a starter? Well, without one you simply can’t make sourdough bread and  taste all of its deliciousness made with your own two hands. Like any living ingredient, if you starve or neglect it, it will die. It needs your nurturing to start your bread.

Why do you want to eat sourdough? Bread made slowly over the course of a few days has rich, layered flavours, tastes completely better than industrial, high-yeast, high-gluten bread and is often easier to digest.

If you follow my Instagram feed, you may want to bake sourdough because it’s such a looker  with its scored golden crust and large open crumb. But practice makes perfect.  I still get excited each and every time I open up my oven and see a well-risen loaf.  I still make mistakes, too. I love the mystery of bread-baking and its complexity. Good baked bread depends on many variables: timing, flour quality, temperature and the ripeness of your starter—to name a few.  The only way to get to know these principles is to dive in and flour up your hands.IMG_4302

Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipesis my bible. Here’s his five-day “liquid levain culture” – bakers’ speak for sourdough starter.  I recommend that you go the extra mile and stretch this out to an eight-day process for best results.  Once you have this basic culture or starter, you can keep it alive for many years… but not decades!

When I attended the San Francisco Baking Institute in 2015, master baker Didier Rosada laughed in disdain when I bragged about the number of years I’d kept my starter alive.  After attending the course, I made a new starter to replace my teenaged one and did not regret the flavour-filled results.  Now, three years later, it is time for me to start afresh again.

Before you make your initial starter mix, consider what time works best to refresh (a.k.a. nurture) morning and night.  I like the 7pm/7am time frame.

Day One: Initial Mix

4.8 oz              organic whole rye flour

6 oz                 spring or distilled water

.2 oz                honey

Mix the ingredients well in a glass bowl and cover with plastic. Let stand in a warm area (75F to 80F) for 24 hrs. (This will look stiff and hard with very tiny bubbles on the underside after the first 12 hrs.)

Day Two: Two Feedings

5.5 oz              Initial mix (use half of Day One and throw out the remainder)

1.2 oz              organic whole rye flour

1.2 oz              organic, unbleached hard white flour

3 oz                 90F spring or distilled water

Mix the ingredients well in a glass bowl and cover with plastic. Let stand in a warm area (75F to 80F) for 12 hrs. Repeat (or refresh, in bakers’ speak)  in 12 hrs. Yes, you will have to throw out half of each mixture when you refresh. (After each feeding, you will watch it transform and grow, doubling, even tripling in size and smelling very sour.)

Day Three, Four, Five, Six and Seven : Two Feedings per day, every 12 hrs

5.5 oz              Initial mix (half of your last batch, throwing out the remainder)

2.4  oz              organic, unbleached hard white flour

3 oz                 spring or distilled water

Mix the ingredients well in a glass bowl and cover with plastic. Let stand in a warm area (75F to 80F) for 12 hrs. Repeat (or refresh, in bakers’ speak)  in 12 hrs. This white starter will bubble up and grow faster every day and night and should be ready to bake with by Day Seven.

Okay, now you’ve got your starter, but how are you going to keep it alive?  You’ve got to feed it,   once a week. Here’s how:

3.5 oz initial mix/mature starter

3.5 oz organic, unbleached hard white flour

3.5 oz spring or distilled water

Mix the ingredients well in a glass bowl and cover with plastic. Let stand in a warm area (75F to 80F) for 12 hrs. Refrigerate and refresh once a week.IMG_4753

How do serious bakers keep their sourdough starter alive?  They bake every day.  After they build a bread’s initial levain, they remove about an ounce and use that to start the next dough. All you need is an ounce or two to kick-start a bread! The most powerful, active and flavourful starters are those that are refreshed or used every day or two.

Before you get started, make sure you have a scale because serious bakers weigh all their ingredients. I like to use this Zyliss version found at Canadian Tire for $20 or less. You need a scale that can “tare”. That means you can put an empty bowl on the scale, reset to “O” (or tare) then weigh your rye flour, tare again to 0 then pour in and weigh the right amount of water. Tare away!

Local Sourdough

Whether you call it  Herd Rd Sourdough, Toronto Sourdough or Katmandu Sourdough,  its flavours and ingredients will entirely depend on where you bake it. (Adapted from page 153 of Bread: A baker’s book of technique and recipe)

Levain Build

4.8 oz              organic, unbleached, hard white flour

6 oz                 spring or distilled water

1.3 oz              ripe, mature starter (refreshed in the past 24 hrs)

Combine in a medium glass bowl 12-16 hrs before you make the final dough. Make sure the bowl is large enough for the levain to triple in size as it grows and bubbles up. Keep covered at room temperature. (I like to make this late at night, right before I fall asleep.)

Final Dough

1 lb 8 oz           organic, unbleached, hard white flour

3.2 oz              organic whole rye flour

14.8 oz            spring or distilled water

Levain Build minus 1.3 ounceto be reserved in fridge for tomorrow or the next day’s bread

Step one: Autolyse

Add all the final dough ingredients to the mixing bowl and mix on first speed until it forms a shaggy mass.  Cover with plastic and let stand 20-60 min.

