Photo Credit: Johanna Hellrigl
Johanna Hellrigl is Executive Chef of Mercy Me a sorta South American cafe, restaurant and bar located in the Yours Truly Hotel in Washington D.C. During the pandemic, Chef Hellrigl gave away more than 800 sourdough starters to perfect strangers in exchange for their support of local restaurants and small food businesses.
If you can’t stop in at Mercy Me for Johanna’s Medialuna, an Argentinian croissant, then you can certainly find her, and all her great advice, on Instagram @chefjohannahellrigl
TIPS FROM A PRO:
- When feeding your starter, I recommend using filtered water and a good bread flour. Tap water these days in the city is full of chlorine and it will help to use water that is not chlorinated. An unbleached bread flour is fine for every day or every week (stored in the fridge) feeding - but if you feel like your starter needs some love, a good rye flour for a feeding or two should revive it.
- There are so many things that go into making a sourdough bread that following a recipe to a T might not always come out the way you expect it. Trust your intuition and feel your dough out - as well as your environment. You need a warmer home to make your feedings and foldings go as planned. So sometimes having the oven off with the light on helps give it a boost if you run a colder home.
- You need a good vessel with a lid to bake your sourdough in. You can use a Dutch oven with a lid, but in order to get the perfect boule shape every time - I enjoy using the Homer cast iron pot with the glass lid from Butter Pat. It allows you to get the steam you need to help your sourdough bread rise with the lid on - and then the crunchy crust you want with the lid off.
- I recommend preheating your oven for at least an hour with your baking vessel inside of the oven. That will really help set the shape and crust up for success! I will usually preheat at 500F for at least an hour and then drop down to 475F to bake for 20 minutes with the boule inside and lid on and then bake with the lid off at 450F for 20-30 minutes more depending on bread.
Day Before Baking your Sourdough:
In the Morning, Make your Levain:
60g Sourdough Starter (fed the day prior, room temperature)
60g Unbleached White Bread Flour
60g Filtered Water, Room Temp
Mix ingredients together, cover and place in a warm place. It should at least double, if not triple in amount. This can take around 6 hours. You can test if your levain is ready by placing a small spoonful in a glass of water. If it floats, it is ready.
Mise en Place your Dough Ingredients:
910g Unbleached White Bread Flour
680g Filtered Water, Room Temp
180g Levain (already prepared above, wait until ready)
30g Reserved Filtered Water, Room Temp
Rice Flour, Parchment Paper, Proofing Baskets or Metal Bowls, Kitchen Towels, Dutch Ovens, Semolina Flour (Optional), Baking Stone (Optional)
2 Hour Autolyse:
About two hours before you are ready to use your levain, mix together flour and 680g of water in a large metal bowl until it is fully incorporated. Use your hands to do this. Cover the bowl with a towel and let the mixture rest. At the end of the two hours you should see that your dough is elastic when you try to stretch it. You want your dough to be at 75F if you stuck a thermometer inside it so keep that in mind when it comes to your water and flour temperature, as well as the temperature of your house.
Mixing the Rest of your Dough:
With your hands, fold in the 180g of the levain to your mixture. Add the remaining reserved 30g of water and the salt and squeeze and pinch it through as much as possible.Your dough will at first loosen, separate and then come back together. At this time take your dough out of the bowl and place it on a clean counter. This is where you start the slap fold method. You will pick up your dough and slam it back on the counter and then take the top of the dough and fold it over the bottom. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and do the same thing over. Keep repeating this for several minutes until the dough starts to get stronger. Gluten is forming and your dough will come together more and more from this motion. If you don’t feel comfortable with this method, then you can achieve the same thing by folding it over and over in the bowl until the dough gets stronger. For the remaining fold, fold it four times pulling from each side over the opposite end, like an envelope, before lifting it up from the bowl and pressing it in from the sides back into the bowl to create a more structured circle. Cover with a towel for resting.
Warm Bulk Fermentation:
Your dough is now covered and needs to rest for 30 minutes before you implement your next folding. You will need to fold it four times pulling from each side over the opposite end, like an envelope, before lifting it up from the bowl and pressing it in from the sides back into the bowl to create a more structured circle every 30 minutes. It could take as little as 3 fold, but as many as 10- what you are looking for is that your dough is holding together more structure since it is a wet dough. It is important to remember to be gentle with your dough, but not too gentle that you can't get the dough to take shape. It can depend on the temperature of your house. When you finish your folds, let the dough rest for another hour or hour and a half- this will depend on how many folds you did. The last time I made this recipe it took me almost 6 hours total. You should see a couple bubbles. At this point you have two options.
1) You can place it in the fridge in the same bowl for cold bulk fermentation covered with plastic wrap and a towel. The next day take your dough out of the fridge and out on the counter with flour underneath. Divide the dough in half and gently shape. Shape your dough into the shape you would like for your proofing basket by folding the dough, turning over and shaping. You will need to cover your basket in rice flour before placing it inside this and you will need to make sure the crease side of the folds is up, essentially turning the dough back over after shaping. Cover the dough with a towel until ready to bake. Could take about an hour while your oven is preheating. You will know that they are proofed when you poke your finger in the dough and it doesn't spring back quickly, but does come back slowly- yet still leaving a slight indent in the dough.This option is best if you are tired because you starter this process later in the day, you are limited on proofing baskets/ bowls, you have time the next day to bake and take your time, or you want to save the baking for more than 24 hours (you could bake this bread the day after instead).
2) You can divide your dough in half and shape the doughs with the folds necessary for your proofing basket. You will need to cover your basket in rice flour before placing it inside this and you will need to make sure the crease side of the folds is up. Place it covered with a towel and a plastic bag in the fridge overnight. Don't take the dough out until just before you are ready to bake and the oven is preheated. This option is better if you are baking immediately the next morning and have less time since you will only need to wait an hour before baking for the oven to preheat.
Baking your Bread:
If you have a baking stone, place it on the bottom rack of your oven. On the middle lower rack place your dutch oven(s) with their covers on. Preheat your oven to 500F, wait at least an hour to make sure your oven is at temperature. When you are ready, place parchment paper town on the counter and sprinkle with semolina flour (or rice flour). Turn your proofing basket over on top of the semolina (or rice flour) parchment paper. Use a lame or a sharp box cutter to score your dough. It is important to get at least a larger deep score on a batard and the rest can be more about design, or deep scores on a boule- even if with a design. Take out your dutch ovens and place dough on parchment paper inside and place the cover back on. If you have two dutch ovens, bake at the same time. If not, score one at a time and bake one at a time. Place the dutch oven(s) inside the oven and turn the temperature down to 475F and set the timer for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes remove the lid(s) and turn down the temperature to 450F. Bake uncovered for 25-35 minutes until a nice crust has formed and you reach an internal temperature of 210 F. Remove from the oven and dutch oven(s) when ready and place on the rack to cool. Wait at least a couple hours for the bread to cool before slicing. Store as you wish on the counter, but for the long term I recommend slicing and placing in Ziploc in the freezer to toast as needed.
Recipe courtesy of Chef Johanna Hellrigl