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!

Retirement Progress Report 6

I missed last quarter’s report so here it is up to today, and I’ll post another one for year’s end.

TFSA: $61,636.75

It’s up $24,807.38 since April… but it’s not actually that great. This is pretty blown out of proportion because we’re holding HST in there until it’s due, so that number is way higher than it should be. Another factor that makes that leap seem huge is I’m now just reporting the current market value of the TFSA because it’s gotten too confusing for me to figure out what I was doing before (which was something like tracking the book value of only the money contributed, ignoring changes in market value, which was useful to see how many net dollars were making their way into the account, but it also painted an unrealistic picture of the real-world value of the holdings and accounts for that past number being lower than it should have been).

SO from now on, market value is what you get!

I’m also happy to announce that my TFSA is now maxed out, and we’re stuffing Lia’s next. Why not have started with Lia’s, you’re wondering? It’s because we’re also rebuilding her SDRRSP from having demolished it to buy our house, so it seemed right to have some assets under my name. Not that it matters. We’re each other’s beneficiaries anyway.

I spoke to someone at TD to figure out where that TFSA limit was, and it’s actually on your most recent CRA Notice of Assessment (I think it says how much you’re still allowed to contribute to your TFSA). Because mine has also earned distributions (paid out in Dec) and appreciated in value, that explains why the value of my TFSA exceeds the 2018 contribution limit (of $57,500 if you were to start today).

According to – at the current rate of inflation, the TFSA contribution limit will increase to $6,000 per year in 2019.

The best thing to do with a TFSA is max it out, then leave it full so it can:

  1. Appreciate in market value at an average rate of 7% over the long haul.
  2. Earn roughly 2% in annual distributions in December, tax free. So at some point in late December, something like $1,200 in mutual funds will automatically be added to my holdings. Compound interest baby!

So at some point in 2019 I’ll put $6,000 into my TFSA.

Debt / Mortgage: $159,968.15

Down $3607.19 since last report. I love seeing the 5 in there where the 6 was now that it’s below $160,000. The iceberg is melting.

Total assets:

$1,162 (My RSP) + $9,642.67 (Lia’s SDRSP) + $61,636.75 (My TFSA) = $72,441.42

Retirement Progress: $72,441.42 / $959,968.15 (mortgage + $800k projected amount needed to retire) = 7.5% of the way there!

Here’s my ghetto loading bar visualizing 7%:



Sourdough Demystified: Bulk Fermentation

Once the levain has risen and is showing lots of bubbles on top, we can see if we’re ready to move onto the next step (bulk fermentation) by taking a spoonful of the levain dough and dropping it into a full cup of water. If it floats, that means we’re good to proceed (because the dough is full of air, which is a sign of excellent yeast activity).

If the spoonful of dough sinks, wait a little longer. You may have tested too early, and there may be more time for the dough to rise. If you can’t get it to float, don’t advance to the next steps – it will just end in sadness with nothing works out from here on in. Instead, go back to working with your starter (at room temperature the whole time) discarding half, feeding (which is just adding flour and water), waiting for it to rise fully, discarding half, feeding.. on repeat until it’s obvious that your starter is very “active” – meaning it’s rising as quickly as possible after every feed. An active starter leads to an active levain which leads to a successful bulk fermentation which leads to a successful bake.

But your levain passed the float test! So you’re ready to move onto the next step toward actually baking BREAD (or making pizza, or bagels, etc… regardless of what we’re making this bulk fermentation stage is the same).

Here’s the process for bulk fermentation:

Once bulk fermentation is complete, you can do anything you want with it. I will be showing you how to bake bread, turn it into pizza, make bagels with it, or roll it into one big dirty log of cinnamon raisin brown sugary debauchery.

Sourdough Demystified: Mixing The Levain

Once the starter has strengthened to the point where it is consistently rising to double or triple its size within one day (or ideally, faster) and you’ve been discarding half (or more) at the top of the rise to mix in fresh flour and water, you may be ready to bake with it. You can test this by feeding your starter and letting it rise to double or triple in size. Take a spoonful of it and drop that spoonful of starter into a full glass of water. If it floats, you’re ready to move onto the next step (because it’s full of air bubbles, which is a sign of good yeast activity).
All we’re doing in this next step is scaling up the amount of dough we’re fermenting. There isn’t enough active yeast in the starter to cause a large amount of dough to ferment in a reasonable amount of time, so we work up to it gradually with this middle step: the levain. Here’s we’re essentially just making a larger starter. I’m preparing to bake 2 loaves, so I’m mixing a pretty large starter. Even if you’re only baking one loaf, having a larger starter is a good idea as having more active yeast going into the bulk fermentation (the step after the levain) will help with a faster fermentation time. To mix the levain, I combine most of my starter (you need to keep some of it for future bakes, so be sure not to use ALL of your starter!) with 5 heaping tablespoons of flour and enough water to achieve that thick doughey consistency – like thick peanut butter. I aim for a thick texture because a soupy consistency is more difficult to monitor for changes. A “stiff” dough will rise more obviously because it has more structural strength and does a better job of trapping all the gasses released during fermentation. A really runny dough will bubble at the surface, but it might not rise as much (because the gasses can get out through the top). Once mixed, wrap the levain in a clear bag so you can keep in the moisture and watch it rise. The rise will take only a few hours if your environment is, and it could take closer to 24 hours if you’re baking in a cold environment. It’s fall right now, so ours will probably rise in about 12 hours.
Once the levain has risen fully, we’re ready to move on to the next step, which is mixing a big ball of dough to ferment and then bake – called bulk fermentation.  

