It is time to bake myself another loaf of sourdough. This sourdough french will start out in the bread machine, but finish in the oven. This is a time-consuming loaf, so I actually started late last night, by taking 1/2 cup of my sourdough started out of the fridge. In a glass bowl, I added 3 cups of flour and 3 cups of water to the starter, I mixed everything together with my dough whisk and covered it with a cheesecloth to reactivate. 12 hours later, my starter has woken up and I have a nice active sponge. I need 2 cups of the sponge for this loaf, so after I measure that out, I add another cup each of flour and water to the remaining sponge to keep it active. (I plan on baking another sourdough loaf when I am finished with this one, otherwise I would let it sleep again.) Into the pan on my bread machine, I put 1/2 cup water, 2 cups of my sourdough sponge, 2 teaspoons salt and 3 cups bread flour. After making a well in the flour, I added 2 1/4 teaspoons bread machine yeast. I set the machine on its dough cycle, and let it start. The recipe recommends a 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 cups bread flour, total, but that the baker should start out with 3 cups and add more as needed. The total amount used will vary depending on the consistency of your starter. The author also states that at this point the dough will be firm, then get shiny and soften. I slowly added more flour, until I was comfortable with the consistency of the dough. When the cycle ended, the dough had risen nicely. The next step, according to the book, is to “Gently deflate the dough with your finger.” Then I need to let the dough rest for another 3 hours in the machine. The author then states, “If it is rising slowly, I have left it in there for up to 8 hours.” Yikes, again, I will play it by ear. I set myself a timer for 3 hour and will check it at that time. I am glad I didn’t plan on the 8 hour rise. The dough was already touching the top of my bread machine at 3 hours. Next, I turned the dough onto my floured board. Here, the cookbook says to use a dough card to fold the edges to the center and create a round loaf. There must be a method to this that I have yet to learn, I ended up using my hands to shape the loaf. I added about a tablespoon of flour, during this process, to keep it from sticking. Then I spread a thick layer of flour on the work surface and turned the loaf to keep the smooth side face down in the flour. I covered that with a clean tea towel and headed to the grocery store. (At this point, the dough needs to rest for about an hour at room temperature, so this is the perfect time to run this errand.) Back from the grocery store, it is time to knead the dough into a tight round, deflating it again. Next, I got out my handy banneton basket again. After heavily flouring it, I placed the dough, smooth side down, in the basket. (Oh dear, I just heard that spoken by the actor in Silence of the Lambs, “It puts the dough in the basket or it gets the hose again!”) Oh well, at least I amuse myself. I tightly wrapped the entire banneton with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. It is supposed to rise slowly, in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours. I will check it tomorrow morning and throughout the day as necessary. I let the dough rise in the refrigerator for about 15 hours. Twenty minutes before baking, I began preheating the oven to 450 degrees. While that was warming up, I lined a clean baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkled that with a little bit of cornmeal. Once the oven was heated, I gently moved the dough from the banneton to the prepared baking sheet. Then, using a sharp knife, I cut a cross hatch design in the top of the loaf, about 1/4 inch deep. I sprayed the outside of the loaf with a small amount of water and immediately put the loaf into the hot oven for 12 minutes. After the first 12 minutes were complete; I lowered the oven temperature to 375 degrees and allowed the bread to bake for another 25 minutes. The cookbook says to give it 25-30 minutes or until the crust is brown and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap on it. Last step, before eating of course, is to cool the bread on to room temperature on a rack.
This loaf is not going to last long; it is delicious. The crust is crisp and crunchy while the interior is sour and chewy. It tastes wonderful; I had a large hunk with butter for lunch and will now have to plan a dinner that will go well with this tasty, tasty bread.