If you think you have to have a bunch of equipment or even sourdough starter to begin making artisan bread while staying home to #StaySafe, think again. Mike Greenfield of Pro Home Cooks made these handsome loaves without all that stuff and even without his sourdough start.
He explained his difficult situation when he had to move out of his apartment in a day:
“I packed my car full to the brim and I couldn’t fit any of my sourdough equipment including my sourdough starter.”
Greenfield, who maintains a studio kitchen in his Brooklyn apartment, where he operates his SourdoughU, said that COVID-19 had forced him to move so that this was his third kitchen in the last few weeks. But the inadequate kitchen he landed in was not about to stop him from keeping the #SourdoughChallenge to keep on baking.
I follow Greenfield on YouTube and Instagram because he is a fun dude who has some very practical, new ideas about baking. I also subscribe to his newsletter.
This week he explained the predicament his move caused, but he felt the “show” must go on. I like his video because it encourages us all to start now, wherever we are and whatever we are during this pandemic, to begin making real bread at home.
So if you have 25 minutes, you might enjoy watching the video above. It will help you grow a sourdough start beginning today and bake your own bread by next weekend.
I know that growing my own start during our state’s shutdown was quite empowering. So watching Greenfield grow his start from scratch, move into a new kitchen for the third time in two weeks without his cooking gear, and make bread anyway certainly meets my criteria for the #SourdoughChallenge.
Baking Bread Without Equipment
The following is a summary of both the video and his newsletter:
Greenfield wrote that there is one good thing about staying home to be safe. That is, “more people have time to … dedicate time to making food from scratch. “So many people,” he writes, have “been making more sourdough for the first time. Since I have been making sourdough for years now I have a whole set of different kinds of equipment to use to bake the perfect loaf but some of you guys are just starting out. You might not have all the equipment to bake the ‘perfect’ sourdough loaf and that’s okay.”
As he evacuated, he thought there might be a few pieces of equipment he would like from his well-stocked kitchen. But he thought, “there’s probably so many beginners out there that are getting into sourdough that can’t go to the store right now. I want to help you along by showing some cool hacks to making great sourdough with no equipment.”
“No bench scraper, banneton, or dutch oven? No problem!”
Making a Starter From Scratch
Of course, he began by taking a clean jar and adding a few scoops of flour and some water. He did this by feel without measuring, creating “a mixture somewhere around a pancake and a cake batter.” Afterward, he sent these instructions:
“Start by combining equal parts of flour and water by volume (about ¼ cup of flour) in a jar and let it sit on your countertop for one day. You are really looking for a cake batter consistency. After one day you should start to see small bubbles starting to form.
“Then feed it again with equal parts of flour and water and let it sit for another day. For day two you should start to see even more bubbles but it probably doesn’t smell too sour which is totally okay.
“For day three, give it another feeding of equal parts of flour and water and let it sit on your counter overnight.
“On day four, you should see it really rise. Discard half of your starter by making a sourdough pancake and give it another feeding of equal parts of flour and water. You should also be able to start to smell some sour notes coming through.
“Begin feeding your starter twice a day so that it starts to become really active for about two to three days. After that you have a completely new starter and you are ready to begin your sourdough journey.
Time to Make Bread
In the video, he explained that he had been feeding his starter for about a week since moving here. “It’s been pretty active over the last few days and it’s the weekend (even though there really aren’t weekends at this point in life), it feels like the right time to bread.”
It was just after 8 AM the day he wanted to bake. So he poured off about half of his start to make one of his sesame scallion pancakes and he gave the starter “a solid feeding.” Then he went for a long run to escape his quarantined feeling.
“Generally a starter takes four to seven hours to activate. And I know that’s a big timeframe, but this is fermentation. It depends on the temperature in your house, and the activity oF your starter.
“We have a good chunk of time in there. So I’m going to go for a little run, get out of quarantine. I’ll put a rubber band on the sourdough starter and put a time-lapse on there and we’ll see what happens over the next few hours.”
(The time-lapse begins at about 7:30 in the video and is fun to watch.)
Autolyse and Dough
The starter was nearly ready when he returned, so he started mixing the water and flour for the autolyse. “It’s great to have specific measurements in the beginning,” he said, “but over time you will get used to the feel of things, the look of things and you can basically hone in on hydration levels of your dough just by looking at it, just by feeling it.”
