The Sourdough Process – Day 3: Bake Day

by Heather

When baking sourdough, three days are required. “What?” I can hear you crying. “I thought you said this was easy?!” I promised you it is, and I stand by that. Keep reading!

Day 1 is Leaven Day.

Day 2 is Prep Day.

Day 3 is Bake Day, which is the topic of today’s discussion.

On Bake Day, the fermented loaves get baked. Easy peasy!

Three Freshly Baked Sourdough Boules

Today is my favorite of all three days. Why? The obvious reason is fresh bread!! The other reason is that I get to do all the fun stuff today (scoring, smelling, eating) with none of the work.

Bake Day can be approached in one of two ways.

One way is to bake all three loaves back-to-back-to-back, and you’ll have three loaves of bread within three hours.

This option sounds great in theory but personally after spending most of yesterday at home, I don’t really want to do that again. Any mom with a toddler will completely agree with me. Those little monsters need to get their wiggles out, and as special as yesterday was for bonding and fun playtime, they’re kind of over it by today (and frankly, so am I).

So, the other way to bake your loaves is to do what I do: bake one or two today and save the other one or two to bake tomorrow.

I prefer this method for 3 reasons:

1) It’s less time in the kitchen all at once.
2) The tomorrow-baked loaves are fresher and refrigeration is optional.
3) A loaf that sits in the fridge for 36 hours versus 18 hours will have a more pronounced sour flavor, which my husband loves.

That said, don’t go for the gusto and leave loaf #3 in the fridge for three days.

Trust me.

I’ve already made this mistake for you, and here’s what happened: the yeasts and bacteria can only munch away for so long before their food source disappears, they cease their activity, and the dough essentially dies. My result was a loose, runny dough that was frustrating to score and failed to rise.

Surprisingly though, the flat, sad-looking loaf I pulled from the oven actually tasted really good. We enjoyed a few toasted slices and made croutons from the rest. This is what I mean when I say that sourdough is super forgiving.

So once I decide how many loaves I will bake, I pull those from the fridge and just let them warm to room temperature for 30-60 minutes.

Sourdough Dough Ready to Bake

While they’re warming, I preheat my oven with the combo cooker inside. Then I’m off doing something else with the kids until my oven beeps to tell me it’s preheated.

This next step takes two minutes. I grab a proofing basket and tip the dough upside down onto a small cutting board. The linen gets peeled off, a light dusting of flour gets rubbed on, and the loaf is scored. Then the oven is opened, the loaf slides off the cutting board and into the shallow pan (with parchment paper), the cover goes on and the oven is shut. I reduce the temperature of the oven and set my timer for 15 minutes.

And off I go with the kids again.

When the timer goes off I open the oven, take out the combo cooker lid, and shut the door. The lid comes off because the bread only needs that precious, precious steam for the first 15 minutes. Then the timer gets set again, this time for 30 minutes. This is the part where the bread gets very crispy, dark and golden brown.

Taking the Lid Off the Cooker

I take a minute to wash up from the last step. I use squares of thick linen, so I give those a rinse and hang them to dry. If you used a linen towel, just toss it in the laundry basket. I rinse the proofing basket under warm water and clean anything else that got flour all over it.

My kitchen is clean again, and I off I go with the kiddos, this time frantically trying to get them ready to go to the library/park/playdate/workout/store/appointment since the bread will be done soon.

Once the timer goes off, my first loaf is done! I slide it onto a cooling rack and, quickly and carefully, wipe the flour and crumbs out of the pan with a kitchen towel. I turn off the oven and leave the combo cooker on the stove to cool completely, but if you want to keep baking, you would just throw the pan and lid into the stove to preheat again, and repeat the process.

Sourdough Bread Boule Freshly Baked

My favorite part is listening to the faint crackling sound of the loaf as it’s cooling; Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery call this “the song of bread”.

My boule (aka loaf) hangs out on the cooling rack until I get home. I store mine in gallon size ziploc bags.

And there you have it! Fresh sourdough bread, baked by you, for your family.

When you say it out loud – “It takes three days” – it seems impossible, but the days themselves are pretty non-committal. You only need to pop into the kitchen every so often.

Plus, if my schedule doesn’t work for you, change it up and make it your own! Maybe you bake a loaf in the morning, then two in the evening. Or maybe you bake all three in the first evening. Or maybe your kids are in school and you have the morning to bake all three loaves.

I wish you the best of luck with your sourdough baking. I would love to hear what your own sourdough process is, and why it works for you!

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