Sourdough love letter and sourdough bread recipe

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Sourdough bread baked by Jamie Samons in March 2020. Photo by Jamie Samons.

Dear friend:

I feel a little bad for never giving you a name, but maybe ours is the kind of relationship that transcends names and labels. We have accomplished so much together! Fed and delighted so many people!

I remember the day I brought you home. Chef Ben Sukle messaged me, “Would you like a sourdough starter?” Giddy, I jumped to my car and picked you up from the now closed Birch restaurant. You looked so appealing in your quart deli container, gloriously bubbly and teeming with life. Ben has sent you a nutrition plan and a recipe for multigrain bread. I felt a certain apprehension about the responsibility of feeding a living being. My history with houseplants had been less than stellar, but Ben assured me you were resilient.

And, oh, was he right! You are almost eight years old now and you have survived treacherous experiments. Do you remember the time I was gone for two weeks and the person who was supposed to look after you neglected point 14 of the fourteen point checklist on how to feed yourself? He fed you then left you on top of the fridge for ten days. You had almost fermented into alcohol when I came back. Yeah. But together, we’ve painstakingly restored you with regular feedings and time on a heating pad. You then produced wonderful breads that we shared with friends and neighbours. Even your rejection has value – crackers, pancakes, waffles, cookies: so many carbs.

Thanks to your generosity, you have helped bakers in Texas, California and Hawaii. There are pieces of you growing up in kitchens across the country. How does it feel to have such a legacy?

Friend, I want – no, I knead – to let you know how much I appreciate you and look forward to more culinary adventures together.

Sour4Life,

Jamie Samons

My standard sourdough recipe

Make 2 large loaves

Autolysis:

900 g bread flour (I sometimes substitute up to 25% with whole wheat, rye or spelled)

640 g of water at about 90 F

Bread

20g of salt

185g sourdough-fed matured sourdough

50 g of water at about 90 F

Optional:

1 cup mixes (chopped toasted nuts, pitted olives, dried cranberries…anything your heart desires!)

In a large bowl, mix the autolysis ingredients together. Let ferment, covered, at room temperature for 1 hour.

Add the leaven, salt and 40 g of additional water to the autolysis and mix, crushing everything with your hands. Add an additional 10 g of water if the dough seems dry. Eventually, the dough will change from a viscous blob to a smooth, but still moist mass. Let stand at room temperature, covered, for 30 minutes. Stretch and fold the dough by lifting the piece of dough at 12 o’clock and pulling it towards the center of the bowl. Rotate the bowl 90 degrees and repeat. Repeat two more times for a total of four folds. Let stand at room temperature, covered, for 30 minutes. Repeat two more times for a total of three stretch and bend sessions. If you add blends, fold them with the third stretch and fold. Then let the dough rest at room temperature, covered, for 2h30.

Turn the dough out onto a clean counter or board (try not to flour it) and divide it in half. Shape each half into a taut round with a scraper or your hands (there are great YouTube videos on how to do this). Lightly flour the inside of two fermentation baskets or other fermentation containers and place a circle in each, bottom side up. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or plastic bag. Refrigerate overnight or up to two days.

Place a covered 4-quart dutch oven in the oven and preheat the oven to 500 F for one hour. Retrieve a loaf from the fridge and invert it onto a large sheet of parchment paper (this paper will act as a sling to bring the loaf to the hot pan, so be generous). Cut the top of the bread with a lame or very sharp baker’s knife. Carefully remove the Dutch oven from the oven and remove the lid. As carefully as possible, using the parchment as a sling, place the bread in the pan and replace the lid. Return the pan to the oven, reduce the heat to 450 F and cook for 20 minutes. Then, carefully remove the lid from the Dutch oven, reduce the heat to 425 F, and cook for an additional 30 minutes. The internal temperature of the bread should be between 210 and 212 degrees F.

Use a pair of spatulas (fish spatulas are ideal for this) to place the bread on a cooling rack. Place the Dutch oven back in the oven, increase the heat to 500 F and repeat the process with the second loaf. Dislocate your own shoulder by patting yourself on the back for a job well done.

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