Friday, October 12, 2012

Sourdough Series: Dutch Oven

Sourdough has been quite the journey for me. I won't go into too much detail with my sourdough history as you may have already read the initial post on this. I have to mention though that this particular sourdough has been my favorite in terms of appearance, mentioning that the exterior and interior texture were quite nice too. The reason I loved this particular loaf was because it puffed beautifully, I loved the natural crack down the middle, the deep color was gorgeous, and it was crunchy on the outside but moist on the inside!

I followed Alton Brown's directions for the cooking method, although I created my own recipe for the actual sourdough. I did not slash the top so it cracked naturally, which I actually really like the look of after this experiment. I also baked it for as long as he suggested so it was one of the darkest loaves ever to come out of my oven, but after tasting it I have to say I really prefer it.

Sourdough Bread, Dutch Oven Method
*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!

3/4 cup sourdough starter, at least 2 weeks old
2 1/4 cup lukewarm water* (or 2 cups if using only white ap flour)
2 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 white whole wheat flour
3/4 tbsp salt
cornmeal for dusting

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 2 hours (higher elevations may take up to 4 hours to rise)**. 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. Coat a clean surface with a little flour and a little cornmeal, place piece of dough upon surface. Gently tuck in ends of dough underneath creating a ball, so that the top begins to dome, and the loose ends are tucked underneath. (Form the ball quickly, the less you play with it the more airy interior you will achieve.) 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. Sprinkle the top of the loaf with a little more cornmeal, and let dough rest for an hour or until oven is heated. Place a dutch oven inside the oven and preheat oven to 450ºF allowing the dutch oven to heat gradually.

6. Gently pick up the ball of dough and place it inside of the dutch oven. Cover with the oven-proof lid. Bake with the lid on for 30 minutes. Remove the lid, drop temperature to 400ºF, and bake for another 10 - 15 minutes. The internal temperature should reach at least 200ºF-210ºF. 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.

*Updated as of 10/29/12 I increased the amount of water to 2 1/4 cup. With additional kitchen trials, I think my previous amount (3/4 cup) was quite lacking. Hope this helps!
**It may take longer for your loaf to rise due to a few different factors. #1 Higher elevations, allow up to 4 or even 5 hours to notice a rise. #2 Natural yeast is slower growing #3 Temperature of your kitchen. In warmer weather your dough will rise faster than in the colder months.


  1. Currently eating slices of my first-ever homemade sourdough bread, totally thanks to you! All of your advice was spot-on! The second loaf is proofing now while the oven heats up the Dutch oven. I am so excited that this worked! Thanks for the excellent advice!

  2. Yay! So glad it all worked out for you :) Hopefully we'll see some photos on your blog!


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