The magic of the sourdough 'pre-ferment'
If you abandoned sourdough when the pandemic lockdowns lifted, now's your chance to reclaim it.
By Lisa Brunette
Note: Due to a Substack glitch, a draft version of this post was sent out to our list prematurely, so some of you might have seen that earlier one already, for which we apologize.
For this season’s giveaway, I’ve been sneaking you peeks of Kate Downham’s über-helpful kitchen reference A Year in the Off-Grid Kitchen, including a guest post from the author herself. As promised, I’d now like to introduce you to the magic of the sourdough ‘pre-ferment.’
There are a lot of sourdough videos and how-to’s out there, but Kate’s book is the only source I’ve seen that calls for an overnight ferment. And that makes all the difference.
The method is simply this: You begin with 1/4 cup of active sourdough starter, combining it with nearly half the flour you’ll use to make bread (or pizza dough, or whatever you’re after), along with enough water to make a thick but not dry dough. It should be wet enough to stir but dry enough to support a lightweight wooden spoon standing on end in the mixture.
By soaking much of the flour the night before, the yeasties get a jump-start on activation, the flour has a chance to ferment (and is easier to digest), and you save time and effort. This method also allows you to skip kneading the dough, cutting down on the energy and time for that. I understand if you truly enjoy kneading dough and want to do it anyway... But if you’re like me, you’re busy enough as it is!
Step-by-step instructions for a basic sourdough loaf
1/4 cup active sourdough starter (it should be bubbly, at least, when you vigorously stir it, and even better if it’s foaming)
3 cups water
5 3/4 cups whole grain flour1 (divided as 3 c and 2 3/4 c, depending on the type of flour you use)
2 teaspoons salt
The night before:
In a large bowl, combine the sourdough starter with 3 cups water.
Mix in 2 3/4 cup flour and stir, forming a thick batter. Kate says for fine-ground flours, this batter should be thick enough for the “spoon test” I mentioned above: Can you stand a wooden spoon on end? For course flours, it should look like a porridge. It’s better for this mixture to be a bit wet rather than dry, so keep it in a state that requires leaving it in a bowl; don’t add so much flour that you’d need to turn it out onto a floured board. Leave this to ferment for 12 hours, or overnight.
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