Today I made sourdough bread in my dutch oven. I did it a little bit differently than I did last time. I did it based on some instructions I found in "The Baking Book" by LLoyd Mexon. Then I also started an experiment, that I'll write about in a bit.
Making the Start
About four or so days ago, I put a cup of plain yogurt in a plastic bowl with about a cup of flour and mixed it all up. It was pretty thick, so I added a little tap water. Every day after that, I'd scoop out about a big bit with a 1 cup scoop and replaced it with about a half cup of flour and a half cup of liquid (sometimes water, sometimes yogurt). That's called "feeding the start". For a long time, nothing happened. Nothing. I was looking for a foamy muck to form, but it just was gloppy goo.
Finally, yesterday, there was foam!
What that means is that there were yeast germs in it. They landed in the bowl from the air, and began growing and making the start active.
I was pretty excited. I remembered my experience last time, though, so I still fed it for another day. Just wanted to make sure. It was growing pretty well this morning. So, I went to the next step...
Making "The Sponge" 1 Cup of Start (the first step)
2 1/2 Cups hot tap water (at about 110 degrees)
4 Cups flour
I took a cup of the start and added it to a bowl (non-metal, 'cause I'm told that metal can kill the yeast, or at least slow it down). I mixed all the stuff in and stirred it up. I stretched some saran wrap over it and I left it to grow. Just a few hours. It got all puffy and looked like a big wet sponge. All ready for step three...
Making the Dough 2 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 Tablespoon salt
3-4 more cups of flour
So, when it was ready, I uncovered it and added the sugar, the oil, the salt and a cup of flour. I mixed all that up with my trusty wooden spoon. Then I spread about a cup of flour on the countertop and turned the "pre-dough" out onto it and began kneading it. Every time it got sticky, I would sprinkle on about another quarter to half cup of flour and keep kneading. I kept going until it was pretty much not sticky any more, and felt smooth and firm. I know that's pretty meaningless, but after a while of baking bread you kinda get a feel for what bread dough should feel like.
Once it was done kneading, before I shaped the round ball to start the rise, I cut off about a handful/cupful of dough. That was for the experiment. More on that later, again.
Then, I greased the bowl, and set the dough ball in it, and greased the dough. I set that aside to rise. It took a long time, 5-6 hours. It seems sourdough usually takes more time for that.
Baking the Bread
Finally, at about 8 o'clock, It looked like it had doubled in bulk. So, I got out the coals and fired them up. By this time, it was dark and cold, so I planned on putting a lot more coals on the oven.
I spread out some more flour, and dumped out the risen dough. I kneaded it just a little bit, then shaped it into a ball and put it into a greased 12" shallow dutch oven. I slit some slashes across the top of the bread, and took that out and put it on the coals. I put about 10 coals below and 20 above. I tried to maintain a pretty hot temperature. About every 15 minutes, I rotated the oven and rotated the lid. I did replenish the coals after a while, too.
Finally, after about an hour, it was all done. And it was really great! It could've been done a bit better, maybe cooked a little longer, but with a slightly lower temperature (a bit longer) so the crust wouldn't be as hard?
OK, so I read in the same book about this idea that really excited me. Since bread dough (before it's baked) has live yeast, and since yeast bugs can survive freezing, you can make little balls of dough and freeze them. Then, you can pull a ball out of the freezer, put it in a bowl with some warm water and flour, and in the morning, you have start!
At least that's what the book says. So, I'm going to try it. If it works, I think it would be a lot of fun to give off some sourdough balls as christmas gifts!