I just made two more loaves of bread from my sourdough starter, after many weeks of trying miscellaneous sourdough things that didn't require kneading. This time, apart from some loaf-shaping issues that I think can be fixed next time around, the end product was immensely to my liking. And I think I just learned a bunch of key things about sourdough baking, to wit:
- Long rising times are key. The first time I made bread, I only let it rise for about 5 or 6 hours, at which point I judged it sufficiently risen to go into the oven. And it was fine, but a little on the heavy side and not as sour as I hoped. This time, I let it rise for about 12 hours, starting the night before, and the bread had a lovely texture even though the loaves fell as I was transferring them from their bowls to the baking sheet. And the sourness was perfect.
- "Doubled in bulk" means "the dough is muscling its way right out of its bowl and threatening world domination." It is an awesome sight to behold: the Yeast Culture That Ate Connecticut! (Or would've tried to, if I hadn't eaten it first.)
- If you're going to do it right, you have to plan ahead. My bread-baking schedule now runs from Saturday midafternoon (feeding the starter) to Saturday evening (making and kneading the dough and putting it on the counter to rise) to the middle of the day or early afternoon on Sunday (baking the loaves). It takes less time than one would expect, but one does have to keep track of when to move onto the next stage of things.
- The "pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven while the bread is baking" trick really does put a lovely crust on the bread.
- I need a better method for shaping my loaves. If I let them free-form, they just kind of sprawl; if I let the dough rise in bowls, it sticks, and deflates on removal — especially if I forget to oil the bowls first. I still want to get my hands on some bannetons and see what happens.
Next up: sourdough breadsticks!