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Classic Sourdough Boule

For those of you who’ve been creating a sourdough starter at home, this recipe is the perfect introduction to sourdough baking. It’s also a personal favorite. It is delicious plain, but there are also endless possibilities for flavor add-ins. These, of course, are optional, and can be mixed into the dough during the final stretches and folds (stretch & fold is how we build up gluten formation in sourdough instead of kneading… it encourages volume rather than smashing it out). Almost anything edible works as an add-in, but a few favorites around here are Jalapeño-Cheddar; Kalamata Olive & Rosemary; and Cranberry-Walnut.

When working with live cultures, a healthy, strong sourdough starter is vital to creating a great loaf of bread. Think of your sourdough starter as a workhorse. When properly cared for it is lively and productive, and -given the proper ingredients, environment and timing- it will result in a beautiful loaf of artisan bread that is light and airy, with a soft, chewy crumb, a delicious tang that will bring memories of San Francisco bakeries, and that gorgeous, crispy golden trademark crust.

In hot weather (it gets pretty hot down here in Mexico), I go through months of not baking too often to avoid cooking us all. My starter is kept dormant in the fridge with weekly feedings. In order to get it fully active again, a few days before baking, I like to start energizing my starter by feeding it 3 times a day. I use a ratio of 1:1:1 (one part starter: one part water: one part flour, by weight). The day before baking, I use a 1:2:2 ratio (one part starter: two parts water: two parts flour, by weight) 3 times a day. Over time you’ll notice that active starter goes through its complete feeding cycle within 8 hours, so it feels quite natural to follow this 8-hour schedule, though it isn’t necessary if you are not baking. Remember to keep your quantities small by discarding the excess starter at each feeding, or your starter will quickly take over your entire countertop and your entire food budget will go into flour.

Tools you will need to make this recipe:

Sourdough Starter

Digital kitchen scale

Proving basket, or wide mouthed bowl & a tea towel

Rice flour, for dusting

Razor blade

Large mixing bowl, or stand mixer with a dough hook

Dutch oven

Nonstick baking paper, cut slightly smaller than your Dutch oven

Spray bottle with clean drinking water

Thick oven gloves

Oven thermometer

Internal probe thermometer

Ingredients (makes 2 boules):

300 g active starter

950 g lukewarm water

1,500 g high protein bread flour

20 g sea salt

Make the dough: Weigh the water into a large mixing bowl (a stand mixer with a dough hook works great but you can also make this dough by hand in a large mixing bowl). Pour the starter over the water, ensuring that it floats. (If it sinks, your starter either isn’t at the ideal readiness, or you stirred the bubbles out of it, which will keep it from floating.) Dilute the starter into the water. Add the flour and stir well, till there are no lumps left. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest (autolyze) for 30 minutes before incorporating the salt. Autolyze encourages the gluten strands to form and is an important part of a well-developed loaf of bread.

After 30 minutes, add the salt, and knead the dough for about 1 minute. Stretch and fold the dough (4 turns) every 30 minutes, for 2 hours or till it passes the windowpane test. To properly stretch and fold the dough, imagine lifting it to its furthest capacity one corner at a time from all four sides, and folding the stretched dough over itself to maintain the ball shape. By stretch #4, you’ll notice that the dough has much less give and feels tighter. After a 30 minute rest it will have loosened again. It’s important to respect the limits of the dough and not stretch it so far that it tears.

The ideal dough temperature for this stage is 80 F / 26-27 C. Keep the dough covered while resting. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. If desired, you can add any additional ingredients such as olives, raisins, etc. during the final stretch and fold. Fold the dough from 4 corners like an envelope. Flip it over. Let rest, covered, for 30 minutes.

Flip dough back over, pull it and shape it into a tight ball, sealing the seam. Pop any large bubbles. Place the dough (seam side up) into bowls or baskets lined with a tea towel dusted with rice flour. Cover with a plastic bag or reusable plastic cover, (I like to use disposable shower caps) and leave them to rise for about 2 hrs. You can bake now, or place them in the refrigerator overnight or up to 3 nights. (The longer it rests, the deeper the intensity of the sourdough flavor).

Preheat the oven for 1 hr at 480 F / 250 C. Preheat the Dutch ovens for 20 minutes. Turn the dough seam side down onto a circle of high temperature baking paper and dust off the excess rice flour. Carefully drop the dough into the hot dutch oven. Score the dough by slicing at a 45° angle from one extreme to the other, (the classic look is just one slice, but you can also make an "X") and spray the surface with clean water. Replace the lid and return to oven. Lower temp to 390 F / 200 C, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid, and pat yourself on the back for the amazing smells that are now drifting through the kitchen. (You made that!) Bake for 30-40 additional minutes till golden in color. Dough is fully cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 190 F / 87 C. Turn the dough onto a wire rack and let it cool for at least 2 hours before slicing.

Store leftover bread in a paper bag at room temperature. You can freeze leftovers by slicing, placing in paper, then plastic, and freezing. Remove slices as needed and toast them in the toaster oven till golden brown.

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