Here in Ontario, Canada we are well into our third lockdown and unfortunately the worst wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most people ventured into homemade bread making during the first lockdown over a year ago. Me, I’m a little late to this game. This weekend I had my first attempt at making sourdough bread and it was such a journey I just HAD to tell it here, for you all to enjoy.

It all started 2 weekends ago when my partner asked me if I wanted to try making sourdough bread. I agreed, saying I would love to but I think making a starter can be very intimidating. He reassured me that he could handle that, but if I’m being completely honest I had my doubts. Having my doubts or being skeptical of this process is a bit of a running theme in the process.

Last weekend we did a grocery run and it was decided we would make margherita pizza. I bought some pre-made fresh dough from the deli section and away we went. Pictured below is our finished product- yum!

Using a piece of this dough ( about the size of a loonie) my partner began the process of making the sourdough starter. In a glass mason jar, which he kept in the fridge, he fed the starter daily with equal parts regular flour and water. On Friday night he texted me from work saying “Take that starter out of the fridge and let’s try to make bread tomorrow”. I removed the mason jar from the fridge, almost full to the top with what looked like the ideal paper mache paste. You guessed it – I wasn’t too sure this was going to work.

The next day after a sunny bike ride in the city my partner was making lunch. He noticed the top of the mason jar was bent and there was bubbly white matter all around the jar. With a hiss I opened the jar over the sink and saw the gorgeous starter bubble up. I looked at my boyfriend and yelled “she’s alive!!”.

Using the following recipe I took my first crack at a dough:

  • 250 g water
  • 150 g starter
  • 25g olive oil
  • Whisk with a fork then add:
  • 500 g AP flour
  • 10 g fine sea salt

First of all, I didn’t quite hit all the weights exactly. I did use a digital kitchen scale but I was a tiny bit over on almost every ingredient. The next step was to mix with your hands – the dough should feel “soft, dry and shaggy”. I was then supposed to cover in plastic wrap and let the bread “autolyse” for 30 minutes – to develop the gluten I’m told.

I didn’t get any pictures of the next few parts to this story – because honestly I thought all hope was lost.

After the first 30 minute period I was to knead the dough in the bowl (no specific amount of time was given) and then let it bulk rise for 3-24 hours. After this first hands on dough experience I was worried that there were hard chunks of what I’m assuming was unincorporated flour and oil. To explain the texture it was like bits of dried play-dough throughout an otherwise smooth and soft dough. I had hoped that with time maybe these hard bits would soften and absorb? Wishful thinking really.

We went to the dog park with our girls to enjoy the nice weather and left the dough to do it’s thang in our 72F apartment, because room temp matters people.

When we returned the dough had expanded very little and nothing improved with the hard lumps. Now – this is where we went off script, got experimental, threw caution to the wind – the dough was already not right how much worse could I make it?

I threw the dough into my kitchenaid stand mixer with the dough hook attachment (this is how I should have started really). I then willy nilly added in some flour, oil and water. This is the first miracle of this bread – I will never be able to re-create this exact recipe. I kneaded the dough with the mixer for, well I’m not sure how long, but until everything was combined and soft.

The dough then sat to autolyse and at the 45 minute mark I tried the pull and stretch method. We settled on the couch to watch Mortal Kombat, hoping the dough would rise.

Now, if the whole cowboying ingredients part was the only “off script” moment I wouldn’t have been that surprised that the bread turned out. But it’s what happened later that night that really sent things into a downward spiral. My loving, wonderful, smart, partner stood up to get a drink in the kitchen. He said “I’m going to flip this dough” I called back, ” No, it’s fine just leave it”. Then I heard it – the SLOSH. Yes you heard that right – SLOSH. That wet pasty sound of water being added to the dough. I cried out in a desperate tone ” Did you just add water to that dough?!” – he replied “my hands were a little wet thats all”. Busted – when I stood up to inspect he had a small bowl of water that he added to the dry, soft dough. I was devastated. I was sure there was no returning from this blunder. He was whole heartedly convinced the bread would still turn out. See in the picture below the pasty remnants of the added water.

The next morning the dough had doubled in size but still had a sticky, sour smelling ring of water around the edges. I used a little bit of flour on my hands to form the dough into a ball and to take away the stickiness.

I lined an oven safe pot with parchment and placed the dough ball into the pot, covered for a final rise. I pre-heated the oven to 450 degrees towards the end of the final rise.

Once the oven was preheated I reduced the temp to 400 degrees and scored a cross in the top of the bread.

I placed the pot cover and baked at 400 for 20 minutes.

After the 20 minutes I removed the cover and returned the pot to the oven for another 40 minutes.

Finally, when the 40 minute timer went off I removed the bread from the oven and placed on a wire rack to cool. I read that it is very important to let the bread rest. So I let it hangout on the counter for a little over an hour.

Wow, there are no words for how well this bread turned out. Its tangy and sour, delicious with a bit of butter. Soft on the inside with just the right amount of crack in the crust.

Will I be able to recreate this – who knows.

Will I try again – Heck YES!

Have you ventured into bread making? Let me know if you have any tips, unexpected successes or funny fails!

P.S. After writing this post I’ve been watching youtube videos about sourdough. A lot of the videos I’ve seen keep the dough really moist and sticky as they let it rise. So maybe my partner new what we was doing – but don’t tell him I said that..shh..

I definitely have some things I want to change, like pre heating the pot and maybe getting a real dutch oven so the seal is tighter. Also allowing the crust to go a little darker, and letting it rest a little longer after baking!

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