While I bake bread year round, there is something special about it in the winter months, when I mostly bake with wild yeast (sourdough). It’s easy to get into a ritual that I simply can’t duplicate in the summer, because during the winter months, the house is a constant seventy degrees, and the humidity rarely fluctuates.
I typically feed my sourdough culture (100% organic freshly milled rye these days) around eight o’clock in the morning. I find that since converting to an all rye culture, it takes much longer for it to become fully active (all day in the winter months), but it is a much stronger performer when baking.
At five o’clock in the afternoon (thank you Alexa, for never failing to remind me it’s time to make bread!) I mix my bread, and once an hour, between six and eight o’clock, before my brain dies for the day, I do a stretch and fold of my dough, then simply leave it on the counter overnight to bulk ferment.
In the morning, I shape it, place it in a rice flour coated banneton, (Amazon affiliate link) and let it rise. It usually takes about an hour, then I bake it. I love this morning ritual as I am a morning person, and I find it so soothing to work with the dough in the early hours. Jim loves waking up to the aroma of bread baking… a win win for us both!
Rice flour is the magic that keeps the dough from sticking to the banneton, although probably any flour that is non-glutenous would work, I use rice flour (I mill it myself) as milling rice is also how I clean the stones on my mill.
My favorite go to recipe for sourdough this year is as follows.
50g active sourdough culture
75g spelt flour
25g einkorn flour
400g bread flour
I put the water in my dough bucket, whisk in the sourdough culture to break it up, add the remaining ingredients and stir until everything is incorporated with my dough whisk (Amazon affiliate link).
I instruct Alexa (my adored kitchen witch!) to remind me once an hour three times to do stretch and folds, then I simply leave the covered dough in the bucket overnight to bulk ferment. In the morning, I shape it and let it rise in a banneton, (Amazon affiliate link) which takes about an hour. I pre-heat my oven with a dutch oven inside to 500 degrees, flip the bread into the dutch oven, slash it, reduce the temperature to 450 degrees, and bake it covered for 45 minutes, uncover and bake another 5 minutes. I prefer an internal temperature of about 205 degrees.
I’ve been baking bread my entire life and have experimented with numerous dutch ovens these past ten years (about when I began to play with wild yeast), and it’s been my experience that clay ovens outperform cast iron ovens. A couple of years ago, I splurged on this cloche from Emile Henry (Amazon affiliate link – I adore anything Emile Henry!) and it is hands down, the best cloche ever. The base is flat, so no worries about burning yourself tipping the dough into it.
I use one of these circular silicone baking mats (Amazon affiliate link) inside, so if I happen to tip my dough onto the base a little off center, a quick shake of the base allows the mat to slide so that my dough is centered. BEST. THING. EVER!
Baking bread is one of the most rewarding, joyful things I do in life. I started baking bread when I was nineteen, courtesy of the tutelage of my German landlady, and I find it as amazing and inspiring every single time I sink my hands into a bowl of pillowy, fluffy dough, and watch the magic happen as it bakes in the oven, filling our home with with happiness.