Just a word about starters: there are a ton of different recipes out there. I have had a starter since culinary school about 7 years ago and could not tell you the recipe if you had a gun to my head. So pick one, I’m sure anyone somewhat interested in making sourdough will have a decent cookbook that will give you the basics. Actually, all of my cookbooks have a different starter, levain, pate fermentee, etc. for each recipe. You may follow these directions and you will get a very close result of the bread they are making. I however, have a perfectly good starter and will adjust it to the recipe that I want to make. If they call for a liquid levain, I will pull a little from the mother and make a more loose starter for this bread. If they want a biga type starter, again I pull from my mother and make the starter stiffer. The authors have reasons for the differences, a biga starter is not as sour as a loose levain starter, the strains of bacteria differ a little in what will live in both of these types of environments. My point is you may be as exacting as you like, however, my starter is good enough for any recipe I choose to make. The bread I make at home is for my own pleasure. If I was selling it, I would be pickier about the characteristics of my starter, but I am not and do not have the refrigerator space to hold all of these sourdough choices.
Just to prove my point, I will give you the starter recipes for both of the bread recipes.
Pain au Fromage
Liquid levain culture
coarse rye flour 100 g
water (@80F) 125 g
mix 50 strokes with wooden spoon
1/2 culture from day 1 115 g
rye flour 100 g
water (@80F) 125g
mix 50 strokes with wooden spoon
day 3 thru day 9*
1/2 culture from day 2 115g
wheat flour 100g
water (@80F) 125g
*repeat daily until the culture is ready to use. By day 8, the mixture should have sufficient ripeness for leavening bread. However, to continue developing strength and complexity, it may be fed for 2 to 3 more days before use. (We had to develop ours for 2 weeks in school, its success was part of our grade.)
When the culture is ready, it turns concave and has the right acidity and yeast content to leaven bread. At the French Culinary Institute (where this cookbook hails from) we continue to call it a culture, but in other artisanal bakeries, a mature culture becomes known as the “mother” or starter and is no longer called a culture.
day 10 and beyond
To continue levain upkeep, the basic refreshment ratio is 100 percent wheat flour, 125 percent water, and 20 percent liquid levain. This should be added to compensate for the quantity removed (i.e., if 500 grams are removed, they should be replaced with 500 grams of refresher using the ratio above). If the levain is not used regularly, cover it and store in the refrigerator. It will last for several months under refrigeration.
50 g liquid levain
Note: Of the total 590 g of “fed” liquid levain, save at least 50 g for the next baking.
Directions for Cheese Bread
132 g bread flour
165 g water
13 g levain culture
1. combine the levain with the flour and water with wooden spoon in a bowl big enough for it to double in size. Scrape the sides, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let ferment at room temp for 14 hours.
Final bread dough
641 g bread flour
372 g water
310 g liquid levain
14 g salt
3 g yeast
160 g grated cheese (use a hard cheese like Guyere, Asiago, Parmigiano etc.)
- Combine bread flour, water, and liquid levain in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with dough hook.
- Mix on low until blended. Stop the mixer and autolyse (rest and developed gluten and absorb liquid into the flour) for 15 minutes.
- Add the salt and yeast and mix on low for 5 minutes. Increase the mixer speed to medium and mix for about 8 minutes, or until the dough has come together but remains slightly sticky.
- Check gluten development by pulling a window. (stretching a little piece of the dough like you would a pizza crust, if it stretches thin without breaking into holes then the gluten is well-developed. This is called a windowpane test because you can see through a window, and supposedly you can see through your dough if done right.) The picture below shows the window pane test. The dough is not quite ready.
- If the gluten is developed sufficiently, mix in the cheese on low-speed.
- Ferment for 1 hour in an oiled bowl large enough for doubling and wrap loosely with pan-sprayed plastic wrap.
- If by chance you have a couche (bread cloth for raising dough), flour it lightly, other wise, spray a piece of parchment paper with pan spray.
- Lightly flour your work surface and divide dough into three 500g/18 ounce rounds. Cover with plastic wrap and bench rest for 15 minutes.
- Re-flour surface if needed and shape each piece into round or boule shape. Place on the prepared couche or parchment to proof for 1 hour. Repeat with the other loaves making sure to leave room for expansion.
