Autolyse to the rescue

No, its not a contract for car rental, and is actually pronounced as it if were an automatic bug infestation (lice), but AUTOLYSE is a remarkable, innovative, dare I say … “miraculous” way to achieve the kind of flavor, lift, crust and really open chewy crumb, sourdough bakers all strive for.

Autolyse Sourdough Loaf

It does require time and attention. Want to get that out front at the get go. Not a method you can use quickly, or leave and forget it. But not a lot of “hands on” time. In fact, this is perfect for bakers who do not have the upper body strength or energy for vigorous kneading, nor the ability to safely use heavy dutch ovens required for previous “no knead” recipes.

Autolyse is an ancient term meaning “self digestion.” The term was applied to baking by Raymond Calvel (1913-2005) who taught Julia Child, among others, and developed a profound body of research on various flours and in the process developed the autolyse method of baking. In sourdough baking, it translates to a wet, shaggy dough that is allowed to begin the flour hydration process before the sourdough starter is even added, thereby relaxing the gluten.

In the autolyse method I have adopted, this is followed by several short periods of bulk fermention “bf” punctuated by gentle folding of the dough, not kneading (which incorporates oxygen but dulls flavor), and returning for another bf period. After several such sessions, the dough becomes more manageable, builds flavor, and eventually can be shaped, though it will still be soft and appear to not have much lift at all. That is deceiving. The actual baking method is also critical, because it is here that the lift, crumb and crust all develop. You will be astonished. I am every time I do this.

To begin, you will need a mixer with open paddle attachment (not bread hook), a bench knife, a good ceramic bowl, a clean kitchen towel, unbleached baking parchment, and baking trays (not flat cookie sheets). I have my preferences on all these things but I don’t do ads on my blog so no brand names mentioned here.

First Steps:

  • Start your dough by heating 3 Cups water to 85F-90F (I put in my microwave for 1 minute on high) and to that add 3 Cups White Bread Flour and 1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour (this is suggested ratio, you can play around with amounts and types all you want) and work vigorously in the mixer until you have a shaggy wet dough. Use a spatula to push all the dough down and toward the center, then cover with towel and let rest for 40 minutes to 4 hours, depending on the type of dough you want to achieve. This is your Autolyse.
  • Activate your starter in a clean glass bowl. So easy! Microwave a cup of filtered non-chlorinated water in your bowl for 30 seconds on High. Then add your wild caught sourdough starter (which is usually about a cup if you bake regularly) and a cup of bread flour and use a wire whisk to give it a thorough talking to. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and put in proofing box (I use my microwave — turned off of course). It is ready to use when it develops a top layer of micro-foam. (You will know it when you see it.)
  • Add to the Autolyse: 1 Cup of activated starter (put remainder in clean glass jar in fridge for future use), 4 t salt, 1/4 C water (again, unchlorinated and 85F-90F) and any other additions your recipe calls for such as oils, sugars, honey, citric zests, olives, herbs, nuts, cheese, etc). [The reason you hold off on adding salt until now is that hydrating the flour first in the Autolyse allows enzymes to free up more sugar for the yeast to eat, whereas salt tightens gluten strands.]

Bulk Fermentations / Folds

  • Begin by removing your dough (a wet shaggy mess at this point) to a floured board) and using your floured bench knife to slide under an edge of the dough, lifting and folding it over toward center. Do this all around several times until the dough is more cohesive but still very soft. You do NOT want to achieve a stiff dough at any point.
  • Put in large ceramic bowl, cover with clean towel and move to the proofing box (i.e. microwave) for the first Bulk Fermentation (bf) of about 30 minutes.
  • Repeat the folding / fermentations up to six times, until dough is still soft, but ready to take shape. At this point you can divide and shape, placing onto unbleached parchment (doesn’t burn at high temps like bleached) on trays. Cover with towel and let rest for 30 minutes.
  • While your loaves are resting, heat oven to 500F.
  • When oven is ready, put the trays at center.
  • Add 1/4 C filtered water to bottom of oven to produce steam (or in pan at bottom of oven) BE CAREFUL as this will produce a hot cloud of steam so you must remove your hand and shut the door very quickly lest you be burned. TURN OVEN DOWN TO 450F and set timer for 30 minutes. [Please note: pouring directly into your oven bottom can risk your oven’s electronics if it doesn’t have a steam clean function, hence use a pan instead.]
  • Repeat the “steam shots” at least once during bake. This is how you achieve the wonderful dark golden crisp crust.
  • Baking times will depend on your recipe and mostly importantly your additives. An olive bread, for example will require up to an hour. A simple ungarnished dough only 35-45 minutes.
  • Your bread is done when the crust color is right and it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting. Using a good sharp serrated bread knife will preserve your loaf. Reserving the heel end to cover the open end will keep your loaf fresh. Use a piece of baker’s twine to keep in place. You do not need to cover if kept in this manner, but you can put in a bread bag or poly bag once it is completely cool though the crisp crust will soften a bit. As with all wild-caught sourdough breads, flavor continues to develop so that your last slice is more flavorful even than the first (which is awesome).

