Sourdough Demystified: Baking Bread Loaves

We’ve let the loaves “cold proof” in the fridge overnight to develop more of those signature sour flavours, and allowing for a bit more rise. You will get a feel for when to shape and put your loaves in the fridge to allow for that last bit of rise, as opposed to putting them in a little too late and over-proofing. When you put the shaped loaves in the fridge to cold-proof, fermentation slows way down but doesn’t stop entirely, so we want there to be a bit of room for them to rise, so we shape just before our bulk fermentation has reached its peak rise.

For me, timing this accurately involves more intuition and trial and error, and it’s no big deal if your timing is a little off. The results will still be pretty good. And eventually, with enough repetition and exposure to a variety of different bakes, you’ll begin to develop a keen sense of timing for your own bulk and cold-proofing stages.

All of this culminates in the bake, and contributes to explosive “oven-spring” (the bread rising nice and high) when done well.

For baking, I’d suggest actually baking in a dutch oven as you will get more complete heat that way and really increase your odds of baking great bread. If you’re using a dutch oven, make sure to preheat the oven with the dutch oven inside so everything is insanely hot when you put the bread in there. I’ve found that you can use the parchment paper as a hammock and lower the dough into the dutch oven.

My best results have come from baking for 30 minutes with the lid on, then removing the lid for another 20 minutes or so of browning. I also put a ceramic plate in the bottom of the dutch oven to prevent the bottom of the bread from burning, though this isn’t necessary if you don’t mind a little charring on the bottom of your loaves.

In the video I don’t use a dutch oven, opting instead for baking on a couple ceramic plates while adding steam with a water pan. Sourdough needs to bake in a moist environment in order to get the best results, and normally a dutch oven would seal in all the moisture, so we need to compensate when not using a dutch oven by adding a bit of steam.

One of the biggest mistakes I had been making early on in my sourdough journey was cutting into the loaves too soon after removing them from the oven. I didn’t realize that they needed about 45 minutes to continue to cook and, most importantly, for the crust to thin out! I was getting crazy-hard crust until I started letting the bread cool before cutting into it.

Cutting into the bread prematurely is a great way to ruin a loaf. The crust will be tougher, and the inside doughier (not as thoroughly baked) as had we been patient and let the bread finish baking outside the oven.

Sourdough Demystified: Divide and Shape

As mentioned in the previous bulk fermentation post – once fermentation is complete we’ve reached a point where we can do whatever we want with the fermented sourdough (make bagels, pizza, bread loaves, etc).

Here we’ll be making bread with it.

Shaping Sourdough Bread Loaves

At this point we want to avoid squeezing the air out of the dough as much as possible, as the more we do so the denser the end result. Generally, it’s better to aim for an airier, less dense “crumb” which is the bread interior itself.

I’m working with enough dough to make two loaves, but if you’re working with a smaller batch, feel free to skip the dividing part and only shape one loaf. I tend to like baking larger loaves, but it’s up to you.

Next we bake our sourdough loaves!