Dunk Journey: 5 Month Update

I lost the $100 bet last Tuesday (that I’d be able to dunk a basketball after 5 months of training), and I wasn’t even all that close. But I learned recently that growth happens when your ego is in a position to be embarrassed, so I feel like I’m on the right path.

Then today I mashed a few low rim dunks and filmed it, and was able to compare it to dunk attempts on another low rim (same height, 9′ 5″). In comparing the footage, it looks like I’m jumping higher (or maybe I’ve just gotten better with filming in slow motion to make it look more epic!).

Filming dunk attempts has helped big-time. I can tell that I get way higher when my approach is full speed, and I don’t get nearly as high with a slower approach. My best jumps today occurred after I mentally primed myself by telling myself to approach the jump as fast as possible. Otherwise I just do a medium-speed approach and get only a medium-high jump.

All the gains come from max effort, so I need to keep on top of keeping my approach speed maxed out.

I’ve lost the $100, but I’ve gained a few inches and lots of technique. Beyond that, I’m more hopeful than ever that I’ll pull this off on a 10 foot rim in the near future.

Days 5-8: Accidental Extinction

Lia and I ran into problems after having put the starter in the fridge overnight, then feeding and discarding too aggressively – potentially to the point where we lost most of our active yeast.

The starter is not rising very quickly at all. It almost seems to be slowing down. And because it’s so hot these past few days and the starter has been living on the kitchen counter – I know our rise is not being stymied by the weather. We’ve done something wrong. I think the yeast really didn’t like being put in the fridge overnight. My previous starter (which I dearly miss now, I had it for over 2 years and it was like a pet), handled all sorts of temperature changes without breaking stride – it was consistently hungry and produced a reliable rise every time.

This new, young starter is seemingly more finicky.

So the plan now is to guard against extinction by letting it over-proof and look for signs that the starter has fully risen and fallen before feeding it again. And when we feed it, we’ll be more careful about not discarding too much. With my previous starter, I could dump the entire jar out and the remaining residue was powerful enough to cause explosive rise. With this new one, we’ll have to build its strength slowly before we start abusing it with cold exposure and aggressive discards during feeds.

Essentially, we can’t advance until we sort this out and get that quick rise where the starter triples or quadruples in size over a few hours (in hot temps, and closer to half a day in cold temps). It doesn’t matter whether we’re getting a good rise if it’s taking 24 hours to do it in hot weather. That just won’t ferment a larger amount of dough fast enough when it comes time to bake anything substantial.

Sourdough Demystified Day 4: Ramping Up To A HANGRY Starter

The mission here is to get the starter to a point where it’s rising as rapidly as possible because that’s going to result in bread that rises beautifully during fermentation and then again during baking.

To do this, we need the yeast to become HANGRY. And the more we feed them, the hangrier they get. They’re greedy – they’ll increase their rate of consumption to account for a surplus of available food (fresh flour and water).

As you’ll see in the video, we want to avoid excessive “over-proofing” – which is simply leaving the starter too long without feeding it. Over-proofing happens when the yeast consumes all the fresh dough (causing a nice rise) but then they run out of fresh dough to consume so they stop producing those fart bubbles. Without those gasses being produced by the yeast, the dough deflates and drops back down again.

The yeast also react to the lack of food by becoming less aggressive in the rate at which they consume fresh dough. So subsequent rises will be slower until the yeast adjust to surplus feedings again.

It’s not a big deal at all if the starter over-proofs. Over the long term, mine lives in a perpetual state of near-starvation in the fridge (with me only feeding it every week or two). Starters can survive like this indefinitely, the yeast is very resilient.

But when it comes time to bake something, that fast rise is crucial. So we need to feed the start a few times (discarding most of the starter each time we feed it) to get the yeast all voracious again.

NOTE: DO NOT PUT THE STARTER IN THE FRIDGE! I did this in the video and it was a mistake! It ruined it. The starter was too “young” and not yet fully established enough to tolerate the cold temperature yet. It seems that you should feed your starter at room temperature for a couple weeks before risking putting it in the fridge.

Once the starter is good and active/hangry/fast-rising – we can move onto the next step toward baking something, which is to build a levain.

Sourdough Demystified Day 3: Discard Some Starter and Feed

Today we’re seeing plenty of bubbles in the starter. These have caused the dough to rise, and indicate that we have now successfully captured wild yeast.

The dough has almost doubled

The starter will now have a noticeably more sour, almost vinegary smell to it.

Plenty of bubbles, some new yellow tones, and a frothier consistency

Depending on your flour and local temperature, your starter may not have reached this point yet. If this is the case, wait another day (or even two) to see if those bubbles develop. If they don’t, your flour is likely the problem.

Assuming your starter looks like ours does, all you need to do for now is remove and discard half of it – then add another heaping spoon of flour and enough water to get the starter back to that “thick peanut butter” consistency. The discarded starter can be composted, or mixed into pancake batter, fried and eaten if you’re feeling hungry).

Check the starter again later in the day, it may be sufficiently “active” – meaning the yeast is consuming the flour and water at a rapid enough rate – to use for creating the “leaven” (the next step toward baking something). 

Next up – Day 4: Ramping Up To A HANGRY Starter.

Sourdough Demystified Day 2: No Starter Activity Yet

Oh god the EXCITEMENT. We’re waiting to see bubbles in the dough and hoping to see it rise a little bit. None of that is happening yet, so today we’re just going to perhaps smell the starter for our own benefit. This will provide contrast for future starter sniffing because over the next few days the smell should begin to change dramatically. Tomorrow we’ll check it again to see if there has been activity. 

The next post is Day 3: Discard Some Starter and Feed.