This may seem like an extremely complicated way to bake! It is — the first time you do it. After that, I promise, you will see the simplicity and ease of it and you may find yourself baking bread much more often than you ever have before. Enjoy!

 

 

The Sourdough Schedule

Since I began my Sourdough Life, I have noticed that bakers love to complicate their recipes. Whether it is tweaking the ingredients, measurements, schedule, or interventions, a new Sourdough Baker can get lost in the complexity. So here is a basic schedule for baking Sourdough Bread — once you get the yeast under your wings and can trust your baker’s instincts, this is a handy schedule to print and put on your fridge. Enjoy!

Give Us This Day …

Our daily bread!

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It is actually true, that bread — at least healthy fermented bread — comes pretty close to supplying what we need on a daily basis to live.

But bread has come under fire from dieters and dieticians alike ever since the bastardization of the baking art in the mid-20th Century. Done to achieve shorter baking times, long shelf life and enhance profits, commercially made bread relied on wheat stripped of all nutrition. When that created a nation of sick people (true), companies like Wonder Bread began adding the “health” back into the bread and using that as an advertising tool. But in reality, even with nutrients added, the process and ingredients of most commercial breads to this day do nothing to promote your health, and may in fact be unhealthy. The type of flour used, additives (some of which are known carcinogens, un-fermented gluten and commercial yeast have produced many celiac disease sufferers, but also many more who react to the lack of fermentation, experiencing bloating and other gut problems. Lack of fermentation in bread has also contributed to an epidemic of diabetes and may be responsible for the spike in Candida diseases and allergic reactions that may contribute to cancer. Fermentation actually pre-digests those elements of the bread that produce such discomforts. It releases nutrients in the bread so that your body can absorb them. It helps control candida albicans, where commercial yeast encourages it. And it contributes to a healthy microbiome, slowly recreating the friendly lactobacillus digestive bacteria in your gastrointestinal system, which in turn boosts your immune system.

In generations past, bread fermentation was the ONLY way bread was made. But it took time (at least overnight and sometimes days) to produce delicious healthy loaves. Now, however, the pendulum has begun to swing back. Consumers are starting to realize the health benefits of fermented sourdough bread. Now, please don’t run out and buy a loaf of sourdough bread from your local grocer. It is likely to have no fermentation in it and may not even have any real sourdough in it … just vinegar to produce a “sour” flavor. Real sourdough bread is so easy to make. Even making your own wild caught sourdough starter is easy. And the flavor … I can never go back to store bought bread again.

I bake bread a couple of times a week. I live alone so 2 loaves a week is usually all I need unless I have company. What I don’t eat before it begins to go stale goes to the chickens (who love it) or I make croutons or bread crumbs with it. So there is no waste. Just deliciousness.

I encourage everyone to read my previous posts how to make a sourdough starter, and various approaches and recipes for creating healthy bread. Again, they are not difficult and require little hands-on time, mostly just waiting for the magic to happen.

Nothing better than Wild Caught Sourdough!

