BMB: No-Knead Wild Sourdough Boule

Kate’s first true sourdough loaf — no commercial yeast involved…Yay! Kate is the wild sourdough starter I began on New Year’s Day when I vowed to bake more breads. She’s only 3 months along, but doing well, don’t you think?!

This No-Knead Sourdough Boule — still warm from the oven is winging its way to Italy for Bread Baking Day #38, hosted this month from the gorgeous Lake Garda in northern Italy by Cinzia at CindystarCinzia is holding a “No-Knead Festival” and welcomes breads with ingredients of your choosing, as long as they are made using a variation of the no-knead method made famous by Jim Lahey of the old Sullivan Street Bakery. Bread Baking Day is that wonderful monthly collection of homemade breads from around the world, the brainchild of Zorra at 1x Umrühren BitteIf you’d like more inspiration for baking with sourdough starters, you’ll love Champa’s Round-up for last month’s Bread Baking Day: Breads Made with Sponge/Pre-Ferment.

I was happy to see that Cinzia chose no-knead breads as her theme because I’ve never actually baked one before. Sure, I followed the craze and drooled over everyone’s beautiful breads online over the last 4 years, but no, there was no actual bread. Now that I’ve finally unpacked my cocotte (Staub’s oval Dutch oven) and have a live and happy sourdough starter, this theme was perfect timing!

This recipe was adapted to use the flours I had on hand from one lovingly detailing the making of a no-knead sourdough loaf by Ann Marie at CheeseslaveBut the biggest difference between Ann Marie’s and this one is not really in the ingredients but in the timing — I did not have a chance to bake mine for 78 hours after the dough was assembled. That’s not a typo — it was over 3 days before I was able to bake. So to be honest, I was expecting this to be more a flattened brick than a nice airy boule.

My initial timing was thrown off when it took much longer to wake up Kate than I thought it would. Maybe because she’s a wild one — sourdough, that is. It was 10pm before I could use the activated starter for a dough, so I refrigerated the whole thing to retard the rise, hoping to bake in 28 hours or so. Life intervened in the form of workshops. Twenty-eight hours became forty-eight, then seventy-eight. Well, a retarded ferment is supposed to improve the bread’s flavor so I thought I would at least try baking it and maybe get an interesting flatbread. Maybe a useful doorstop.

Believe me when I say no one was more surprised than I, when the cover of the Dutch oven came off and I saw that crusty boule! I did sneak a taste already and this is the first loaf I’ve gotten from Kate with a very distinct sourdough tang. Not like the San Francisco sourdoughs I love best, but definitely along that vein. Guess there really is something to that long fermentation! The crust is surprisingly thin and crisp, with a little bit of a chew. The interior is bursting with flavor — yeasty with that tangy sourdoughness and good salt balance; and a moist yet airy crumb, with lots of toothsome mouth action.

I still can’t believe this worked out after such a long first rise. I can only guess that using the higher gluten bread flour and very gentle handling helped the dough cope with such a long ferment. Next experiment will be to do this again with the prescribed 18-hour ferment in the original recipe. Since this is my first go at the no-knead loaf, I have nothing with which to compare it.

Happy Baking, Everyone!

NO-KNEAD SOURDOUGH BOULE
Adapted from Cheeseslave
1 one-pound loaf

Note: Please read the full recipe before starting. You will need a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or other 5-6 quart pot with a tight-fitting lid to bake the bread, and a large colander and lint-less cotton or linen towel for the final rise. If you already have an active sourdough starter on hand, you will begin at least 20 hours before you intend to bake, but if you have to grow a starter it will add an extra 24 hours on top of that to your prep time, so plan ahead.

¼ cup (40g) **active sourdough starter (for growing a wild sourdough starter [like Kate], I used this one from Know Whey)
12 oz (355 ml) filtered water, at room temperature
12 oz bread (340g) bread flour (aka strong or Typ 550 flour)
4 oz (112g) whole wheat flour
1 tsp. sea salt
rice flour, for dusting (I used mochiko, a glutinous rice flour)

**Make sure you wake up your starter by feeding it with equal parts of flour and water about 8 hours before you intend to make the dough. (You will find more information about activating a starter here.)

In a glass or other non-reactive bowl or cup, combine water and active sourdough starter and set aside.

In a large glass, ceramic or other non-reactive bowl mixing bowl, whisk together both flours and sea salt. Add starter and stir together with a wood spoon, or other non-reactive stirrer.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for at least 18 hours. If you would like to retard the ferment at this stage, you can place the covered bowl in the refrigerator. As I mentioned above, I unintentionally left the dough to ferment for over 3 days (78 hours) and my loaf still came out well. This may have been possible because of the bread flour (as opposed to regular all-purpose in the original Lahey recipe), but just know that if you exceed 18 hours fermentation, the dough might still be saved!

If the dough is refrigerated, bring it to room temperature for an hour before proceeding.

Place a clean, fragrance-free cotton or linen kitchen towel (do not use terry cloth) in a large colander, and sprinkle the towel generously with rice flour.

When the fermentation period is over, sprinkle all-purpose or bread flour generously on your clean countertop. Very gently, coax your dough out of the bowl and onto the countertop.

Still gently, fold the dough on itself, like folding a piece of paper in half. Do not press or you will lose some of those wonderful large holes in your dough. Rotate the dough mass 90 degrees and fold again. Rotate once more and fold a third time. Resist the urge to press on or knead the bubble-filled dough.

Gently cradle the dough and lift it into the prepared cloth-lined colander with the fold seam sides down. Cover the colander with an oiled plastic cover. (Hint: If you have a cheap, never used shower cap (like the ones you might find in a hotel), it makes a great cover because it is domed and unlikely to touch your rising dough.) Set your timer for one hour.

When timer goes off, place the covered pot on the middle rack of the oven and pre-heat to 500F/260C. Note: It is not necessary to prep the pot in any way; if the pot is properly heated, the crust will set and release cleanly when the bread is done. Set timer again for 30 minutes.

When timer goes off, remove Dutch oven from the oven.

Take lid off of pot. Using the kitchen towel as a sling, gently (always gently!) lift out the dough and turn over the dough so it is now on the bottom of the Dutch oven. The seam from the foldings, which had been on the bottom of the colander, should now be on top of the loaf. Instead of having to slash the loaf, the seams will form a natural place for the loaf to open as it rises in the oven! Pretty cool, no?

Cover Dutch oven with lid, return to oven, and reduce heat to 450F/232C. Set timer for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove lid and reduce heat again to 400F/200C. Bake for another 15 minutes. Test by rapping on the bottom of the loaf — if it sounds hollow, it’s ready!

Cool on wire rack. Admire your gorgeous loaf and marvel at how easy it was to make. Walk away if you feel the temptation to slice it while it’s still warm. Go to another room. Leave the house if you must.

When cooled, slice and savor — your just reward for waiting 24 hours (or more!) for this flavorful, moist and chewy bread. I love nothing more than to dip this in a nice extra virgin olive oil, maybe with a mixture of herbs and spices — try an Arbequina EVOO, a spicy, grassy olive oil available under the California Estate label at Trader Joe’s. We also added a za’atar spice blend which included hyssop, sumac and sesame that balance the peppery notes in the oil quite nicely. Delish!