Thursday, December 8, 2011

Great Dutch Oven Sourdough

...And What I Learned Making It.

Up until last weekend, I thought I had a pretty good handle on breadmaking.  I thought, in particular, I understood sourdough breads.  Sadly, I was fooling myself.

Happily, I discovered this not by the tearful results of a colossal failure, which is usually my learning style, but by the delicious tangy taste of success.  A pair, in fact, of successful sourdough loaves that continue to tantalize me, even days later.

I can calmly say that these were the best sourdough loaves I have baked.


See, I’ve done sourdough breads before, but none of them had that strong tang I was looking for.  There were some wonderful loaves, and some who said, “I don’t really like sourdough, but I love this bread!”  Of course, that wasn’t really what I wanted to hear.  I wanted to be able to taste it and have it zing! in my mouth.

This one gave me the zing!

The success was not at all in the recipe, either, but in the process, and that is what I learned.

I began by, once again, studying “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”, by Peter Reinhart.  This is truly an amazing book.  I would strongly recommend it for anyone who is wanting to learn how to bake bread, even if you’re going to bake it in a Dutch Oven, instead of a conventional, or even a commercial oven, as the book describes.

There were a lot of stages, and even though a lot of time was spent in each stage (about a week and a half, total), and even though I didn’t really fully understand the need for each stage, I did each one faithfully, from start to barm to sponge to dough.  I learned that it was the long ferment times in each stage that gave the bacteria time to develop the flavor.  The flavor, I’ve learned comes from both the natural yeast (which develops the bready flavors), and the other bacteria that grow and live in the bread (creating the acidy tang).  Long fermentation times (raises) allow both flavors to deepen to their fullest.

OK, so here we go:

Step 1: The Start - The Seed Culture

First, we catch the wild yeast.  I began by putting an amount (about a cup) of flour in a bowl (that’s not a reactive metal, plastic worked fine), along with an equal amount of relatively warm water.  I stirred it up, and adjusted the mix until it was pretty goopy, almost runny.  I set that aside, uncovered.  I set it in a very prominent and visible place in the kitchen, and alerted all in the house that it was NOT to be thrown away, no matter how gross it looked.

For the rest of the days until I caught the germs, every time I walked past it, I grabbed a fork and stirred it up.  This helped keep the crust that formed across the top mixed in.

Once a day, I fed the start.  By that, I mean that I scooped out about half the gunk that was the start and rinsed it down the drain.  Then I added another amount of flour and water, just like before, and stirred the whole thing up.  I did this for several days.  I kept seeing a few bubbles form, and I would think that it was getting germy, but it wasn’t very much.  I assumed that it was just the rising air bubbles that were formed when I stirred it up.

Finally, day after day, the perseverance paid off.  One morning, it was bubbly.  Not just a few bubbles, but frothy.  Just to give it extra time, I fed it the same as I had done each day before and gave it one more overnight.  I had caught my seed culture, and made my start.  That was on Friday.

Step 2: The Barm

The Barm is another step of fermentation.  I’m honestly not sure what the difference is or why this step exists, but I did it anyway.  I’m sure that the long fermentation times have a lot to do with it.

1 ½ cups bread flour
About 1 cup starter
About 1 cup warm water (enough to make it goopy and gooey)

I mixed these up in the morning on Saturday, and covered it with plastic wrap.  By afternoon it was expanded and bubbly.  I let it go a bit longer, into the evening, and I stirred it up again.  Finally, it was ready for the sponge stage.  If I’d had more days, I would have put it into the fridge, overnight, and made the sponge the next day.  But the next day was Sunday, and that was the day I’d planned to bake it.  So, after much internal debate, I had to shorten it.

Stay tuned, the next step is coming right up!


Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.


  1. I love sourdough bread. I actually love bread period. I am not a bread maker but this recipe for sourdough in the dutch oven sounds incredible.

  2. You are amazing! I would never have the patience for all that. If you have an extra loaf, send it my way. I'll bet its fabulous!!



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