It has been quite a while since I wrote something on this blog, and the reason is fairly simple. The more I dive into the world of sourdough — and I have been going deeper and deeper — the more I am stunned by all the knowledge and experience out there. It had been laid out in every possible way: video blogs, online courses, Instagram tutorials, books, workshops – you name it! What do I have to add to all this wealth of knowledge? And yet, I do receive questions and requests, among which the most popular is to share the recipe for bread that lends itself to intricate scoring.
I stopped thinking of recipes as answers. A loaf is so much more than the sum of flour, water, salt and starter. Bread is method.
I am reluctant to think I have come up with anything new, but I may have stumbled across something that others are still looking for, so while I don’t claim to have invented the bicycle, I’m happy to write a review for the one I ride everyday.
I have scored frilly patterns on over a hundred of loaves. They have all been different, but if I have to describe the perfect kind, it would be this: a loaf with good extensibility, which allows the scores to spread open, yet not loose shape; the skin should be firm and smooth; the oven spring is enough to inflate the loaf, yet not tear it open. So far the perfect bread means a not-so-young levain, high hydration, long cold proof and, preferably, some spelt flour.
- 120g water
- 20g starter
- 40g high extraction or wholewheat flour
- 80g all-purpose white flour
You probably know already that I use rye starter, which is a lot more lively than wheat. If your starter is regular white or 50/50, then 20g might be too little, so maybe double that quantity. Now for the all-purpose – that’s circumstance more than choice. In Moldova, where I live and bake, we have no bread flour, or strong flour of any kind, so I use what I have. I like to think using weak flour allows the bread to spread just so, but I can’t testify to that.
I mix the levain at about 8 in the morning and, because I won’t be coming back from work until 6 in the evening, I put the container in a larger one and leave 6 ice cubes underneath, to slow down fermentation. When I come back after 10 hours it has doubled, although if I had a choice I would probably use it 4 hours earlier. Oh well, gotta pay the bills somehow…
Oh, how I envy American bakers with their choice of flours that can even be delivered! In Moldova we have exactly two options of local flour: all-purpose and wholegrain. Both are weak, made from feed grade wheat. This means that I have to get creative, beg foreign friends for flour and scour gourmet supermarkets for 1kg of Italian or German stuff. Given the circumstances, here’s what I work with
The resulting recipe is:
- 100g wholegrain spelt
- 300g wholegrain wheat
- 200g strong bread flour (if I can find it)
- 400g all-purpose white flour
Sometimes, when I don’t have bread flour, I substitute that for 100 semolina and 100 all-purpose. What remains unchanged is spelt and wholegrain due to the effect they have. Spelt makes dough extensible, and allows it to spread just a little, while wholegrain gives it body and doesn’t let it turn into a complete pancake during scoring.
From here on things are fairly simple.
750g water plus the prepared levain. I get to this stage at 6 in the evening.
For sheer lack of time I like to kick the fermentation early, so I add the levain right at the start as opposed to most recipes that call for it after autolyse. Does it really matter? No idea. On a Saturday I decided to try it the proper way, but found that dispersing the levain in water was so much easier as opposed to dough, and I didn’t see any change in the result. If you have an answer to this question – please let me know!
Next come all the flours. Take a look at how shaggy the dough is.
The magic of autolyse is my favorite part. I keep it for 40 minutes just because it’s so late in the day, but I’ve noticed that 2 hours is absolutely perfect. Yet, even half of that makes the dough cohesive and pliable.
At this point I add 20g of salt and an additional 30g of water which are mixed into the dough through a series of slap-and-folds. If you don’t know what this is, I recommend you look it up and try it. I prefer to start bulk fermentation this way for two reasons. First of all, my flours are really weak and they need some intensive workout if I am to expect any decent gluten development. Second, and most importantly, it’s wonderful stress relief at the end of a long day! It’s nothing too complicated: you lift the dough, slap one end on the counter-top, stretch it and let it fold over. Repeat turning the dough 90 degrees. Again and again.
This is easier to pull off on a damp surface and keeping your hands wet. At first the dough will feel like it’s breaking apart, then it will start coming together until, suddenly, you will feel it melting. This is the precise point where spelt’s peculiarity comes into play and tells you it’s time to stop. Now transfer it into a clean container and bulk ferment with stretch-and-folds every 40 minutes until the dough has almost doubled in volume. In my kitchen this takes about 4 hours.
Pre-shape, shape and proof
I have discovered the wonders of wet-stretch pre-shape. When the bulk ferment is over I dampen the counter generously, spill out the dough and cut it in half with my bench knife. Then I take one half with wet hands, stretch it upwards from the counter-top and let it fold over itself.
I repeat this a few more times until the dough gets tight. Then I round it gently into a ball.
I let the two balls rest under a towel for 20 minutes and then shape. You can watch the video here. I place the shaped boules into baskets lined with linen and proof in the fridge for 8 to 13 hours.
I believe the linen helps achieve a firm crust that makes the scoring easier. After I score the boules I bake them on a marble slab at 220 Celsius for 20 minutes with steam at 15 minutes without steam.
This post was inspired by the questions I get on Instagram from those, who watch my scoring videos and the purpose was to describe the pre-score process I’ll do my best to write something about scoring soon.
Until then – happy baking!