La Brea Country White Sourdough or: The 360-Hour Bread

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I asked my husband to buy me this book featuring breads from La Brea Bakery. All I knew was that the La Brea breads we purchased at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods was some of the best bread I had ever tried.

My dear husband bought me the book, and I opened it up. The first 28 pages are devoted to all of the proper "tools" you will need to make the breads in this book. I was a little overwhelmed. Then I got to the chapter titled "A Lesson in Bread Making." It proceeded to walk me through a day-by-day tutorial of making a sourdough starter. Which, for baking a loaf of bread worthy of Nancy Silverton (the author), involves 14 days. Fourteen. (Thankfully, as long as I never kill off my starter, I won't ever have to repeat this process again.)

Needless to say, I was a little overwhelmed. The first 9 days involve fermentation of the culture. Day 10 is the day you begin to feed the starter. Three times a day. For five days. I followed her every instruction to a T, and by Day 15 I was ready to make my first loaves of bread. After this extensive process to which I committed so much time and energy, I wanted some payoff!

But the process to make my first loaf of bread was a 2-day process. Well. Technically, according to her bread baking schedule, it COULD be completed in one day (18 hours). So of course, I was going to do it in one day. One looong day.

I got up that morning at 6:00 am to begin mixing. The bread finally went into the oven to bake at 11:45 PM and was done baking around 12:20 AM. So for next time, I think I'm going to stick to the 2-day bread making schedule. Because by 1:00 in the morning, when the bread had cooled and I could finally, at long last, try some of this masterpiece bread, I was super tired and frustrated and just wanted to go to bed.

(The bread was absolutely amazing. It was just a royal pain in the butt to make.)

I will include the original recipe, for anyone who might already have a sourdough starter at home; I am also including a link to Williams-Sonoma's site for a similar La Brea recipe for those who want to use active dry yeast.)

Country White Bread
Nancy Silverton, La Brea Bakery

12 ounces (about 1 1/3 cups) starter
2 pounds plus 2 ounces (about 7 cups) unbleached white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1 pound plus 2 ounces (about 2 1/4 cups) cool water, 70 degrees F
1/2 cup raw wheat germ
4 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
Vegetable oil

Using your dough hook on your electric mixer, measure the water, starter, flour and wheat germ into the mixing bowl; mix on low speed for 5 minutes. The dough should be sticky and pliable. If it appears too dry, dribble a bit more water in slowly and keep mixing.

After 5 minutes, turn off mixer, cover dough with proofing cloth, and let dough rest for 20 minutes. Add the salt and mix the dough at medium speed until the dough reaches a temperature of 78 degrees F, looks satiny and feels smooth (about 5 more minutes.)

Remove dough from mixing bowl and place it in a clean bowl lightly coated with vegetable oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to ferment at room temperature, until it doubles in volume, about 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut into two equal pieces. Slap each piece gently against the work surface to deflate the dough. Tuck all the edges under to form a sort-of rounded mass; don't bother making it look like loaf at this point, you are simply preshaping to suggest the shape to come. Cover the two pieces of dough with a piece of cloth. Let the dough rest for about 15 minutes.

Using a strainer, sift a thin, even layer of flour along the sides and bottom of a cloth-lined proofing basket. (If you don't have proofing baskets, you can proof the bread directly on a proofing cloth similarly dusted.) Wrap your hands around the side of one piece of dough and with a rolling motion, rock it into a ball. Do not overshape; don't worry about getting a super-compact ball, just apply even pressure all around to get a taut ball with smooth skin stretching over the surface of the dough.

Put the shaped boule smooth side down into a basket. Pinch the seam closed with your fingers. Repeat the process with the second piece of dough. Cover each basket with a piece of plastic wrap, and place them at room temperature to let the dough proof just until it starts rising up the sides of the baskets, and increases volume by one-fourth. This will take approximately one hour.

Next, the dough needs to age. Retarding the dough helps allow it maintain the long, slow rise required to develop flavor and texture. Place the boules in your refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours, but no more than 24 (this step allows for a range of flexibility in the times.)

Remove the boules from the refrigerator, and take off the plastic wrap. Cover the boules with proofing cloth. (If your oven cannot accommodate both boules, you should bake them one at a time. That means you should remove the second boule 1 hour after the first so it is ready to bake just as the first loaf is removed from the oven.)

Proof the boules at room temperature, away from drafts; the dough is ready to bake when it has doubled in size, no longer springs back when poked with your finger, and has come up to a temperature of 62 degrees, about 3 hours. While the bread is proofing, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F, placing a pizza or baking stone on the bottom rack of the oven.

When the boules are properly proofed, lightly dust them with flour and turn them out onto a baker's peel (I didn't have one, so I just used a giant spatula from our grill set.) Slash the top of the dough at a 45-degree angle, starting about 1 inch from the top edge of the boule down to the bottom (I just did a simple X.)

A minute before you place the bread in the oven, spritz water heavily onto the preheated baking stone, and all around the sides of the oven; quickly close the door.

Open the oven door, slide the boule from the peel directly onto the baking stone, and close the door. Turn the oven temperature down to 450 degrees. *My first loaf was baked exactly according to these instructions, and got really crispy, almost burned. I turned the temp down to 400 for the second loaf and got perfect results.

During the next five minutes, spritz the oven with water 2 more times. After those five minutes, don't open the oven door for 20 minutes. You want to maintain the steam you've created.

After 25 minutes, check the bread and rotate the boules as necessary. Continue baking for another 20 minutes, for a total of 45 minutes (my bread was done in just about 40 minutes.) Tap the bottom of the loaf to check for a hollow thud; this means the bread is done.

Place the boules on a cooling rack and allow to cool.


christine said...

i love la brea sourdough. i think i'll be content to pay ~$3 a loaf instead of doing all that work though!

Anonymous said...

I tried this recipe. My dough was rising slowly and it turned out very dense. Any suggestions for a fluffier crumb?