Some months ago I’ve been given some sourdough or, more precisely, some mother dough (as it was not a brand-new pre-ferment, but fermented dough from a previous batch). I’m so happy with this present and with the baked goods I’ve been cranking out for the past few months, that I’d like to write down a couple of tips on how to use it. Apart from writing an abortive theoretical essay, I’d also love to give it out: if you’re Prague-based and reasonably baking-obsessed, please contact me, come pick it up at my place and follow these simple instructions to let it prosper and make the most of it. Please note that the following techniques, doses, rise time, etc. are arbitrary and heavily dependent e.g. on the stiffness of the mother dough itself (mine is rather stiff), the temperature in your flat, the frequency of the refreshments, the types of flour used…, thus feel free to adjust them accordingly.
100 g mother dough
50 g warm water
1 tsp cane sugar*
100 g wheat flour
Ingredients (basic dough):
150 g refreshed mother dough
400-500 g flour**
200-250 ml warm water
1 tsp cane sugar*
extra-virgin olive oil
*or rice syrup, maple syrup…
**this amount depends on the flours used and on their will to collaborate in the rising process.
Refresh the mother dough: dissolve the mother dough, along with the sugar, in warm water, beating with a fork in a circular motion or by hand. As soon as you get rid of possible lumps, gradually add the flour and hand knead. Once you obtain a non sticky ball, let it rest in a bowl, covered by a blanket, in a place without draughts (e.g. heat the oven at the lowest setting for one or two minutes, then turn it off and place the dough in the oven) for at least 4 hours (its volume is supposed to double/triple). After this, take 150 g of refreshed mother dough and set aside, put the rest in a large glass jar, seal it and put it into the fridge.
Make the dough: proceed in a similar way as before, i.e. dissolve the refreshed mother dough in warm water (in a large bowl), add a pinch of sugar, salt, oil and gradually add the flour, hand kneading continuously. Your dough is ready as soon as you get a ball which is not sticky and which is reactive to your finger, that is, if you poke your finger about 1-2 cm into the dough, there shouldn’t be dough stuck to your finger, moreover the dough should “react” and fill in relatively quickly. Shape the dough as you please (bread loaf, baps, focaccia, pizza…) and let it rest in the oven (as before) for about 6 hours.
“Baking bread”: remove the dough from the oven, pre-heat the oven (250°C) and, as soon as it reaches the desired temperature, put both a bowl full of water and your dough into it. The water helps you get a softer bread, whose crust is not marble. Bake for an opportune time interval: it depends on the size, the filling (nuts, seeds, olives, sun-dried tomatoes…), etc., but you know your bread is ready as soon as it turns golden-brown and it gives off an unmistakable aroma.
- if you have time/patience, I recommend refreshing your mother dough twice before baking: it will become incomparably stronger!
- should the crust turn out too hard (despite the water trick), I recommend wrapping your bread in a wet tea towel right after you bake it and letting it rest overnight: this will soften the crust and make it chewier.
In order not to kill the mother dough, you should refresh it ideally at least once every 5-7 days (if you store it in the fridge!). It’s even possible to freeze it, but it takes a while to resuscitate it when you need it again: after taking it out of the freezer, you should first let it rest in the fridge for 24 hours; after this, take it out of the fridge and refresh it once every 2 days, for about a week or so (keeping it out of the fridge). After one week, it becomes strong again and ready for baking.