I have written before about the Autolyse method for Sourdough Bread baking. Yesterday I realized I had been neglecting my starter “Audrey” quite badly. She had developed a really impressive top layer of brown “hootch.” I poured that off and spent the day refreshing her every few hours until she was once again bubbly and beautiful! Then I scooped a couple cups and got to work making my dough.
I haven’t made olive bread in some time and since I had a half jar in the fridge decided that would do just fine. The thing I love about autolyse baking is that it is not regimented, but rather a relaxed method, relying on your touch, sight and nostrils to achieve your final product. You take a wet shaggy dough and instead of kneading it to death with a lot of flour, you use your bench knife to give it several turns on a floured board and return it to its rising bowl and box every half hour or so.
So I can go about my business, which lately is creating as many Pique Assiette frames as I can in preparation for the upcoming Harvest Festival in town. And just check on the dough, folding it with a little fresh flour on the board, doing this over and over until it is at kneading stage. Then I give it a couple of kneads and risings overnight, shape it (give it a half hour or so to do a final rise) slice the top and bake it.
The Autolyse baking method suits me too … you start with a 500F oven, put the shaped loaf in pouring a half cup of filtered water in the bottom of the oven and turning the heat down to 450. With Olive Bread, it takes 3 “steam shots” and about 45 minutes to achieve a nice “ear” and brown crust and “thumpable” finish. Cooling now, and soon to be “Chompable.”
Autolyse Sourdough Olive Loaf
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!
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!