As I experimented with bread-making last year, I tried to make Rustic Sourdough Bread from the King Arthur Flour website – twice. I knew back then that I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I’ve definitely made bread-baking progress since then.
What went wrong with my first two tries? A few things went wrong with my first batch. My kitchen was too warm; I didn’t add enough flour to my bread; and I let the dough rise way too long. There was nothing in particular wrong with the second batch, except that it was the palest bread I’ve ever made. I think I sprayed too much water on it before I baked it.
I should note that this time, I decided to weigh all the ingredients. I have a digital scale that measures in ounces. I halved the recipe so I’d only make one loaf, so I used 4 ounces of sourdough starter; 6 ounces (3/4 cup) water; 1 teaspoon yeast; 1/4 ounce sugar (which I also weighed); 1 1/4 teaspoon salt; and 10 ounces of flour, a little under the amount called for. I added a little more flour to the bread as I kneaded and shaped it.
For this third attempt, I know how to shape bread. I have a better sense of how bread dough should feel, and how sticky or tacky it should be. I was home for the evening, so I wouldn’t mess up on the timing of the bread. I decided not to try to proof my bread in the oven, which might make it rise too much. If the bread wasn’t ready to bake at night, I would just refrigerate it and bake it in morning.
The dough was easy to make. I mixed the dough together with a spoon. The ingredients weren’t really well-combined until I started to knead it by hand. I didn’t knead it very long – just a couple of minutes until the dough was smooth. I did windowpane it, and the dough was fairly see-through at that point. I preheated the oven briefly, but rather than put the dough in the warmed oven to rise, I just set it on top of the warmed stove.
After an hour and a half, I turned the dough out onto parchment paper on a baking sheet and gently shaped it into a loaf. I actually did it more like how I would make a baguette than an oval like the instructions said to. I patted it out (gently), made a crease down it lengthwise, and folded the dough over that crease like a letter. I sealed the seam into the dough and turned the dough over so that it was seam side-down. I again preheated the oven briefly to warm up the stovetop and set the baking sheet with the dough on the stove to rise again.
After about an hour, I went to bake the bread. I preheated the oven and peeled the plastic wrap off of the dough. I sprayed the loaf with water and made 2 gashes in the dough. I baked the bread on the baking sheet at 425F for about 25 minutes. At that time, it looked done.
I was really happy with how this bread turned out. I think I sprayed a little too much water on it, which is why it didn’t develop the dark brown color that I wanted; the bottom of the loaf was a beautiful reddish brown, though. The outside wasn’t as crusty as I would have liked, but it still was chewy and delicious. The inside had a great chewy crumb, and the crust tore apart from the inside relatively easily. The bread had a nice flavor from the sourdough, but wasn’t overly sour since it had the shorter fermentation times of a yeasted bread. I ate it with soup and on its own, and it was still really good a day later. It didn’t dry out or get stale, and I didn’t have it wrapped the entire time.
Definitely make this bread if you like using sourdough starter, but don’t really want something that’s too strongly flavored. Based on my results this time, I also recommend trying this bread if you’re still trying to get the hang of baking with your sourdough. Sure, it took me 3 tries to really like this bread (although the second batch I made turned out okay). This recipe is fast enough that even if you don’t get as satisfactory a result as you’d like, you haven’t spent too much time on it. In addition, I think you get better results with this recipe if you weigh the ingredients rather than measure them. If you do measure them, go easy on the flour at first, since it’s easy to add flour but impossible to remove it once it’s in the dough.