With a few tweaks gleaned from Michael Pollan’s book “Cooked” I am now routinely able to produce truly wonderful bread from my wild caught sourdough starter Audrey. The two most important changes are (1) testing the starter for readiness by dropping a spoonful in a glass of water and if it floats it’s ready, and (2) doing the bulk fermentation overnight in the fridge. Still one achievement left to go (we are never completely satisfied) and that is a good “ear” as they call it. I need to get a “lame” lol! But this bread is wonderful. Easy to slice, chewy inside with good “crumb” with bubbles (not too big or too many) and crispy bottom crust. And stays fresh (though it doesn’t stick around very long … it is that good)! Great for sandwiches!

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My Wild Caught Sourdough Bread

Fermented Wild Caught Sourdough is so easy to make on your own. My “Audrey” (we sourdough fanatics name our starters) was caught by soaking some golden raisins in water for a week then using the drained off water mixed with flour until the wild yeasts and lacto-bacteria (they are everywhere) colonized. Once you have that wonderful starter, it is a “pet” in the sense that you are going to be responsible for the care and feeding of it, but that’s not hard, and it yields such wonderful results. Most important of all, the health benefits of fermented bread (and not all sourdough you buy is truly fermented) are just so great! If you think you cannot digest gluten, the slow fermentation of sourdough may just solve that problem. There are true celeriacs, but there are many more who are actually just responding to the lack of fermentation in commercial bread. As Michael Pollan so eloquently catalogues, fermentation is a form of digestion, so sourdough actually pre-digests the gluten! And then there are the pro-biotic advantages of fermentation. We are vessels for a whole community of millions and millions of microbes known as the “microbiome” the genes of which actually outnumber our own cells by a factor of 100 to 1! Maintaining a healthy microbiome keeps the bad microbes in check, protects us from toxins and influences our digestion, immune function, even our personality! Much research is ongoing. Baking a sourdough loaf takes so little hands-on time – no kneading, just a few stretch & pulls. It does take time to re-activate your starter, and ferment your dough, but that is not time that involves you directly, other than as an observer. I hope you will give it a try!

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SOURDOUGH APPLE FRITTERS – NO SUGAR & DELICIOUS!

SOURDOUGH APPLE FRITTERS – NO SUGAR & DELICIOUS!

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Crisp, Sweet & Chewy

Sourdough bakers are always looking for ways to utilize the “discard” from their starter when they feed and refresh it. Since I keep my starter on the counter and feed it every day, I am quickly running through recipes other than bread that can incorporate the discard.

I was really hungry for something sweet for breakfast, but didn’t want to make a traditional, sugar-enhanced recipe. So I made these absolutely delicious apple fritters, utilizing the discard from this morning’s feeding of my wild caught sourdough starter “Audrey,” and some sweet-tart organic Granny Smith apples I had on hand. The result is heaven — a crisp outer layer with chewy inside and bursts of sweet-tart apple. Yum! The recipe I made was enough for two people, but you can easily double or triple for more. And if by some miracle you have some left over, they reheat easily in a toaster oven.

Sourdough Apple Fritters

Ingredients:

1-1/2 Cups Granny Smith or other tart apple, peeled, cored and diced small

1/2 Cup Sourdough Starter discard (be sure to stir it up well before extracting your discard)

Organic Coconut Oil – enough to make an inch in the bottom of your fryer or pan (1-2 cups) [We are lucky to have access to an excellent brand which is Virgin Cold Pressed and even smells lightly of coconut adding another element to the flavor of these fritters. I encourage folks to do their own research on coconut oil and health. There are differences of opinion, but I personally have concluded it is a healthy choice.]

1/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon

1/8 Teaspoon Fine Salt

1/8 Teaspoon Baking Soda

A note about the hydration of your starter: This recipe works well with starter that is 75% or even 50% hydration, which will support the apples well in the batter. If your starter is 100% hydration then you may want to sprinkle some flour into the batter until it is thick enough to support the apples.

  • Combine the apples and starter by drizzling the starter over the apples while gently stirring to coat them.
  • Sprinkle dry ingredients over the batter and mix to combine.
  • Set your fryer or pan with coconut oil to a medium high heat while the batter “sets up”
  • Check readiness of the oil by dropping a drop of batter onto the center and outer edge of the oil. If it creates tiny sizzle bubbles it is ready.
  • Spoon batter into the oil making sure there is about a half inch between spoonfuls. Leave the center for last as it is usually the hottest.
  • Fry until golden on the bottom then flip to fry other side. The timing will depend on the heat, but no more than 4 minutes on each side.
  • When both sides have fried to a crisp light golden brown, remove and drain on paper towels letting them cool to edible warm stage.