Step two

Add .6 ounce/1 tbsp sea salt to the autolyzed dough and mix 1-2 minutes with a dough hook

Step three:  Bulk Fermentation at room temperatureIMG_3401

Transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl or oiled tub and cover for 1 hr 15 min

Stretch and fold the dough four times, lifting the dough to its longest extension, folding and pressing it back down,  repeat three times, turning it by a quarter each time.

Cover and leave at room temp for 1 hr 15 min

Step four: Shape two loaves, place in well-floured bannetons and cover with shower caps.  Refrigerate 12-24 hrs. Gently flip each loaf on to a parchment paper-covered tray, score and slide into preheated  Lodge pans or Dutch ovens.  Bake covered at 500 F for 20 min, carefully remove lids, reduce heat to 460 F and bake 20 minutes or until golden brown.

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Breaking West Coast Bread

There are few things I like to do more than visit bakeries. Good bakeries, that is. And I knew Victoria, B.C. was going to oblige.

It all started with this faction of folks I know who all either live in Victoria, or wish they did. They are all foodies. And they keep bragging about Victoria’s great coffee and artisanal bread.

IMG_8339Fol Epi (398 Harbour Rd #101,
(250) 477-8882) was on the top of their list. The French name was unforgettable. Fol means “wild” and epi is a classic, long and narrow loaf shaped like a branching wheat stalk.

“Look for the silo,” advised Victoria resident Kent Green when he heard I was coming into town. “They grind their own flour!”

I never found the silo but I did see the huge stone grinder through the window of this unique destination. Fol Epi is located at Dockside Green, a 15-acre sustainable, LEED-certified development in Victoria’s inner harbour and the perfect venue for this organic bakery where baker Cliff Leir has installed not only a flour mill, but a wood-fired oven.IMG_8338

He’s using only two, organic, Canadian-grown grains at his bakery – Red Fife and rye – yet outputting a large variety of breads including the namesake epi, baguette, boule, rye round, whole wheat, and ciabatta. Not only is Leir grinding flour daily but he is also sifting his Red Fife into a more refined flour suitable for the baguette and ciabatta.IMG_8406Not surprisingly, this chef is a member of Slow Food Canada and while “artisanal” is a label many use with abandon – Leir defines the term. His breads are all leavened with wild yeast (aka natural starter) and often take up to 24 hours to ferment. Humidity and temperature affect these breads immensely. Factor in the fluctuating heat of a wood-fired oven and this becomes an ultra-challenging place to bake consistently high-quality loaves.

I’d say Leir revels in it. I spoke to him briefly when visiting Fol Epi this month and when I suggested his bread baking routine presented a few hurdles, there was a knowing twinkle in his eyes. Then he simply smiled and nodded.

He does, however, have a very modern four-deck electric baker’s oven where he produces a variety of high-selling pastries, from croissants, to canel cakes to macaroons.

Then there’s the rich aroma of Caffe Fantastico wafting through his bakery. He shares the building with one of Victoria’s top espresso shops, where they roast their own beans, of course!

IMG_8310Coffee and pastries go hand in hand. And that same special synchronicity happens in “Vic West” at Fry’s Red Wheat Bakery (416 Craigflower Rd; (250) 590-5727 ). Equipped with a cafe latte from The Spiral Coffee Co. next door, I ambled into this quaint little bakery owned by Byron Fry who started his bread-baking career with a mobile oven, visiting farmers’ markets. In 2012, he finally settled and opened this shop only to learn that in 1897 his great grandfather had established a bakery right across the street. In tribute, Fry uses his family’s historical logo and name. And he doesn’t veer too widely from the artisanal methods employed more than a century ago.IMG_8315

Like Fol Epi, he bakes out of a wood-fired oven that he had custom built on the site. He also uses organic grains, heirloom wheat and natural starters to create loaves that are rich in taste, such as IMG_8311Whole Wheat Country, German Rye, Pain Rustique, Cinnamon Raisin Rye, Flax Rye, Sunflower 100% Rye, Focaccia (Olive-Rosemary-Roasted Garlic) and baguettes.

I tasted the pain rustique and was floored. This bread contains 30 per cent whole grains and has a faintly sour, layered flavour with a wide open crumb. The cinnamon raisin rye travelled back to Toronto with me and continued to satisfy for days, with its rich rye flavour and raisin-studded interior. Fry bakes his loaves dark, resulting in a caramelized, crackly crust flecked with deliciously burnt notes.IMG_8340

I wish I had tasted his pain au chocolate. His Tumbler account reads: “You can see the gorgeous layers created by this amazing butter from Jerseyland organic milk produced by 100 Jersey cows in Grandforks B.C .where the farmers know all their cows by name, not number. We are the only bakery in town using this butter and it makes all the difference!”

That’s something to shout about.

And me, I’ll be pouting in despair until my return back to Victoria where I plan to visit five more artisanal bakeries on my list.