These were his follow-up email instructions:
- “For the autolyse start, combine 4 cups of flour, 2 cups of whole wheat flour, and 3 ½ cups of water. At this point, it should be super sticky so let it autolyse for 45 minutes.
“Next, fold in your salt as well as your sourdough starter.
“All right, so we are entering in to the stretch and fold process and when you’re making sourdough bread, you’re not kneading it like normal bread because you want to keep that air in your bread so you get those nice bubbles.
“Over the next two, two and a half hour period, we’re going to be just gently stretching the dough and folding it over, stretching and folding it over. Just like this motion [pictured here]. You just want to do it a few times until your dough starts to tighten up. Then we’re ready to let this dough rest for another 45 minutes. Then we’ll go at it again.
- “Let it rest for 30 mins before starting your stretch and fold process. Over the next 2 – 2 ½ hour period you will give your dough 4 stretches and folds.
“Once you have finished you stretch and fold, you can start your bulk rise for about 5 – 6 hours. You will see the texture of the bread really change at the end of this step.
“So getting the proper bulk rise is something that people mess up a lot. They don’t give it the proper time to bulk rise. A lot of recipes will tell you three to four hours. I say two to six hours depending on the temperature. Two or three degrees could totally slow down your bulk rise by an hour or two. So it’s really something that you have to look for. Just keep an eye on this every hour, see how much it’s rising up to double in size.
Now you are ready to start shaping your dough, so lightly flour your surface and cut your dough in half with a knife. Shape your dough into a tight ball by using the stickiness of the dough to create tension.
“If you don’t have a banneton, grab a large enough bowl lined with a clean towel. Dust it with flour and your makeshift banneton is ready to go.
- “Before you move your dough over to the banneton, sprinkle some sesame seeds and poppy seeds onto a plate and roll your dough on top of the sesame seeds. This helps with flavor and makes your dough more nonstick!
- Grab a large metal spatula (makeshift bench scraper) to transfer your dough over to your banneton.
- “So the final step before we bake this is we’re going to wrap these up and we’re going to put them in the fridge and proof them overnight. Now you could proof these at room temperature for two, three hours until they’re ready for the oven. But because it’s late, I don’t want to wait for that. And also by slowing down the proofing in their refrigerator, you’re going to be developing more flavor in your loaves, a better color. I’m always a big fan of the overnight proof.
“I also like proofing them overnight because it’s a great feeling going to bed, knowing you’re waking up and baking sourdough bread. Something about it is very natural. I feel like a real baker waking up early and getting those things in the oven.
- “Once your dough has proofed and passed the poke test, you can turn your oven to 500°F (260°C).
- “Flip your bread out onto a parchment paper, with a sharp knife score it, and bake for 40 minutes.
To bake the bread, Greenfield used a pizza stone and a baking tray with ice to create steam. “When it comes to baking sourdough at home,” he says, “most people use a Dutch oven to mimic a proper baking oven for two specific reasons. One, they’re super thick so they can retain a lot of heat. All of that thermal mass gets absorbed into the metal. Then, when you put your bread on it, heat is transferred to the bread, which helps with the spring.
“Also by having a lid on the Dutch oven when the bread bakes and releases steam. Trapping in steam helps with the oven spring and also helps with the color of the bread. But,” he wrote, “unfortunately I don’t have my Dutch oven. I couldn’t fit in the car when I moved here. So the best element that I could find in this kitchen was a pizza stone that I am going preheat at 500 degrees for at least 45 minutes.”
He added a cup of ice in the tray below the stone. Then, he placed the bread on the stone with the parchment for 20 minutes. After that, he turned the heat down to 450°F for an additional 20 minutes without steam. This firmed up the bread and caramelized the surface. After baking, he cooled the bread for an hour and cut it, saying, “so overall, you know a pretty good loaf, not a perfect loaf, but I’ve got no baking equipment and that was a fresh sourdough starter that I made that a week ago.
“So I’m happy with these results [without my supplies] … but this is still delicious bread. It just might not look like the prettiest bread I’ve ever made, but I’m fine with that in quarantine with none of my equipment. That’s good bread. That’s really good bread, good crust, good crumb, super moist.
Click for his full video on baking sourdough with no equipment!
With all that, it seems there is no excuse for not taking the #SourdoughChallenge during the quarantine, equipment or not. Tell us what makes you happy about your sourdough journey during these strange times in the comment section below.