ISOLATION BREAD // the local food report

Friends. (FRIENDS!) Ahem. Still here, still isolating. Day twelve. An unclear number to go. A friend told me recently she thought she could make it, if only she knew how much longer we had to go. I  remember saying those exact words when I was in labor with Sally. Sadly the answer now seems to be the same as it was then: no one really knows. Onward we go! 

In the meantime, in tiny snatches of time so messy and chaotic the outcome feels like a small miracle, my friend Sarah and I recorded another radio show. Sarah Reynolds North is a professional baker and a kick-ass human being, and of anyone I know she makes hands down the best sourdough. She and her wife and their three kids are, like many of us, home while workplaces are closed. They're marking time with bread, baking a daily loaf. Sarah was kind enough to record her process and share it with all of us. We, too, can eat delicious sourdough! 

Sarah and her family baked that loaf up there, crusty and Earth-shaped and galactic somehow. Sarah will be posting videos this week on her instagram feed @foundbread with tutorials on mixing, folding, shaping, and scoring. If we're really getting into it, she says, we should follow the hashtag #selfisolationsourdough, because there are other bakers sharing tips too. 

In the meantime, here's her recipe for a family loaf. For audio from this week's Local Food Report with Sarah, head on over here, where you'll also find posts of the videos mentioned in the recipe below. I've made six loaves in 12 days, bread consumption here is up 300 percent, and another loaf is rising as I type. I can do this, you can do this. Bacteria and yeast make good company! Bake on, friends. 


EH note: The great thing about sourdough is that all you need is flour, water, and salt. That's it! For info on getting a starter going, see this NYT post. I'll post Sarah's notes on feeding and maintaining a starter below the recipe for this loaf. And don't be intimidated by Sarah's precise measurements—if you've got a kitchen scale, they're easy enough to follow. And if not, there are plenty of tools online to convert measurements from grams or fluid mL to cups. 

What you'll need:

- a dutch oven or cast iron pot that's at least 10" wide and 6" deep
- a big mixing bowl (glass is best so you can watch the fermentation happen!)
- a well maintained starter
- a spatula
- you can use a mixer if you prefer, but this is easy enough to mix with your hands!


806 grams flour (ideally 50% whole wheat flour and 50% white bread flour)
  • * A note on the flour - I have written this recipe for a high extraction flour (a flour that is milled while sifting only some of the bran out, making it a mostly whole grain flour), so at home it's ideal to use 50% whole wheat flour and 50% bread flour for this recipe. But we are all doing our best with what grocery stores have to offer right now or what's in our cupboard. This will work with whatever combination of wheat flour you have. If you want to add in a little rye flour, give it a try! Or spelt. Or einkorn.
613 mL tap water (not too warm, not too cold)

145 grams of leaven, the starter you made the night before (usually ready after sitting in a 65-70 degree kitchen for 10 hours or so)

23 grams salt


MIX: Mix all the ingredients together in a big bowl. (A tip: if you pour the water in your bowl first, the flour is easier to incorporate!) To mix, push your hands into the dough and squeeze your hand into a fist like you're pinching the dough with your whole hand. Do this over and over until all the ingredients are incorporated. It will feel sticky. 

FOLDS: Let the bowl of dough sit with a kitchen towel over it for about 30 minutes. Then fold the dough. (There is a video of this here.) Pull one side of the dough from the edge of the bowl up and over into the middle. Do this four times so all of the dough has been folded into the middle. You'll feel how the dough is still sticky but starting feel more cohesive and stretchy. You're helping the gluten form!

Repeat this in another 30 minutes.

FIRST PROOF: Let the dough continue to rest and rise for another 5-7 hours on the counter (or overnight in the fridge). You're looking for the dough to rise about 30-40% of it's original size. It may not double in size completely, but you want it to feel a little puffy to the touch and look bubbly from the side. If your kitchen is warm, this will happen more quickly!

SHAPE: Scoop the dough out onto a lightly floured counter top and give it a rough fold in half so some of the floured dough is now on the top. Begin to pull the dough towards you with the pinky side of your hand dragging along the counter. (There is a video of this here.) Then let the dough rest for about 30 minutes.

Come back to the dough and flour some counter space next to it. Scoop it up with two hands and place it on the newly floured space. Now with your fingers, push the edges of the dough in and under the dough ball so that you are pushing the dough into the flour underneath. You want a tight smooth surface on the top of the dough before you scoop it up and into a floured bowl with those tucked in edges facing down. 

FINAL PROOF: From this stage you want to give the dough another couple of hours to rise again, or you can put it in the fridge with a lid overnight and bake it in the morning. When you touch the dough with your finger, the shape of your finger should slowly spring back. The dough never gets as full and puffy as a yeasted loaf of bread gets, so be aware of that. Sourdough is a different kind of dough and takes its time, but tastes so much better!

BAKE: Preheat your oven to 490F and put a cast iron pot with the lid into your oven to heat. This technique will give you steam which gives you that crusty and golden colored loaf you're looking for! (If your dough has been in the fridge overnight, take it out while your oven is preheating.) When the oven is ready, pull your pot out of the oven, open the lid and put a small bit of parchment paper down to stop from sticking. Try and move quickly now as you don't want too much heat to escape. Pick the dough straight up out of the bowl and flip it over onto the counter with the bumpy seam side up. And then pick your dough up again to drop it right into the cast iron pot, seam side up. 

Now, another option at this point is to put your dough seam side down onto the counter before you bake it, score it with a very sharp knife or razor blade and put it in cast iron pot with the scored side up, but I find that this rugged floured seam up look comes out beautifully and allows the bread to open up really well during the bake just as well. It's also one less step!

Bake at 490F for 25 minutes with the lid on. Then remove the lid and lower the temperature to 430F for 25 more minutes for the last part of the bake. A good way to tell when the bread is done is by tapping the bottom of the loaf with your finger. You want to hear a hollow sound. You can also test the internal temperature - you're looking for 200F.

Bread cuts best when it's cooled, but I can never wait so if you're like me, dig into it with some butter and enjoy! This bread keeps just fine face down on your counter top for several days. You can also store it in plastic or in the freezer, but plastic creates moisture and it will lose that delicious crust!

*If this loaf of bread is too big for your family to eat within a week, cut it in half and freeze one half. Sourdough has great freezing tolerance. Or, you can divide this recipe fully in half and make a smaller loaf.


To feed your mother in preparation for baking:

25 grams of the mother
100 grams of high protein flour
100 grams water at around 68/70F

Mix with your hands. Let it sit on the counter with a dish cloth over it or a loose lid for 8-10
hours until slightly domed and bubbly.

Temperature is KEY for fermentation. In the summer, you’ll want to use colder water to feed
your starter and if your room gets warmer than 68/70F, your starter will be ready to bake with
sooner! So, consider leaving it to rest in a cooler spot.

If you’re going away:
  • for a week?
    • - feed it before you leave and put it in the fridge where the fermentation slows
  • for a couple of days?
    • - feed it and put it in the fridge, or
    • - feed the starter with less water as that slows down the fermentation as well


Anonymous said...

Hey there -
Can you add the links to the videos mentioned in the recipe?

Elspeth said...

Hi, yes, I'm not sure what happened but they're updated now!

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