Long-Rise Sourdough Bread

Some problems I have encountered in making sourdough bread are:

  1. If the dough is slack enough produce bread with an open crumb structure, it tends to flatten out during rising and baking.
  2. The dough surface dries out during rising, particularly since sourdough takes longer to rise than yeasted bread.
  3. Rising is relative slow at room temperature.
  4. Room temperature is not always constant.
  5. The rise needs go to completion for sourdough flavors to fully develop.

These problems are addressed with the following procedure:

Formed dough has been covered with seeds, set on oil-coated foils, cut in a pattern with a scalpel, and lifted with foils into baskets. Each foil had previously been rolled over iron wire at two ends. Hoops of wire were formed by bending, and hooking at ends, so as to form foil liners, in the shape of the baskets, with iron wire handles/reinforcements at the tops. Heavy duty aluminum foil is best.

After a single rise in the incubator, the loaves are ready to be lifted with the foils (by means of the iron wire) onto the peel and transferred with the foils to a 500 degree F. baking stone at the bottom of the oven. These loaves rose about eight hours in the incubator between 75 and 80 degrees F. The top of the incubator (faintly visible at the top of the picture) is the bottom of a transparent plastic sweater box.

After baking 40 minutes at about 400 degrees F., the loaves were brushed with olive oil and returned to the oven for five minutes. For even browning, the foils may be removed after 25 minutes of baking, and the loaves placed upside down on a high shelf to complete the bake. Each of these loaves weighs 1.5 pounds, is 8 inches in diameter, and a bit over 4 inches tall at the center. Using the foils gives the loaves a good shape in spite of the long rise, and a rather loose dough.

The incubator is made from a sweater box, a 100 watt hot tray, and a thermostat taken from a coffee pot. The thermostat needed some work with a file so it could be set to low temperature. Temperatures in the incubator cycle over a considerable range, but the temperature of the rising loaves remains reasonably constant. (It is important, however, that the low temperature of the thermostatted range not be below ambient.) A primary function of the incubator is to keep the loaves from drying out during the long rise. Cutting before the rise is almost a necessity as the risen loaves are quite delicate. The seeds were applied before cutting by wetting (spritzing) the top of the formed dough, and pressing it into a shallow tray full of seeds (in this case, including zarthar, which, with the olive oil, has imparted a green caste.)

Dick Adams - Nov. '97 (Rev. June '03)