Last winter, inspired by an episode of the Netflix documentary series Cooked (featuring journalist Michael Pollan), my husband Mark began experimenting with creating sourdough bread — from scratch. Which is to say that he didn’t purchase or obtain his sourdough-starter culture from another source, he simply began the natural fermentation process here at home, with flour and water, feeding the starter everyday until it eventually reached the desired level of acidity.
With his culture in place, he then began experimenting with all kind of flours, eventually settling on a combination of King Arthur-brand bread flour and an ancient wheat called Einkorn, which he mills himself into flour. He has been perfecting this loaf ever since — spurred further by a friend of ours who used to live near San Francisco, and who misses that city’s famous bread. She became one of his main taste-testers, and recently she initiated a blind tasting in which Mark’s bread competed with several high-quality loaves of sourdough that were delivered overnight from San Fran to her home here in Pennsylvania. The result? In a double-blind test, Mark’s bread tied for favorite with one of the California loaves.
Today, when he came home from work at lunchtime to bake, I photographed his bread (the pictures you see here) before he took it with him to give to his co-workers. They actually form a queue, waiting for him to deliver it on the days when they know he is baking. Since he has become quite expert at it, and so diligent about the process, I asked him to describe what motivated him to pursue it in the first place, and what continues to motivate him now. His answer: “I’m fascinated by how people did things the very first time [in the history of a practice], and what I discovered is that bread will basically make itself. Flour and water will eventually ferment and bubble, and then you can heat it up and make leavened bread. It might not be the greatest, but there you have it.”
And as for why he continues to do it, he says, “I like that it’s very simple — not necessarily easy, but simple. And people love it. It’s something I can do as an ongoing lightweight hobby.”
For other enthused bakers, I thought I would include his recipe and baking notes on his most successful loaf to date. See below:
White with 20% Einkorn Sourdough
60% hydration bread flour – current best result 1/25/2017
400g King Arthur bread flour
100g whole wheat einkorn
20g culture at 100% hydration
Stretch and fold until smooth in several sessions. The culture was fed 4 times per day for two days to vitalize it. It was previously smelling very sour and cheesy with a membrane on the surface. The previous loaves were sluggish. The dough was started about 8pm. I formed the boule at midnight and baked at noon. Heavily floured the linen lining of banneton with whole Einkorn flour; especially the center. Total ferment time was 16 hours. The dough rose to nearly fill a banneton in 12 hours in the basement at ~60 degrees with the edges rounded showing gas pressure. I made three radial cuts. The loaf displayed good oven spring. Preheated to 500, baked at 450 in my lodge dutch oven covered for 15 minutes, then uncovered for 15 minutes. I sprayed water inside of the dutch oven cover about 8 times.