Now, it is traditional to sprinkle confectioner’s sugar on sweet fritters, but I prefer these plain and do not think they suffer for it because they are so tangy and tasty. But if you must, I would recommend instead sprinkling some organic granulated Stevia – just go lightly as it is very sweet. Serve warm. Enjoy!

 

 

My Sourdough Gal

AudreyII

I have always loved bread, but it has not always loved me. There is much truth to the “wheat belly” and “gluten intolerance” theories of today. But much of my love of bread is tied up in childhood memories — a kindergarten field trip to the Wonder Bread factory in Baltimore where we each received a miniature loaf of wonder bread; my father’s weekly bread baking in the last years before his death, using a recipe from the ‘Joy of Cooking’ cookbook with white flour, store-bought yeast, butter and milk.

But then came the beginning of “another way.” The sixties with its foray into healthier eating. The release of the ‘Tasahara Bread Book” with its emphasis on Zen and whole wheat was a frustration for many of us as it produced heavy loaves that were in a different class altogether from the bread we had grown up with. That was followed by the proliferation of in-store bakeries and bakery eateries which offered delicious, artisan loaves with crispy crusts and chewy insides that were impossible to replicate in your home oven. Then came the No-Knead Bread Method, which relies on a cast iron dutch oven to produce similar humidity levels as a bakery oven. But none of these methods, improvements though they were, got me to a place where I could feel confident in the health of what I was baking and eating.

That is, until the Modern Sourdough Revolution sprang to life, with its focus on the science of bread. And then began a new effort on my part to generate delicious and wholesome loaves with the same tangy flavor and beautiful artisan good looks that I associated with sourdough. I started by purchasing a sourdough starter from King Arthur and managed to keep it alive through 3 semi-good loaves. Then I attempted to make my own starter in my Zoriushi Bread Machine. This was a disaster.

But recently, I watched a Netflix documentary by Michael Pollan on cooking which gave me new insight and hope. One segment of the show focused on bread, and the ancient art of fermented sourdough. The key is the fermentation — which not only provides sourdough with its unique flavor, but also breaks down the wheat flour to make it more digestible and healthy. I was hooked.

The New York Times has given excellent coverage to sourdough and there are several different ways to start your own “wild” sourdough. I chose to try making it from golden raisins. It takes about a week to produce the raisin water needed to create the starter. My first batch didn’t work out. I put the crock on my seed starting heat mat thinking it would facilitate it. I grew something in there, but it wasn’t yeast. Started again, this time putting it near my grow light but not on the heat mat, and checking every day to give it some air and a stir. In a week I had wonderful smelling foamy raisin stew. I drained off the water and began my sourdough culture with it. Eureka! My wonderful sourdough was born!

Serious sourdough aficionados name their starters. I decided to name mine Audrey after “The Little Shop Of Horrors” creature who was constantly crying “Feed Me!” I thought it would help me remember that a good starter is always a work in progress. It must be attended to on a regular basis to keep it viable. Like many serious bakers, I decided to keep Audrey on the counter in a protected nook near the stove but away from ceiling fans and air conditioners. I use her every day or every other day. I check on her daily and if I am not pulling out a cup or so to bake with I will take some and put it in a jar for a neighbor and then feed her with fresh flour and water. I’ve long abandoned the strict ratios and go by smell and appearance when feeding her. I know what she looks and smells like when she is happy and she rewards my diligence with exquisite bread, pizza dough, biscuits and hopefully soon, bagels (my next project).

I strongly encourage you to try your hand at making a wild sourdough. It is an adventure. It is fun. It is delicious and very satisfying. In future posts I will supply recipes that I have tested and now use regularly with great success. Emphasis for me is always on easiest. I have discovered that there seem to be a LOT of sourdough recipes that are much more complicated then they need to be. Ancient bread makers, I think, did it by my method — look and smell. If it looks good and smells good — you’re gonna bake gooood!