Usually when I’m trying to fit life around baking, I end up putting my sourdough dough in the fridge to retard the rise. That’s the beauty of sourdough: it’s somewhat flexible in the making and baking, so that you can effectively put it on pause. I wanted to bake a loaf of bread today and in the usual run of things, I’d have probably made the dough last night, put it in the fridge overnight before taking it out this morning to come up to temperature and rise properly while I went to Heathrow to collect P after her trip to Seattle. There’s an element of risk there, however, in that the rise would be happening while I wasn’t around to keep an eye on it and I didn’t really know for how long I’d be out of the house. The safer alternative would have been to let the sourdough rise last night and then put the risen dough in the fridge, bringing it out for baking this afternoon after getting home but I had a mini-discussion about high-hydration sourdoughs with someone on Twitter last night (yeah, that’s what sourdough geeks do) and reminded myself about the famous recipe for no-knead bread that appeared in the New York Times a few years ago.
You should click the link and read the recipe for yourself but in essence you mix a stupidly wet dough that you have absolutely no chance of shaping, leave it for 18-24 hours, then give it a couple of folds, another rise then bung the scarily wet and wobbly dough into what the Americans call a Dutch oven but I just refer to as my Creuset cast iron pot with the metal handles (because the pot’s designed to go in the oven oven proof) and bake. So I did the initial mix last night at around 8pm, meaning I was perfectly safe to leave it to do its thing without any intervention required from me until late this afternoon.
If you’re still stuck with the idea that you have to knead bread intensively for 10 minutes, doing virtually nothing to your dough – I don’t think I spent more than 5 minutes with it, and even then 3 of those minutes were in measuring the ingredients – requires a massive leap of faith. As someone familiar with the ‘time + stretch and fold’ method of bread-making, it wasn’t such a stretch (and fold) of the imagination but it’s still a thing of wonder that this hardly touched shaggy dough (see photo below) can turn into a boule with an amazing crunchy crust and a moist, chewy crumb.
Next time I’m going to replace the commercial yeast in the recipe with a drop of sourdough to see how that works out.