Recipe: Artisan Herbal Sourdough

If you’re like me and have fully embraced the quarantine sourdough movement, here’s a spin on the classic loaf. Adding in a cup of finely chopped herbs at the autolyse stage results in slightly flavored, tangy bread.

With a little patience and some Shephard’s Grain flour, I’ve been getting great results with this recipe, even as a novice baker.

If you find yourself with a frothy starter and a handful of herbs, give it a try. This recipe calls for rosemary, but you can substitute for other herbs. For a stronger herbal flavor, try using a woody herb, like thyme, sage, or rosemary, the flavors of which compete equally well with the tang of the sourdough.

I’ll walk through the whole process, about 36 hours, which is mostly a waiting game with little 5-minute spurts of work interspersed. If you start your levain Friday evening, you’ll have 2 fresh loaves for breakfast Sunday morning.

INGREDIENTS

  • For the levain
    • 1 T sourdough starter
    • 100 g bread flour
    • 100 g warm water
  • For the dough
    • 800 g bread flour
    • 200 g whole wheat flour
    • 700 g warm water
    • 1/3c rosemary, finely chopped
  • Salt
    • 20 g salt
    • 50 g warm water
  • Flour for shaping and dusting (I prefer rice flour for the towels)

Friday evening: Levain

Prepare the levain (a preferment made of water, flour and a spoonful of your sourdough starter culture). Weigh out your water and flour, then mix in your starter until there’s no dry flour left. Cover and let sit on your counter overnight.

Saturday morning, say, 9am: Autolyse

Autolyse is the gentle mixing of flour and water in a bread recipe, followed by a 30-60 minute rest period. This process allows the flour to fully hydrate, for gluten bonds to begin to form without kneading, and for fermentation to proceed slowly resulting in a fuller flavor. There are several different methods for an autolyse with different wait times. I haven’t experimented much yet, but this one seems to work well.

Weigh out the 800g and 200g of flour and add to a large bowl (you will rise your dough in this bowl so it needs to be twice the size as the ingredients). Add the chopped rosemary and mix with a whisk to combine.

Add the 700 g warm water and fold with a rubber spatula to form a shaggy dough. It will be shaggy and won’t come together, but just make sure all the flour gets mixed in.

Cover and let sit in a warm space for 1 hour. I live in a drafty farm house, so unless we have the wood stove going, I’ll turn my oven on to the warm setting for 1-2 minutes, shut it off and place the bowl in the oven.

Saturday 10 am: Add the salt

Weigh out the salt and sprinkle over the top of the dough. Add the remaining 50 g of warm water and use your fingers to pinch the dough to incorporate the salt. I turn the dough over a few times and pinch the underside.

Cover again and let sit for 1 hour in a warm space.

Saturday 11 am: Stretch and fold, three times every 30 min.

Your dough should be taking shape now. Place the bowl in front of you and scrape your fingers down the side of the bowl to the underside. Gently pull up on the dough, bring it towards you and fold over the top of the dough. Turn the bowl a few degrees and repeat until you come full circle.

Cover the bowl and place it back in its warm space. Repeat this process every 30 minutes, for 1.5 hours total.

Saturday 12:30 pm: Bulk ferment

Cover the dough and let rise for 3-5 hours until its about double in size.

Saturday 4:30 pm: Shape the dough

On a floured surface (be generous here), scrape out the dough and sprinkle / roll with flour so it’s no longer sticky. Cut the dough in half with a sharp knife.

For each ball of dough, stretch and fold the dough, turn 90 degrees and repeat until you come full circle.

Flip the ball over and using a scraper (large spatula can work here too), scrape the edges of the dough underneath the ball to form a tight skin.

Be sure there’s plenty of flour underneath the dough, cover with a towel and let rest for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare two bread cloths with flour. A thin, finely woven towel will do. Sprinkle flour over the towel and rub it around. Again, be generous here. You will wrap your dough in this towel and if it’s not properly floured the dough will stick to the towel. I prefer rice flour here, as it doesn’t get absorbed into the dough as easily and keeps your towel from sticking to the dough.

Saturday 5:00 pm: Form the dough

Flip the dough balls onto the floured towels, seam side up and set into a proofing basket. I don’t have proofing baskets, so I place them into round bowls, larger than the dough. Carefully fold the towels over the dough, cover and let rest for 30 minutes.

Saturday 5:30 pm: Chill the dough

Chilling the dough, slows the fermentation and develops a more tangy flavor. Place the bowls in the fridge overnight for 12-15 hours.

Sunday Morning 5:30-8:30 am: Score and Bake

The best sourdough is baked covered for the first 30 minutes and then uncovered for the remaining 15-20 minutes. This is usually done in a dutch oven. I don’t have one of those either, so I use an oven safe pot with lid.

Preheat your oven to 450F. Pull the dough from the fridge and gently lift the towel and dough from the bowls.

Stretch out a piece of parchment paper. Gently flip the dough over onto the parchment paper, seam side down. Sprinkle a little flour over the dough and rub over the surface.

Score the dough with a very sharp knife or razor blade. Scoring helps control the direction in which the dough expands during baking. Easier said than done!

Carefully slice the surface of the dough with the knife. A single slice will suffice, but you can look up more decorative scoring patterns online.

Bake the dough covered for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and continue baking for 15-20 minutes more. Let cool.

Breakfast

Enjoy your fresh bread with a chive blossom butter or your favorite spread.

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