- Heat baking stones now if you will be using them, or about 15 minutes before your bread is ready to bake, turn over a sheet pan large enough to hold your bread and let it heat up. If you are using parchment you can just transfer the whole thing onto the sheet pan. Also if you are using a pan to make steam, put it in the oven now too, do not use a glass pan.
- When bread is ready, press your fingers into the side of the dough and if it bounces back slightly it is ready, if is springs back and you can’t tell where you touched the bread, it isn’t ready, give it about 15 more minutes and test it again. If you press your fingers in and it stays indented or deflates, you have over proofed your bread and it will not look perfect, but will still taste pretty good, and you will have learnt a baking lesson.
- Again when the bread is ready, using a lame or a single-edged razor, score the loaves in a fairly simple form. This is not art class but to help control the rise of the bread. If you do not cut the bread it will make its own way and have blow-outs in the most inconvenient places. Nevertheless, it will taste good no matter the look.
- Steam or no steam that is the question. If steam add 1 cup of ice to the hot pan in the oven. Using a peel, immediately transfer the loaves to the baking stone or hot sheet pan.
- Bake, with steam, for 40 minutes or until the crust is a reddish-brown color, the sides are firm to the touch and the loaves make a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom, or use a quick temp thermometer to 110F. Make the hole in an inconspicuous place.
- Let cool on baking rack. Do not cut until completely cooled.
Sourdough English Muffins
2 cups warm water
1 T sugar or honey (optional) it just makes whatever yeast you catch grow faster
2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
- Mix the ingredients together thoroughly in a clean, scalded glass or ceramic bowl. This will ensure that you’re starting “pure”.
- Cover the bowl with a clean dishcloth. Put it in an area where there’s apt to be the highest concentration of airborne yeast as well as the warmth that is needed to begin fermentation.
- If the surface begins to look dry after a while, give the mixture a stir. It should begin to “work” in the first day or two if it’s going to at all. If it does, your endeavor has been successful. Let this mixture continue working for 3 to 4 days giving it a stir every day or so. When it’s developed a yeasty, sour aroma, put it in a clean jar with a lid and refrigerate it until you’re ready to use it.
- If the mixture begins to mold or develop a peculiar color or odor instead of a “clean, sour aroma,” give a sigh, throw it out and, if you’re patient, start again. Along with the vital yeasts, you may have inadvertently nurtured a strain of bacteria that will not be wonderful in food. This doesn’t happen very often though, so don’t let the possibility dissuade you from this adventure. (I would say that giving your starter feedings will make this process much more successful.)
Sourdough English Muffins
1 cup sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups milk
5 1/2 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
1 T sugar
1 T salt
1 tsp baking soda
corn meal to sprinkle on baking sheet
- Making the sponge: In a ceramic bow, mix together the starter, milk and about 3 cups of flour. Cover this with plastic wrap and leave it to work for anywhere from 2 to 24 hours. You might mix this up just before you go to bed so you can have fresh English muffins for breakfast the next morning.
- Making the dough: When the sponge has developed, mix the sugar, salt baking soda and 2 1/2 cups flour together in a separate bowl. Stir these into the sponge as thoroughly as you can and cover the resulting dough with plastic wrap and let work for anywhere up to an hour. This allows the gluten in the flour you’ve just added to absorb some moisture and to relax.
- Kneading and shaping: Flour your kneading board and hands well as this dough will be soft when you turn it out. Knead for only 2 to 3 minutes until the dough is smooth and no longer lumpy. With a floured rolling-pin, roll it out, like a pie dough, from the center to the outside, until it is between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick. Cut out circles between 3 and 4 inches in diameter ( the muffins will shrink in diameter as they cook.) A large tuna-sized can with both ends removed works well, or you can even throw tradition to the wind and cut squares.
- Place the muffins on a cookie sheet that has been sprinkle with cornmeal and let them rest for at least 15 minutes.
- Cooking: Place 4 or 5 circles on a lightly greased skillet on low, low heat with the cornmeal side down first. Cook slowly for 10 minutes, gently flip the muffins over and continue cooking for a further 10 minutes.
- Serving: Cool your muffins, split with a fork to make the most of their wonderful open texture, toast and enjoy right away, or store the cooled muffins in a plastic bag to use at your leisure. They will also keep well in the freezer.
I’m a wife, mother, pastry chef and amatuer gardner. I travel as much as possible, can what I grow, and taste as many new things as possible.