Monday, October 8, 2012

Sourdough Series: Couche

Welcome to my sourdough series. This is method # 1 featuring using a "couche." This method utilizes a clean kitchen towel with noticeable texture, and a medium sized bowl. I adapted this method from The Fresh Loaf and I think it is worth tucking away for future reference. At this point I had not learned of the dutch oven process, so this loaf was baked on a pizza stone. Next time I would like to incorporate both methods to bring the beauty of both into one delicious loaf.

If you would like to recreate your own sourdough at home, make sure you have a sourdough starter that is well fed and at least two weeks old. You can use a starter that is seven days old, but the sour taste won't be noticeable. To use your starter for this recipe set it out at room temperature, feed it with 1 tablespoon water, 1 tablespoon flour, shake or stir, and let it rest for 1 - 2 hours up to all day. Once the starter begins to bubble and foam, you are ready to use it in your dough!

Sourdough Bread, Couche Method
Adapted from The Fresh Loaf and Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
Time: 4 hours - 2 days Yield: 1 - 2 loaves
Note: This is a No-Knead Bread. The loaf pictured above was baked on a pizza stone, thus the lighter color. Bake it in a dutch oven as described below for a darker color.

3/4 cup sourdough starter, at least 2 weeks old
2 cup lukewarm water (you may need an additional 1/4 cup)
4 cup flour
3/4 tbsp salt

How To:
1) Pour sourdough starter into a large bowl. Add water and flour to bowl. Stir to combine. Let rest for 20 minutes.

2) Add salt and incorporate into dough. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 - 2 hours. At this point you could form a loaf and skip to step 3, or as I prefer, store dough in fridge overnight up to 3 days. The coldness of the fridge allows the dough to sour further, a delightful and easy-enough benefit.

3) On baking day, flour your hands well and pull half of the dough up with one hand, and pinch off where you desire. Try not to apply too much pressure, the goal is to let as many air bubbles remain in the dough so that you have a puffier, more airy loaf. {View Pictorial}

4) On a barely floured surface, place piece of dough. Gently tuck in ends of dough underneath ball, so that the top begins to dome. Place roughly shaped ball at opposite edge of board. With hands cupped around ball of dough, with the sides of your hands resting on the board, pull ball of dough to yourself. By doing so, the edges are sucked in under the ball you formed and the top is "stretched" to create a tight exterior surface. (For more information, check out the Fresh Loaf's pictorial that helped me immensely with shaping a free-form (Boule) loaf.

5) Place a kitchen towel or well-textured cloth into a bowl. Flour the cloth liberally. Place the ball of dough into the center of the bowl and place the extra fabric over the top of the bowl. Let dough rest for an hour or until oven is heated. Place a dutch oven (or pizza stone or cast iron skillet) inside the oven and preheat oven to 450ºF allowing the dutch oven to heat gradually.

6) You can either pick up the ball of dough gently onto a cutting board, or tip the bowl and place ball of dough upside down on the cutting board. Gently score the top of the loaf just about 1/4 inch or less deep each slash. 

7) Once the oven has reached temp, gently place your ball of dough into the center of the dutch oven. Place the oven-proof lid on top. Bake with the lid on for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for another 10 minutes. The internal temperature should reach at least 200ºF. Remove loaf from oven and let rest at room temperature for at least 1 hour, preferably until it feels cool to the touch, before slicing into.

Notes on our bread baking methods:
Since we live at a higher elevation, I've had better luck with the dutch oven process, but a pizza stone or cast iron skillet would also work really well especially if elevation doesn't affect your baking. I have also had great luck with "fridge-rise time" as prescribed by ABi5, for high-altitude baking. Form the loaf but place it in the fridge (covered) for 10 - 12 hours, immediately after removing from the fridge, bake the loaf and the oven spring is amazing. This method has allowed me as a high-altitude baker to achieve light and airy crumb interior.

If you are going to bake all of the loaves on the same day, form them but keep them in the fridge as the first ones bake. The heat in the kitchen from the oven always causes my secondary loaves to over-expand, leaving them with a dense interior and ugly exterior. Placing them in the fridge to slow down the expansion has helped immensely.


  1. i am on a sourdough kick (ok, ive only made two loaves so far...) but this is the next recipe im going to try! (the first one i did is similar, but i did half wholemeal, half white) cant wait!

    also, i dont have a dutch oven, and for the last loaves i did, i made in glass casserole dishes (with lids). they turned out fine i guess, but if I'm going to continue with these sourdough, do you recommend investing in a dutch oven? thanks!

    1. yum! sounds awesome. your pictures on fb looked fabulous! I know, I am totally addicted to it too. I would highly recommend a dutch oven, or even a deep cast iron skillet/ pot with a lid. What I've noticed is that a dutch oven or cast iron is able to hold a lot more heat, and it holds it really evenly, so that my loaves come out with a crunchier crust, and darker in color, without losing any of the interior moisture. When I've baked loaves in my glass dishes, the loaves seemed lighter in color and never achieved as nice of a crust, although tasted fine. I guess it just boils down to finicky finishes having to do with aesthetics and texture.
      Happy baking!


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