There are many ways to make sourdough; its versatility and variation are part of the thrill of making it (besides eating it)! Our sourdough takes anywhere from 18-24 hours from start to finish, and typically follows a process like this one:
Preparing the starter
There's more to say about sourdough starters than we have room for here, but essentially the starter is the source of wild yeast that is mixed into all of the dough. A sourdough starter (or leaven) is a mixture of flour, water, and wild yeast. To prepare for a bake day, we feed the starter with fresh flour and water to cultivate and strengthen it and mix enough for the number of loaves we're going to make.
Mixing the dough
After 4-6 hours, the starter is ready and we mix the full batch of dough with flour, water, salt, the starter, and any other ingredients we may be using in our menu (walnuts, herbs, raisins, maple syrup, etc.)! There are many ways to mix the dough; currently we use a mixer (named Kemper!) for the initial mix, and after that first step the dough is folded by hand.
Stretch and fold
After mixing, we do a series of stretches and folds to the dough to build tension and strength in the mixture. This is similar to kneading the dough, but its spread out over several hours to allow time to do most of the work for us! The stretches are alternated with resting periods where the dough relaxes and forms a cohesive whole. Both working the dough and proper rest are essential for building dough strength (just like working out at the gym!).
After the stretches and folds, the dough is allowed to rest for a longer period to fully ferment. At this point, the bakers typically take a break for dinner and let the dough do the work! By the time we get back, 6-7 hours after the initial mixing, the dough has doubled in size all on its own.
Dividing and shaping
When the dough has fermented, we divide the full dough into individual loaves which are then shaped to build tension and structure in each loaf.
After shaping, we place the loaves in cold storage overnight to slow down the fermentation. This not only creates a convenient baking schedule, but also deepens the flavor over a long twelve hour slow fermentation.
Scoring and baking
Twelve hours later, we heat up the ovens, roll out the loaves, score them with a blade (draw the fancy patterns on top) and bake them at a blistering 500°F for 45 minutes.
Baking sourdough is a fascinating skill with endless variations to explore. Let us know if you have questions, and we'll be happy to talk about it for hours! ;)