Remember when I started baking sourdough, earlier on in covidtide? Yeah, me too. It was enjoyable for a while, but I started running into frustrations: having to keep a large amount of starter alive, bakes that didn’t rise like they should, gummy centres. I didn’t like how much mental space it took up as I tried to figure out and execute the perfect timing for each step. It stopped feeling like it was worth it.
But last week, I came across the post in the sourdough subreddit that changed things for me. The author made the point that baking sourdough is something that’s been happening for thousands of years — long before thermometers, fancy le crueset bakeware, or well-calibrated electric ovens. It’s supposed to be easy. She outlined a method where you just mix everything in one step, plop it on the counter for a long rise, and then bake it.
Freaking. Brilliant. After all those months of practicing and experimenting and nit-picking… what finally gave me the perfect rise and crumb was keeping things dead simple, with a tiny amount of starter and a good long rise. It also means that I was able to get rid of my huge tub of starter; now it lives in the fridge in a tiny jelly jar and I only feed it once a week.
I also realised that my kitchen is cold. During the fall and winter, we keep the house at 68F, which does not kill the yeast but definitely slows it down considerably. I had been trying to make sourdough after letting my dough rise on the counter for about six hours. As it turns out, I needed to triple that number. So here is my method for a long, slow rise in a chilly kitchen.
- 500 grams flour
- 20 grams unfed starter (yes: a teeny amount and straight from the fridge!)
- 10 grams sea salt
- 355 grams tepid filtered water
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix with your hands until there are no dry spots left.
Do four sets of stretches and folds, spaced 15-30 minutes apart. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise on the counter for 18 hours (I start the process at noon to bake a little after 6 am the next morning).
In the morning, your dough should have at least doubled. Place your baking vessel and lid (I used a casserole dish) in the oven and preheat to 500F.
30 minutes after the oven turns on, preshape your dough on the counter and let it rest.
15 minutes after preshape, do your final shape and pop it into the baking vessel — don’t forget your oven mitts! Turn the oven down to 450 F.
Bake 25 minutes, then remove lid of baking vessel. Bake an additional 25-30 minutes until your crust reaches the desired colour. Turn oven off, and leave bread in the oven with the door cracked for about an hour.
Remove to cooling rack and let finish cooling completely before slicing — this may take a few hours but it will be worth it. Then slice and enjoy!