One of the things I promised myself upon retirement was that I would learn how to make great bread. Kinda like one of my “bucket list” items. And I’ve now spent ten years working on that goal. Yeah, the bread we’re eating nowadays is a hell of a lot better than that we used to eat, but basically, down deep, I’m still a lazy guy and, let’s admit it, the process of making good sourdough bread is rather labor intensive and time consuming. This is a big reason why sourdough baking is not more popular than it is! And most of my last ten years were spent in looking for shortcuts -mostly unrealized- to that time consuming process. However, I have found one promising shortcut recently that I’d like to share with my fellow sourdough bakers.
As I mentioned in my last post, I recently came on a discussion on The Fresh Loaf, a bread baking forum, of an easy and efficient way to put together a simplified sourdough loaf, and at the same time, to utilize what is normally waste starter. The poster, Flo Makanai, is the assumed originator of the concept of the 1,2,3 Bread, and so we shall give her the credit for its creation. Its charm is its simplicity (1 part starter, 2 parts water, 3 parts flour), but it goes well beyond charm alone (charm is so superficial, isn’t it?). I think the real value of 1,2,3 Bread is that it provides the sourdough baker with a palette upon which they may create their art – isn’t this what all bakers want anyway?
Please allow me to immediately argue against the major contention of the above noted discussion, which was that this loaf was an opportunity to never have to ever throw away any “wasted” starter again. I hear what they’re saying, but I think their contentions are faulty. I think many of the bakers who suggest this actually refrigerate their sourdough starter between uses – I do not! And the reason why I do not is that it has taken me the better part of ten years to realize that once you shut down the normal growth process of the sourdough bacteria/fungi, it will take several additional refreshings, at room temp, before your sourdough starter is strong enough to bake with. Until I realized this, I had inconsistent bakings – since keeping my starter at room temperature all the time, I’ve never experienced a poor proofing! My simple point here is that if one refrigerates their starter between uses, they will have to refresh their starter several times before it’s ready for baking, DURING WHICH TIME THE STARTER WILL NOT BE AGGRESSIVE ENOUGH TO USE. In short, if a baker uses a sourdough starter before it is back to full strength, their loaves will not rise well.
And given that there is any degree of truth in the above, I’ll bet that those who refrig their starter are either baking up a lot of bricks, or throwing away a lot more starter than am I.
OK, let’s say I’m wrong about this, and all those who make the above contention also keep their starter at room temp at all times – and they refresh at least once daily. Well, then they would have to be baking something with their potential starter waste EVERY DAY. Unless one’s family is quite large, I don’t see how this much active starter could be put to use this often. Yes, I do know that the dough could well be refrigerated for a week or more, and all baking for the week done on one day – but if one creates about 100 grams of starter waste a day (as I do), that means you’d be baking more than 9 pounds of bread or bread products per week! That’s a lot, folks – you could open a store.
I rest my case – but I still love this simple formula, and the ease with which it can be put to use. As you’ll note if you read the Fresh Loaf discussion, nowhere in that discussion does there appear a recipe, and that’s due to the inherent simplicity of the formula. All one needs to do when refreshing their starter is to weigh out whatever waste they have, double that amount of water, and triple the amount of flour, and voila, a perfectly good dough is made. One side note here – when doing this, it is extremely easy to forget the salt, but don’t do that – bread without salt is just not worth eating, but if you’ve baked for awhile, you already know what I’m saying.
If you care about such things -and you should- the baker’s percentage for 1,2,3 Bread is 71%, using a 100% hydration starter – that’s a dough a little on the wet side, but it also gives you an opportunity to go in many different directions with your finished dough. I spent a few weeks playing with the 1,2,3 dough, and in that time I baked off various forms, both free form and supported during proofing – the dough is a nice compromise since it’s just wet enough to proof and bake off in ciabatta style, or to be treated like a shaped loaf and proofed in a couche or a basket – makes great pizza too. It’s a “teaching” dough.
Many bakers shun wet doughs because they feel they are more challenging than a firmer dough. I think that’s regrettable since many of the characteristics sought by bakers are only gained with wet doughs – and although this dough is not as wet as some, it is wet enough to give a baker opportunities to learn how to work with wet doughs. A wet dough technique that comes as a revelation to many bakers is bowl or tub proofing – when combined with the currently popular “hands-off” dough processes, this method becomes not only a great experiential teacher but a super way to an easy and delicious loaf.
As I inferred above, this bread needs no formal recipe or formula, since all you need remember is 1,2,3 – and forever after it’s in your head whenever needed. As I baked up my different breads over the past several weeks, I made changes in the way I treated the dough – I’ve noted those various changes in the picture notes below. Interestingly, but perhaps not unexpectedly, my breads got better with each subsequent baking – simple proof that with experience comes improvement. So I hope you’ll take advantage of this super-simple way of creating a quick and easy loaf, and put 1,2,3 Bread in your baking resume – I’m quite sure once you try it, you’ll return to it often.
1,2,3 Bread Gallery